There is a powerful message in the design industry that you might have missed because it’s buried beneath a buzzword: “UX Design”.

You’ve certainly heard of UX, seen numerous people calling themselves “UX Designers”, and maybe you’ve even read articles attempting to define the term.

But UX has lost much of its meaning now that the swell of excitement surrounding it has somewhat diminished.

Let’s take a moment to cut to the heart of UX. Because there is a powerful message inside this movement that many—even professional designers—have missed.

(Psst. If you already know what UX is, skip the next section.)

What is UX design?

Defining UX is a favorite pastime in the design industry (and apparently so is sharing photos of sidewalks). There are numerous attempts to explain the term with grand metaphors and claims, but there is a simple definition.

UX design is a specialization within the design industry that includes a variety of techniques to create designs for the people who will use them, with a focus on how a design works and is structured over how it looks.

A common goal cited by UX professionals is “user happiness”, or trying to give users not just what they want/need but creating an experience within the design that is enjoyable.

UX practitioners don’t always do visual design (making logos, graphics, and aesthetics). Instead they do other tasks to determine the structure and usability of a design based upon understanding the people who will use it. Empathy is another important value in UX. The work of a UX specialist might include user research, user testing, interviews, analytics, planning, brainstorming, planning sequences of screens within an application to accomplish specific tasks, creating prototypes, and more.

But, none of this matters if you don’t understand why the UX movement is so important and powerful.

The real meaning of UX

So, you know what UX design is, and the advice to make a design for the people who will be using it seems obvious. Aren’t all designs made that way?

No, they aren’t, and that’s why this message is downright revolutionary.

Most design projects begin with good intentions. Both the client and designer agree the goal is to make something users will love.

But when the designer presents the first draft of the design to the client, the common misunderstanding of what UX is comes rushing to the surface.

The designer uses phrases like “This design is fresh and will differentiate your product.”

The client responds with phrases like “I don’t think this design really captures what our brand is about.”

If you think about it, neither the designer nor client is thinking or talking about the user. They’re talking about their own individual ambitions for the project. The designer wants to make something new and exciting. The client wants to express their vision and values. Neither of those have anything to do with the people who will be using the design.

This is why the idea of UX design is so revolutionary. UX offers a challenge to both designer and client:

The design is not for you. The design is for other people.

UX design asks you to sacrifice your personal goals in favor of the goals of the person using the design.

Internalizing that idea and actually adhering to it is incredibly difficult for both designers and clients, which is why UX concerns often get overlooked when you’re in the weeds of a real design project.

But if you can manage to focus on the user rather than yourself, the benefit can be substantial.

What UX can do if you let it

There are countless case studies proving the power of UX design. One great place to look is the IxDA Interaction Awards.

In 2017, for example, design teams tackled huge problems like inaccurate police data and preventing warehouse worker injuries. Not only did these designers build fascinating designs, they saved money for their clients and improved peoples’ lives in measurable ways.

Not all UX projects are as large or ambitious, of course. But the lesson applies regardless of the scope of your project:

Designing for other people is the best way to create a high quality, profit-driving design.

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