November 19, 2014 - 2 comments

UX is Not UI, It’s…

If you haven't heard by now, there's a camp of UX folks who shout from the mountain tops, "UX is not UI!" The adage gets many an eye roll from people who don't identify as UX at their core. I'm not one to chime in on semantic battles like this, but recently I was asked (lightheartedly) if I fell into the aforementioned camp. This is what I should've said...

[inlinetweet prefix="via @astridparisUX" suffix=""]UX is not UI, it's product strategy.[/inlinetweet] The longer I work in the tech field, the more I refine my professional philosophies concerning UX and what a person in this role can bring to the table. The myriad of things that need to get done at any company certainly merits having different roles to make sure those tasks get completed. While I'm not advocating that a UX person be the "owner" of everything, I do believe that tapping these kinds of folks for input on a variety of issues will do your team more good than it will harm. At the very least, here's what I think about as a UXer working on software product teams:


Are we raising the bar on what we want to build (or have built), or are we sticking ourselves in with the status quo? (That ol' "faster horse" thing.) UX folks can offer help by looking at the competitive landscape through the eyes of user motivations and needs, context of use, accessibility, usability, and aesthetics.


Are we building the right thing at the right time? Are we building the right thing for the right user? Existence is rife with problems. Just because you have a solution to address one of those problems doesn't mean that there's not a better solution. Maybe the better solution is one that's not so obvious—that's the one what we should be figuring out.


Did the thing we built get adopted? Should we continue to enhance that feature, or do we need more data to inform whether to keep going? You can build all you want. Having some metrics to validate your assumptions can help steer product direction from going down the wrong path.


Do users know about the thing we built? What kind of vibe are we giving them? Are we being helpful or are we being frustrating? [inlinetweet prefix="via @astridparisUX" suffix=""]UXers should give a damn about anything users see: system-generated emails, marketing communications, in-app notifications, microcopy, etc.[/inlinetweet] A consistent voice and tone across the brand positively impacts the user experience.


Do we have the right people in the right seat on the bus? Having skills gaps can detrimentally affect your product. You can have a stellar idea, but without a people wrangler to help make sure things get executed, you'll just have lots of stimulating conversations (and no stimulating product). You can have a kick-ass product but without someone who can get it in the hands of the right people, you're looking at a shiny paperweight.

If you have a team that collectively covers all of your bases in the can-do department, how are they working together? [inlinetweet prefix="via @astridparisUX" suffix=""]Kick-ass product + organizational dysfunction = visible corporate underpants.[/inlinetweet] (Don't Google "product showing underpants." I was trying to find a great example of my metaphor but those search results definitely did not contain one.) What I mean by that is if you have people working in silos, and there's a lack of communication, you could end up with inconsistent messaging and design patterns. Happens all.the.time. A UX person who cares about the product will always be thinking about how to break down barriers to collaboration. Team - barriers = collaboration = happier team = ideas = better product = happier users.

UX is not UI poster

Image credit: Erik Flowers (@Erik_UX)

Unfortunately, a lot of organizations are shaped such that team members in traditional UX roles aren't given the opportunity to weigh in on some of the areas mentioned above. (For example, executive leadership hands down the tablets of product direction. "The business" prescribes what to build and when. Dev decides whether analytics go into the product and when. Marketing writes app copy. UX? They draw boxes and arrows. The result: UXers can spend a lifetime (or at least a good chunk of their careers) chained to the perception that UX=UI design.

Not me. UX is not UI, it's product strategy.

Published by: Astrid in Product Management, UX


Will Sansbury
November 18, 2014 at 9:52 pm

I couldn’t agree more (of course…).

The last bit, on team, is all about Conway’s Law. I think one of the primary roles of UX in an organization is to fight against Conway’s Law, because the system it produces is never—NEVER—the best one for users.

I’m loving the blog, Astrid. I’ve known you’re an amazing thinker for a long time—glad to see you sharing it with the rest of the world.

November 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Thanks, Will! I’m finding that my frustrations about system inefficiencies (past and present) serve as great fuel for writing. 🙂 Any nuggets of practical wisdom I can give away means that the world might be one step closer to creating better products with happier teams.

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