UX is Not Design
Theory | User Experience

UX is Not Design

on / by Neal Winter

The effectiveness of a site is dependant on one key factor: user experience. But what does designing a user experience actually mean?

The ‘design’ in ‘UX design’ doesn’t refer to visual aesthetics. The increase in job titles that have both ‘UX’ and ‘UI’ in them is lending to the confusion that UX and UI are the same thing, and that UX is solely about the process of designing a user interface.

The true focus of UX is not about how your site looks, but understanding users and their plight. It should be about the user’s experience, how they feel when using and interacting with your site. Erik Flowers hit the nail on the head with his quote – “UX is the intangible design of a strategy that brings us to a solution.” A UX designer designs the experience a user has, rather than the interface that is used. It encompasses many different (but often overlapping) processes.

wordcards_UX Usabilla

This is precisely why good UI design does not automatically equal good UX. There are so many factors that influence the experience a user has with a product, be it loading times, performance, personalization or visual appeal. UX isn’t limited anymore to just technical and visual design teams.

Here are a few other elements that play a huge role in the user experience but aren’t necessarily a part of the UI design process.

Content strategy/Copywriting

You have 2-8 seconds to catch the attention of your user. What do you do? Go.

Content is what allows you to establish a relationship with your user. It’s where you get the chance to communicate the value of your product and how it will benefit your audience. Today’s online landscape is immensely over-populated and how well you communicate with your users ultimately affects how they will engage and connect with you. Your content, and how well it resonates with your users is arguably as important as the aesthetics of your website itself.

How does this affect UX?

Copy that is written well has the potential to attract, inform and evoke an emotional response (e.g excitement, determination, happiness) in the user that adds to their online experience. It’s an incredibly important part of UX, and one that is needed to create an intuitive and compelling experience.

Copywriting is especially crucial in the UX of your site’s onboarding process. A first-time user has to be able to easily figure out what they’re supposed to do and why. Learnability is key to retaining these users and words are the tools you need to achieve this.

Hubspot compiled a list of great copywriting examples and this is one from GymIT that I personally love. It’s funny while still adding value by giving you the necessary information about a process within their organization.

gymit1 - Usabilla User Experience
Picture credits: GymIt

Information architecture

If you can’t find the information you’re looking for, does it still exist?

The Information Architecture Institute describes IA as the “practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable”. It’s the creation of a structure for your site; organizing the information in a way that helps users understand where they are as well as what they need to do (or where they need to go) to complete their task.

Taxonomy, classification, hierarchy of information, labels, navigation and search are just some of the aspects involved in IA. Information Architects also have their hand in building utility-only wireframes to illustrate how a user travels through a site and how the information structure should function.

How does this affect UX?

Users need clarity, and IA helps structure and organize your site to achieve this. It allows your users to understand where they are in relation to the information they’re looking for, and easily find that information in order to complete their tasks.

Without a good information structure, your users would be left confused, frustrated, and unlikely to return.

postitsIA - Usabilla User Experience
Picture credits: Abby Covert, Information Architect

Interaction design

At the core of every great user experience is an interaction that delights.

Interaction design is an essential aspect of UX, and just like UX, is often confused with UI design. The User Interface (UI) is what the user sees whereas Interaction Design is how users engage with the UI, and how it facilitates the desired actions of the user.

As we explained in our ebook, an interaction designer’s focus is on adapting technology based on how people behave. You first must understand your users on a level where you can determine what they want and expect, and then you have to determine how to facilitate those needs within the technological constraints of your website, product or service.

How does this affect UX?

Mere usability is often no longer enough, especially for your tech-savvy users. Interactions are what makes the change from a site that merely works, into one that your users enjoy using. The action-reaction feedback loop that forms an interaction appeals to your user’s desire for acknowledgement, and therefore has the potential to delight. Unpleasant interactions, such as inconsistencies and incomplete feedback loops, will lead to poor user experiences, no matter how good your site looks.

Interaction design - Usabilla User Experience
Get our free ebook here to learn more about interaction design.


There are numerous factors that influence UX. Content, IA and interaction design are just three of the many aspects, aside from UI design, needed when creating a great user experience for your users. Each factor contains its own set of processes and requires a sense of empathy for the user. While visual aesthetics and the user interface design are essential in UX, it’s important to remember that the user experience encompasses all aspects of your end-user’s interaction with your site or product.

Free Ebook Download: Interaction Design

Article by

Neal Winter

Share your thoughts

  • I would like to say something like “Thank you Captain Obvious!” but I can’t. I am aware that most people in ecommerce (and generally online business) community still can’t see the difference. We see that each time when we speak with our clients about UX audit and they say – “we don’t need it because we have nice and fresh layout”… Come on :P

    • Neal Winter

      I hear you Szymon! All too often a “nice and fresh layout” is used as justification to avoid doing proper user research. I increasingly come across vacancies for “UX/UI” designers that don’t seem to include anything related to UX research.

Pin It on Pinterest