No, it’s not all “User Experience.”

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 starts in earnest, and the hotel bars are chockablock with excited designers from all over the country, gathered to get inspired, learn from each other, network, and engage in group catharsis.

Clients/Developers/Stakeholders, 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 was insisting that “everything is UX,” and then talking about something that is very clearly 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!”

No, it is not.

What we were discussing is design.

That’s the power of design thinking. It’s a mindset and problem-solving discipline that can be applied in any space. The lens you focus it through determines what it is, but that does not mean that “it’s all UX.”

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 irrelevant to UX. The understanding of Human Factors/Usability is largely irrelevant to print designers. 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, but even within that similarity, there are distinctions because of the technology being used to produce the end results, and understanding of those limitations is key to the success of the execution.

As I’m writing this, I am recalling 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 judgement 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 in disciplines, there is nuance. It’s not the same at all.