No, it’s not all “User Experience.”

Update: Upon re-reading this post, I decided that I was being a dick. So, I'm editing it, to be clearer, and less of a dick.

Last night, I had a simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating conversation with a group of designers that I know through AIGA. It was the night before the national conference started in earnest, and the hotel bars were chockablock with excited designers from all over the country; gathered to get inspired, network, and engage in group catharsis.

Clients/Developers/Stakeholders (people who are not Designers), as it turns out, really do be like that sometimes.

The conversation was a free-wheeling exploration of the relationships between all the various design disciplines and what makes them “the same” and different. What was frustrating about it was the obvious lack of context of one of the participants, who kept insisting that “everything is UX” and then talked about something specific to graphic design. More specifically, graphic design within the context of advertising.

At some points in the conversation, another participant and I would be having a side-bar about design history, engineering, computer science, design thinking, Design Thinking™, or whatever, and find ourselves saying exactly the same thing as the main conversation, only to hear it punctuated with “That’s what I’m saying, it’s ALL UX!”

Except here’s the thing: It’s not.

What we were discussing is Design. All design has (and should be produced for) users, and all users will experience that design, but that doesn’t make all design User Experience (UX) Design. UX design is its own discipline, which is made up of sub-disciplines, with skills that specifically support the intended outcomes of UX Design.

Each of the various disciplines has facets of their execution that place emphasis/value on domain-specific concerns that would be useless in the other disciplines. For example, the selection of paper stock is mostly irrelevant to UX. The understanding of Human Factors/Usability is mostly irrelevant to print designers. There are even sub-disciplines that cross over, but the nuance of their application distinguishes a UX Designer from another type of Designer with the same core skills. A motion designer who is fantastic at designing for advertising might be completely lost when creating animations to aid usability.

There are, of course, overlaps in our understanding; because these are adjacent disciplines. Being able to select type combinations and judge their legibility is relevant to both. Even within that similarity, there are distinctions because of the technology being used to produce the end results. Understanding those limitations is key to the success of the execution.

As I’m writing this, I recall various points in my transition from mostly doing print and brand work to doing 99% UX work, and the ridiculous number of times my print-based judgments of the overlapping parts of the two disciplines failed me. The more I think about it, the more I can see how my early judgment that these things were “the same” led me astray.

No, it’s not all UX. It may all be Design, but even in the similarities, there is nuance. It’s not the same at all.