UX Glossary

a comprehensive dictionary of user experience terms and definitions.

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  • 5

  • 5 Planes
    A philosophy developed by Jesse James Garrett to inform a holistic product development process. The 5 Planes (from "bottom" foundation to "top") are: strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, and surface.
  • a

  • A/B Testing
    A/B testing is the comparison of two designs against each other to determine which performs better.
  • Accessibility
    The practice of designing experiences for people who experience disabilities. Those with difficulty with any of the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch or taste may be benefitted by using products and services that have been designed with accessibility in mind.
  • Agile Software Development
    A software development process in which requirements (and solutions) evolve through the collaborative effort between product development teams and their customers. The original 12 principles to the Agile philosophy can be found here: http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html
  • Augmented Reality (AR)
    A technology that adds a computer-generated, visual layer on top of the real world. For example, generating an image of a mech robot that dances on your (real) desk. AR is a burgeoning technology that will help user in a new wave of user experience and interface design.
  • b

  • Back-end Development
    In software, backend concerns the portion that the user doesn't see (hence the "back"), acting as the backbone logic and code that gives an application functionality. A UI may be beautiful, but suffer from a poor user experience due to backend problems like features not working as expected, or slow loading applications.
  • Business Analyst (BA)
    Generally, business analysts, or BAs, analyze organizations and documents their systems. In software development, business analysts often act as the bridge between product development and business stakeholders to craft and document product requirements and help ensure that product decisions make business sense.
  • c

  • Card Sort
    A popular research method used to see how people interpret information. This is most often carried out by several participants, who are asked to sort and group together similar "cards" using post-its or software. The goal is to understand how users views a given set of items and identify potential categories. The patterns that arise may help inform the menu items in a website navigation, or what information should be combined or separated.
  • Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
    A language that describes how HTML should be displayed. HTML is the bones of a content, whereas CSS is applied to HTML to give elements styling options like layout, color, typography and more.
  • Case Study
    Formally, case studies are defined as a focused analysis of a person, group or project meant to understand causation. In relation to UX careers, a case study showcases the process of solving design problems. An emphasis is placed on how design thinking, methods and deliverables were used to solve user experience problems.
  • Closed Card Sort
    In closed card sorts, researchers provide pre-determined categories (hence "closed") for participants to sort cards into.
  • Cognitive Biases
    Cognitive biases are errors in reasoning, memory or other cognitive processes that result from holding onto existing beliefs regardless of contrary information. There are more than 100 documented cognitive biases, commonly categorized in four categories: biases that arise from too much information, not enough meaning, the need to act quickly, and the limits of memory. Cognitive biases are particularly important to be aware of while conducting research, as a way of arriving at truer findings instead of relying on personal preferences. Example: Designer Bob loves minimalist design, and exhibits confirmation bias when he decides to approach his new UI project with an ultra-minimalist approach.
  • Content Strategist
    Content strategists help maximize the usability and profitability of content, throughout the full content lifecycle: analyzing, planning, writing, editing, distributing, managing and monitoring content. Due to the wide breadth of this field, the work that content strategists do often affect and involve information architecture and the user experience.
  • Content Strategy
    The strategy, organization and management of content that aligns between user and business goals.
  • d

  • Dark Patterns
    Tricks used in websites and apps that cause unintended user action, like buying or signing up for things that you didn't mean to. Example: sometimes, web forms include a little tick mark that says "Keep me logged in", probably. You are probably used to that and it's likely not something you think about usually. Now imagine you're signing up for something, and there is a tick mark that is already checked for you, right beneath your password field. But instead of "Keep me logged in", it says, "I agree to subscribe to this newsletter." Not fun, right? That's a dark pattern -- when a product tricks you into buying or signing up to things that you actually don't want. For a collection fo dark patterns, visit: https://darkpatterns.org/
  • Design Exercise
    Often a take-home "quiz" of sorts to determine a design process. Sometimes a part of UX interviews.
  • Design Facilitation
    The skill of facilitating design process and efforts, such as presenting to stakeholders or conducting design workshops.
  • Design Patterns
    Repeatable design solutions, often leveraging widespread user recognition to aid in the design process. For example, graphical icons such as the magnifying glass (search) are now design patterns that users know how to interact with.
  • Design Sprint
    Popularized by Google Ventures (GV), the design sprint is a 5 day process for developing business solutions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. View the homepage of the Design Sprint here: http://www.gv.com/sprint/
  • e

  • Edge case
    An edge case is rare situation. In software design, edge cases often threaten to break a system and the user experience. Edge cases deal with the extreme maximums and minimums of parameters. For example, if an application allows for "unlimited" photo uploads knowing that users rarely upload more than 1000, how does the system deal with the edge case of the user who uploads millions of photos? Are there boundaries at this maximum end? That is an edge case, an unlikely-yet-potentially disastrous situation.
  • Ethnographic Study
    A qualitative research method of observing users in their natural habitat to understand their behavior.
  • Eyetracking
    Eye tracking measures eye activity, like where a person looks, what they ignore and when they blink. Eye tracking devices and software are sometimes used in user research to
  • f

  • Front-end Development
    Front end development is the practice of implementing designs in code to be displayed on the web. Front end developers primarly use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to code designs. "Front end" refers to the "client side" - e.g. a user's browser, so front end development is the management of what people see in their browser, and not what goes on the in background with data storage & management (hence "back end").
  • Full Stack Designer
    A professional well versed in the entire "stack" of the design discipline, including UX discipline, high fidelity UI design and code. A rare breed of designer able to implement her own designs in code. Product designers are often expected to be full stack designers Sometimes referred to as a design unicorn.
  • g

  • Graphic Design
    Graphic design is one of the best-known practices within the world of design and technology. It includes fundamentals of design like typography, color theory, illustration and even photography. Sometimes also referred to as communication design, the practice of developing and communicating media to target audiences.
  • Graphic Designer
    Graphic designers are visual communicators who produce work across both digital and print mediums such as posters, brochures, invitations, and business cards. A big part of the job involves creating assets in a way that can be applied consistently across the entire brand, such as creating a style guide. While they don’t need to code, graphic designers often create user interface assets like logos and icons for the web.
  • h

  • Hick's Law
    The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices. Related to the ideas of cognitive load and the paradox of choice.
  • Human Factors
    The study of human behavior and capabilities to find the best ways to design products for maximum effectiveness, safety, and delight. Also known as ergonomics or, in the case of tech, human-computer interaction (HCI).
  • Hybrid Card Sort
    Hybrid card sorts allow for participants to both sort cards into predetermined, and also the option to create their own categories.
  • Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)
    HTML is the standard language for creating web pages and applications. HTML is used to specify whether your web content should be recognized as a paragraph, list, heading, link, image, multimedia player, form, or one of many other available elements or even a new element that you define.
  • i

  • Information Architect
    Professionals who design, organize and manage information to make data easy to access and understand. Also referred to as IAs, information architects leverage a variety of design tools and research to make sense out of messes, whether that's creating a logical index of topics or ensuring that a site's structure is easy for users to navigate through.
  • Information Architecture (IA)
    Information architecture is the practice organizing and arranging information to make it understandable. If you had your own grocery store, where would you put carrots? Apples? Bread? It sounds pretty simple until you start getting into things like peanuts, jelly, cream cheese, cake mix, and so on. Information architecture is figuring out how to arrange things into something that can be understood by your user. This includes defining hierarchies, parent-child relationships and in general making sense out of an (informational) messes.
  • Interaction Design (IxD)
    A discipline that focuses specifically on how users interact with products (both digital and analog). This could be buttons on a page, swipes on an app, or how to use a can opener that only has one handle.
  • Interaction Designer
    Since interaction design is an opinionated subfield of user experience design, interaction designers hold a more opinionated role compared to UX designers by focusing on the specifics of microinteractions, usability and accessibility. Because interaction designers are focused on creating key interactions for the product, they're often expected to be able to create highly interactive and complex prototypes. For example, IxD's would be more expected to create a end-to-end clickable prototype with detailed interactions (hover-overs, transitions) on Axure, whereas a UX generalist more likely to do high level screen-by-screen prototypes with Sketch+InVision. There's also an expectation of being able to implement designs in code, or at the very least prototype with front-end code.
  • j

  • Job Stories
    Also known as "jobs to be done," job stories help define user tasks in product design. A more generalized version of user stories that attempts to avoid leading a design with persona-first phrasing. Format: When [name situation], I want to [list motivations and forces], so I can [expected outcome]. Example: When I go shopping for groceries, I want to find the cheapest available produce, so I can save money shopping.
  • Journey map
    Customer journey maps visualize how users would achieve their goals and complete tasks - this could be purchasing a product or tracking fitness goals. Ideally, research should show the pain points and customer needs within this map. Journey maps are often presented as timelines to demonstrate interaction points covering the beginning, middle and end of an experience. An example journey map of a user's travel experience may look like: buy a plane ticket, get to the airport, get on the plane, take public transportation to hotel.
  • k

  • Key Performance Indicator
    Key performance indicators are the metrics that are most important to a business or project. "KPIs" are used to track progress and measure goals.
  • l

  • Lean UX
    A blend of agile principles and design thinking that eschews the focus on design deliverables, and instead prioritizes rapid learning & product development. Whereas traditional UX may include rounds of wireframes and design reviews, Lean UX would prioritize the development of a MVP to gather user feedback.
  • m

  • Mental Model
    Everyone has their own way of explaining how something works. That framework is a mental model, often influenced by their environment (i.e., a mental model in Sasketchewan may be different from someone in Malibu). There is a hypothesis that this plays a major role in decision-making and how they approach a problem. Example: To navigate further down a page, some users have the mental model of "swiping up" on a screen, whereas other users are accustomed to "scrolling down."
  • Miller's Law
    The average person can only keep 7 (plus or minus 2) items in their working memory.
  • Minimum Viable Product
    A product developed with only the most important features for the purpose of launching to an early set of users to provide feedback on the product. The goal of the MVP is to save time & resources by incorporating early user feedback before committing more resources for features that users may not care about or even use.
  • Multivariate Testing
    If A/B testing concerns two "variables," then multivariate testing concerns 3 or more options. The goal of multivariate testing is to determine which combination of variations performs the best out of all possible combinations.
  • o

  • Open Card Sort
    In open card sorts, there are no pre-determined categories (hence "open"). Participants sort cards into categories that make the most sense to them, then create their own labels for these groups.
  • p

  • Pair Design
    The practice of putting two designers together to solve design problems. Benefits of pair design include: separating of strategic and tactical thinking, producing higher quality designs faster by providing continuous testing of ideas before they reach stakeholders Pair design can make for better design output, but it also makes for happier designers. Although has the potential of helping companies develop a deeper design practice and stronger design culture.
  • Persona
    A persona is a fictional representations of a user group you're designing for. Personas help stakeholders understand who you have in mind when you make design decisions, and act as a reminder to teams that "You are not your user." Contrary to popular belief, personas are not to be taken as one actual person, but rather as a mix representing a group of users with similar behaviors & mental models. Personas are often is created early in the design process so you know who you're designing for.
  • Product Design
    The entire process of creating usable products and experiences, starting by defining real world problems and thinking about possible solutions. Highly synonymous with the broad nature of user experience design, product design tends to be more concerned with It's all a difference of focus. For example, user experience designers may be more apt to geek out about a user's mental model, while a product designer more likely to geek out how to implement the UI in front-end code. Also called full-stack design in some circles.
  • Product Designer
    Nearly synonymous with user experience designer, often with the added expectation of implementing designs in code. Here's a description of a product designer role from ChowNow: - Synthesize broad concepts and ideas into engaging and impactful experiences. - Take product specs/requirements from concept to execution, transforming them into intuitive, user-friendly, UX/UI deliverables. - Lead user testing sessions with customers and collect data with A/B tests to make more informed design decisions. - Learn from customer usage and leverage feedback and data to continually iterate, innovate, and evolve the product. - Work closely with designers, engineers and product managers to define product opportunities and contribute to the overall product strategy. - Communicate your thoughts and decisions effectively to the executive team.
  • Product Management
    Product management is the planning, forecasting, marketing and/or production of a product or service.
  • Product Managers
    Professionals who navigate and manage the product cycle, from researching users and managing a roadmap to overseeing the development of the product. Depending on the business, a product manager may be responsible for one major feature, line of business or other project. Often considered "mini-CEOs" of a product because PMs have a direct impact on business revenue, cost and growth.
  • Prototype
    A tool to show preliminary design, pending user feedback and consultation for refinement. Specturm of low to high-fidelity depending on what makes the most sense for the stakeholder to understand. e.g. clickable prototype vs sketch wireframes.
  • q

  • Quailty Assurance (QA)
    Quality assurance (QA) is a way of preventing mistakes in products and avoiding problems when delivering services to users. In the manufacturing world, the role of QA helps identify and reduce defects in products. In the software world, quality assurance and testers work hand-in-hand with product teams to test edge cases. In essence, their job is to intentionally find breaking points in products so that users don't have to.
  • r

  • Redlining
    A document handed off to developers to ensure that designs are made according to specifications. "Redline" refers to the literal guides, which are often red lines, within a document that communicate exact spacing, margin, etc. Many teams require redline documents because developers may not have the design programs - nor want to use them - to interpret the intended output of the design. There are now many tools that help automate this process of creating specs and redline documents, like Zeplin and Avocode.
  • Responsive Web Design (RWD)
    The practice of making web pages render well on a variety of devices and screen sizes. UX designers are expected to make designs that work across, and adapt well to different platforms.
  • Return on Investment (ROI)
    A measure for evaluating business performance. In traditional finance, ROI is the most common "profitability ratio" most often calculated by dividing net profit by total assets. The general idea of ROI helps product teams evaluate whether certain efforts are worth pursuing.
  • s

  • Sitemap
    A list of pages of a website. During the design process, sitemaps help define the informational structure of an experience, for example which categories fall under what page.
  • Sketching
    A sketch is a rough drawing. In UX design, sketching is not only helps with developing user interfaces, but is useful for design collaboration and communicating ideas.
  • Specification (Spec)
    "Spec" refers to specification, which are technical requirements that to be implemented during the product development process. "Designing to spec"
  • Style Guide
    A document containing the styling options that are repeated throughout a design, for the purpose of maintaining visual consistency throughout an experience. Style guides are basically a set of rules of when to apply certain fonts, sizes, and more.
  • t

  • T-Shaped Designer
    T-shaped designers are strong generalists who know how to do all aspects of design sufficiently, but excels especially in one discipline. For example, a UX designer who specializes in front-end development. The horizontal part of the letter "T" refers to the breadth of design skills, while the vertical part of "T" refers to the depth in one design specialty. Some teams are built by selecting T-shaped designers whose strengths work well together. For example, pairing the UX designer who specializes in UI design with a UX Designer who codes.
  • Task Flow
    A series of steps ("flow") that users complete for a specific task. Task flows are similar to user flows, except they're generally linear without multiple branches or paths. E.g., all users would follow the same steps to complete that specific action, such as creating an account or going through a checkout process.
  • Taxonomy
    The practice of classifying things and concepts.
  • u

  • Usability
    Usability is how easy and intuitive an experience is for users. How easy is a product to use? How intuitive is a feature it? Does it get the job done, and if so, how much effort does a user have to exert before getting there?
  • Usability Testing
    Usability testing is the act of evaluating products or services by testing them with users. During usability tests, researchers observe participants who attempt to complete tasks. The goal is to identify usability problems, collect qualitative and quantitative data and determine participants' reactions to an experience.
  • User Experience Design
    The practice of affecting the user experience through a user-centered design process, with a focus on usability and making user interfaces easy to understand. User experience design is a broad field containing many subfields like information architecture, research, UI design and more. Contrary to popular belief, user experiences designers cannot design all the possibilities of an end-user's experience (too subjective and vast), but these professionals can apply a design process to help users complete the most important actions.
  • User Experience (UX)
    User Experience (UX) is everything that happens to a user while interacting with a product, service or general experience. This includes the person's emotions, attitudes, reactions and behavior during the experience. As a design field, UXBeginner defines user experience at three levels: Level 1 (broadest): the general experience anyone can have with a product or service. Level 2 (as philosophy): Placing the user - and their experience - as the priority and origin of truth for product design. Level 3 (as a way of doing things): UX leverages design thinking, processes, tools and techniques (wireframes, sitemaps) in order to create and affect the user's experience.
  • User Flow
    User flows are paths that users follow through an experience. Flows aren't necessarily linear, and can branch out in different paths. For example, users can take many potential paths within the user flow of researching products online to buy. They may conduct multiple queries on search engines, which then brings them to blogs, which eventually links to an eCommerce store to buy the product. Another user may click through an ad for the same product and land directly on the eCommerce store. (Notice how there are several paths a person can take to accomplish each goal. These different paths = user flows.) Designers analyzing and crafting these user flows in order to optimize the overall user experience. As such, user flows can be thought of as mini user journeys.
  • User Interface
    The medium through which users interact with an experience, product or device. Your mobile screen, the automated checkout kiosks at grocery stories, the keyboard on your laptop and the way Alexa responds to your voice are all examples of user interfaces.
  • User Interface Design
    Because digital experiences are intangible, the only way users can interact with them is through a user interface. User interface design, or UI design, is the design of interfaces that focus on usability and efficiency for the user. This practice usually refers to the design of graphical user interfaces (or “GUI”) for software and machines, but can also refer to other types of interaction like voice user interfaces.
  • User Journey
    The path(s) that users take to complete tasks or achieve their goals. From the perspective of analytics software like Google Analytics, journey maps visualize "a person's experience during one session of using a website or application, consisting of the series of actions performed to achieve a particular goal."
  • User Onboarding
    User onboarding is the process of orienting useres to a new experience, product or feature. This often involves explaining how to use the product and user interface, with the goal increasing user success and adoption of the product.
  • User Research (UXR)
    User research focuses on understanding users’ behaviors, needs, worldviews and motivations through a variety analytical and observational techniques. While market research looks at borader demographic factors and trends, user research focuses on individual goals and behaviors.
  • User Stories
    A method of translating research into actionable user goals and tasks. User stories are built from the perspective of target personas. Format: As a [persona], I want to [action], so that [expected outcome]. Example: As a busy mom, I want to find cheap produce easily, so that I can make my family
  • User Testing
    User testing involves evaluating a product or service by testing it with representative users. We do user tests on prototypes and products that are already built out to calculate whether the design was successful or not. Those success terms should be defined much earlier in the process (see: probably not wise to come up with things during the prototype stage...).
  • UX Portfolio
    A showcase of a designer's best work. UX portfolios usually include in-depth case studies focusing on design process and problem solving. Most commonly presented as a website or slide presentation.
  • UX Researcher
    A professional who conducts user research and helps translate those insights into actionable goals for product teams. User researchers can apply a quantitative or qualitative focus to their work.
  • UX/UI Developer
    Primarily a front-end developer with a knack for usability and a sensibility for coding products with the user in mind. Sometimes companies use this as a catchall unicorn role for someone who designs and codes.
  • UX Writer
    UX writers develop written copy for user interfaces, with the aim of helping customers interact and use a product. The writing that's produced - whether it's the label on a button or help text under a form field, is often referred to as microcopy. (A la "microinteractions" for the designs made by interaction designers.)
  • v

  • Virtual Reality (VR)
    A simulation of 3d environments that users can interact with, often using special electronics like VR helmets, goggles, gloves and sensors. Just like AR, VR is a new platform that will demand more UX & UI expertise from designers.
  • Voice User Interface (VUI)
    Interfaces that enable users to use voice input to control computers and devices. Functional VUIs depend on speech recognition in order to translate voice iput into commands a machine can understand.
  • w

  • Waterfall
    Compared to agile or lean, waterfall is a software development method with a relatively linear, sequential process. Originating from heavy manufacturing and automotive industries, waterfall is now see as a less flexible and iterative way of design. For proven, repeatable projects, waterfall may still have a place.
  • Webapp
    Webapps are short for web application, which is a computer program that users run in their web browser, also referred to as "client-side." A website can contain a mix of informational content (webpages) or functional applications (webapps).
  • Whiteboard Exercise
    Whiteboards are used for collaborative design and brainstorming, so whiteboard exercises are often used to test applicants on their design problem solving abilities. Whiteboard exercses ask: are you able to visualize a process, show your work and arrive at a set of recommendations? Here's a common exercise: Design a(n) [object] for a(n) [audience], e.g. "Design an ATM for the disabled."
  • Wireframes
    Designs that serve as blueprints of a product. Wireframes can range from low-fidelity sketches to high-fidelity mockups. The point of wireframes is that they should be fast and easy to produce, such that early feedback about designs can be gathered before expending more money and time on actual development. Wireframing can be sketched on pen and paper or with wireframing software.