What is User Experience?

If you’re in this field, then this is probably something you have to deal with all the time. You meet someone new (or given the current holiday season, you’re with a semi-close relative), spark up a conversation, and then the inevitable happens; they ask you what you do…

It’s decision time. Do you spend the next half-hour trying to explain what you actually do for a living; what User Experience (UX) is and the differences between research, design, and development; The difference between User Experience, Usability, Information Architecture (IA), and the list goes on (and on) … (and on).

The answer depends on who you’re talking to and how much time you want to spend with them, but I’ll ask that you do both of you a favor and make the effort. You’ll both benefit from it. You’ll sharpen your elevator speech and they’ll learn something. Who knows, maybe they’ll become a client or speak to someone who may need your help one day. As the industry grows and gains more importance in the eyes of stakeholders everywhere, conversations like this are increasingly pivotal.

So what do you say? How do you get the message across as briefly as possible?

I like to start with a baseline. I’ll ask if they’re familiar with Human Factors. It’s about 50/50 but it’s a start. If they are then my job is easy. If not, I actually start by explaining that too them it’s a much more concrete field in my eyes. Once they understand Human Factors, I basically explain User Experience as Human Factors for a digital age. Now I understand some of the flaws in that statement, and how it can limit UX to digital spaces, but you can see how that quickly gives someone an idea of what we’re talking about and provides them enough ammunition to ask intelligent questions.

That’s the start of my simplest elevator speech and that’s UX Life. I would love to hear how you do it.

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