UX — Beyond the screen

Clarifying the new role and tasks of UX designers

Riding on the wave of digitalisation and the recognition of design methodologies as innovation processes, User Experience (UX) Design has become a crucial component for companies aiming to stay relevant in an increasingly global and competitive market. At the same time, there is a great deal of variation in what people believe the field or subject encompasses and the type of work activities and responsibilities a UX designer/professional has. Almost every day another definition of the field seems to be launched. In this article, I have set out to find some clarity on the matter, and I’ll show why we as UX professionals should go beyond just focusing on the user interface.

This article was first published on the UX Collective, Curated stories on user experience, usability and product design. By @fabriciot and @caioab.

UX = User Interface (UI) Design?

When searching online for UX the results tend to be dominated by screen based designs for desktop and mobile devices. UX job openings similarly often describe the position as someone with UI skills who can design, prototype and test user interfaces, and a vast degree of other skills can often be included like copywriting, coding, user analytics, business analysis, and much more. No wonder there is some confusion.

We need some UX on this” *points to an outdated interface* 
Image: Behance

There is not necessarily anything wrong with a substantial focus on graphical user interfaces (GUIs), as many services today often have digital products as important customer-company interactions (touchpoints) and there are countless poorly designed interfaces that need improvement. However, by just focusing on one specific type of touchpoints, we might ignore other ways of improving the customer experience, instead of embracing a more holistic approach. Furthermore, binding a discipline only with a specific medium, no matter how popular, can reduce the field’s long-term viability as its relevance is challenged by evolving technology and needs.

What is UX?

Although UX design can be considered a young field, its roots are old and can be traced back to several human-centered design and engineering disciplines: Industrial Design (~1850s — ) Human-Factors Engineering (1920s — ), Inclusive design (1960s — ), Human-Computer Interaction (1960s — ), Interaction Design (1980s — ). It is established that it was Don Norman who coined and popularised the term “User Experience” first through his classic book The Design of Everyday Things (1988) and later in the 1990s while working for Apple and as an user experience architect. Who better to ask of the field’s definition:

User experience» encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products. 
Don Norman

Don Norman explaining the term UX. Source: Nielsen Norman Group

Brand Experience Model

A good model representing this definition of UX is the Brand Experience Modeldeveloped by Eight Inc, the company Apple used from 1999 and to this day when designing their retail experience, an undertaking many retail experts believed would fail, yet the Apple Stores became the most profitable retail store per square meter. As can be seen from the model a user’s experience is shaped through the user interacting with an organisation in various ways:

Products & Services

  • Physical and Digital Products

  • Ease of use/usability

  • Aesthetic/emotional experience


  • Architecture

  • Interior/landscape design

  • Auditory (sound/music)


  • Marketing

  • Copywriting/visual design

People & Behaviour

  • Employees

  • Customer Service

  • Clothing

  • Professionalism

Bringing it together

A challenge with this broad definition of UX is that it covers a vast area of different competences and professions — far too comprehensive for any one person to master. Also, as most disciplines affect the user experience in some degree, including for instance developers working with optimisation of web loading times and customer support, no-one has exclusive influence of the UX. However, it is still essential to have generalists who retain the big picture to make all the different parts come together — almost like how a composer or conductor arranges together different musicians who are each specialist in their own instrument. Without going too deep into methodology proven methods are: a user-centred focus, close collaboration between experts, and prototyping and iterating on an experience.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Customer Journey Mapping: A tool for gaining the big picture and designing experiences. Source: EGGS Design

It should also be noted that it is not actually possible to design experiences, as an experience is an individual cognitive process shaped by a person’s perception, beliefs, culture, etc. If you just experienced a personal crisis in your family, you probably wont experience joy after interacting with any touchpoint regardless of its inherent qualities. Still, as a society we have known for millennia that we can affect people’s emotions and state of being through changing their surroundings, consider the discipline of architecture which predates Ancient Egypt and Roman times. In modern times, there is plenty of empirical evidence showing that this works with companies focusing on User Experience and design outperforming their counterparts by more than 200 %.

We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us. 
Winston Churchill

UX Design vs Service Design

For anyone familiar with Service Design, they will have without a doubt seen many similarities between the two disciplines. Both work on a holistic level and use design methodology to optimise user experience, so there is much overlap. Service Design is generally also focused on the organisational and business sides of implementing the desired experience, whereas UX Design is often more focused on optimising the design of each of the individual touchpoints. Nonetheless, the distinction remains ambiguous at best, as Service Designers work with UX and UX designers often work with services, so it can be wondered if the two disciplines are the same in many occasions and projects.

Into the future

In the past decades we have seen many companies raising the bar when it comes to delivering excellent user experience across all of their touchpoints, with for instance a former pure software company now also considering accessible packaging an important part of their delivery. There is little doubt that this trend is set to continue, with competition becoming even fiercer, and new technologies emerging that are dependent on great experiences:

  • Augmented and Virtual Reality

  • Voice User Interfaces

  • Artificial Personal Assistants

I also personally hope we as an industry add another factor in addition to focusing on the users and start considering the last aspect of the triple-bottom line: people, profit and planet.

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts.

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