Distinguishing between UCD, UX, and usability

30 Oct 2009 - 6:25am
4 years ago
14 replies
5643 reads
Paul Bryan
2008

A friend and sometimes client told me over lunch this week, "I think
of you as the usability guy." I didn't much care for this, because
I think of usability in terms of activities rather than an identity
to aspire to. It got me thinking about related terms, like "user
experience" (UX), and its cousin, user-centered design (UCD). As a
result of those thoughts, I took some time to differentiate these
terms, because even though they are often used interchangeably, I
think they are different in ways that are important to interaction
design work in related but distinct fields.

The details of the term distinctions are on my blog:
http://www.virtualfloorspace.com . I'll just post the conclusion
here:

Usability: Important for all digital experiences, however, for
software design and development it is a critical measuring stick.
Software should be continually shaped by on-going, small rounds of
usability testing.

UCD: Web sites should speak the language of the people who use them,
not the organizations that sponsor them or the people who design and
develop them. UCD best practices should be adopted at the beginning
of every web site project, scaled appropriately to the budget and the
anticipated revenue or other gain.

UX: Products, services, public spaces, and web sites that need to
span multiple channels and areas of life will fall or rise based on
their user experience design. Customer experience is gaining momentum
as an entity in its own right.

Please take a look at the blog, and let me what you think about the
distinctions I draw between these terms.

Thanks!

Paul Bryan
Usography (http://www.usography.com)
Blog: Virtual Floorspace (http://www.virtualfloorspace.com)
Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/uxexperts

Comments

30 Oct 2009 - 9:17am
Wouter Leistra
2009

I believe that UCD is not mainly focused on the web area. I believe
any interface should speak the language of the user and not the
organization's language or technical language. UCD to me is taking
the target group(s) of users and with main focus on their profile of
skills, needs, requirements etc... you create the interface of
service or product. No matter if this interface is tangible or
intangible, on the web, on your HD as software or a sign in a park
outside. I also believe even though you do UCD it still requires
important input from business and technology point-of-view.

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30 Oct 2009 - 8:14pm
Jerome Ryckborst
2007

Splitting hairs between usability and user-experience design (and
information architecture and interaction design and so on) isn't
helpful if it divides us. United we stand a much better chance of
accomplishing something.

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31 Oct 2009 - 7:02pm
Eric Harris
2009

My feeling is that one should flow from the other. That is, a good UCD
will produce a good UX. One is contingent on the designer, and the
other on the end-user.

We study our target audience, "speak their language," as you say,
and design an interface between between their needs and our clients'
offering. This whole interchange produces the user experience (UX). We
are like translators, trying to facilitate communication and
interaction between 2 parties. Because these 2 parties share a market
relationship (supplier and consumer), we tend to focus on the needs of
the consumer - "the customer is always right." This creates the need
for UCD, which in my opinion is the extent of what we as designers can
do to provide a quality UX to the end-user.

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1 Nov 2009 - 12:22am
Dan Saffer
2003

This is a basic question of terminology, not of role/title
identification.

UCD is an approach to creating products that considers the needs and
goals of the user to be the highest priority. There are other
approaches to creating products (activity-centered design, systems
design, and genius or expert design being the other major ones).

UX is the umbrella term that encompasses all aspects of a product:
content, form, visuals, sound, behavior, structure. Interaction design
is one of many disciplines that contribute to the user experience.

Usability has traditionally meant product testing, or has been equated
with design, particularly interaction design. Usability is one of the
three main pillars of great products (usefulness and desirability are
the other two). Usability should be part of every designer's job,
although there are some "usability engineers" whose role is to test
for the ease of use of a product, or determine best practices for
types of products.

Hope this helps. IxDA, where's our wiki glossary?

Dan

Dan Saffer
Principal, Kicker Studio
http://www.kickerstudio.com
http://www.odannyboy.com

1 Nov 2009 - 7:35am
Davin Granroth
2009

Paul, can you post a link to the specific blog post? I didn't see it
on your blog's home page at first glance.

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1 Nov 2009 - 8:11pm
W. Jeffrey Rankin
2009

I couldn't find the details of your taxonomy, could you post a
complete URL? Thank you!

I've been known as the UI designer, GUI guy, usability person, and
the list is endless. All are fine with me. I have no expectation that
my colleagues will be able to hit the moving target of titles subsumed
under what I would generally call UCD. My only hope is that they
understand the value of the processes and tools that fall under it.

I don't understand the distinction you make between UCD and UX. It
seems like the definitions can easily be switched around. To me,
these are abstractions used to label our processes and tools, of far
less importance than the processes and tools themselves.

I'm interested, more fundamentally, is the need to distinguish
between UCD and UX. I've seen this need expressed before, and I'm
wondering what the driving factors are.

Jeff

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1 Nov 2009 - 11:03pm
Davin Granroth
2009

Jeff, here's my take on that.

The need to distinguish between UCD and UX is not, I think, felt in
the day-to-day work we do. Instead I think having clear terminology
is important when we reflect on what we do.

Although I am a user experience designer, there are times when I am
not actually focused on user-centered design (gasp!). The user is
always near-to-mind, but I may employ a different approach to get to
a design concept or prototype (or even suggest some sanity into a
database design). Though not UCD, it still ends up benefiting users'
experiences.

I used to think of myself as a usability specialist, but then I
realized that focusing on usability alone hindered me from pursuing
great designs.

Now I think of myself as a UX designer, and I can use all that
usability, information architecture, design research, information
design, interaction design, writing, visual design, coding, et cetera
stuff to get the job done better.

When we get a chance to reflect on our work, clear terminology leads
to clear thinking, which helps unify and free-up the creative work we
do.

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2 Nov 2009 - 6:32am
Dave Malouf
2005

I can't believe no one has said this yet in this thread:
"There is no difference between UCD and UX"

While on a certain level I agree that
UCD is a philosophy and collection of methods
UX area all the qualities of a system that a user experiences
Usability is ONE aspect of those qualities (see honeycomb ala
morville)

I can also also see that it just doesn't matter!

Depending on the audience.

e.g.
UCD is a specific philosophy in a historical context amongst a
specific group of people.
UX is a description of quality of experience and describes those
people who are put in charge of designing and validating that
experience

But in another context and historical perspective both are just well
DESIGN w/o labels. And for many the w/o labels part of it is just way
too confusing, and doesn't match their own experience.

The point is, who are you talking to, and why?

-- dave

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2 Nov 2009 - 7:12am
Shelly Cawood
2009

I am frequently referred to by colleagues and clients as everything
under the sun except an interaction designer, Usability, information
architect, UX, the list goes on, I have trouble explaining the
difference to people, when there is so much cross over people just
say 'so you do them all?', at which point i just give up

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2 Nov 2009 - 6:07am
PhillipW
2009

Usability is whether the interface works;

User Experience is whether the interface actually does something
which a user might want;

UCD is the 'process' of getting the other two things right.

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2 Nov 2009 - 10:32am
Paul Bryan
2008

Sorry about the lost blog posting. The URL is:
http://www.virtualfloorspace.com/2009/11/ucd-ux-usability/

@Jerome:
I don't think it's splitting hairs. I've read some recent holy
wars on this discussion board that involved these concepts, and I
think a clear representation of UCD, UX, and Usability, and their
often different application to web sites, software design, and
product design would help us get beyond blindfolded nerf bat battles
to a transfer of knowledge best practices. Instead of passionately
arguing that a particular approach is universally right or wrong,
discuss why it is right or wrong to your specific organizational or
design context.

@Dan:
Perhaps it isn't a question of role (although large companies often
separate the usability testing group from UX strategists and
designers), but it is more than terminology. It is a question of
focus and application of resources. For example, since many clients
are familiar with the term usability, they view it as the medicine
that will cure all their conversion woes. It won't. Some situations
require a step back to look at the overall online experience, or
perhaps even the multichannel experience, in order to solve the real
issues behind their woes. Understanding the distinction between these
concepts, rather than just the definitions of the terms, will help
them make better decisions.

@Davin:
I agree that when we get a chance to reflect on our work, clear
terminology leads to clear thinking, which helps unify and free-up
the creative work we do. I would like to see this type of thinking
result in a discussion framework in which specific research, strategy
and design decisions can be presented in a non-proprietary way.

@Dave:
I think the distinction does matter. Look at all the job ads on
LinkedIn, Indeed, IxDA etc. that your students and mentees may want
to apply for. They variously require UX, UCD, usability, SEO, SEM,
IA, web optimization, design strategy, interaction design, etc.
Depending on the job, they may need to articulate the different
components of a user experience they are familiar with, and how they
would optimize those components through various project roles, tools,
methods, etc. In a different interview they may need to be able to
articulate how they would go about executing a UCD strategy for a
given program or design project. How can UX and UCD be considered
"dead" if I get asked to explain my understanding and approach to
these concepts all the time in client meetings, with increasing
frequency, and these terms appear all over the job boards?

/pb

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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2 Nov 2009 - 12:34pm
Jason Maxham
2009

I have had a variety of titles throughout my career, the person signing my
paycheck can call me whatever they want. I will continue to use a
user-centered design approach to find the best solution for the interface we
are are designing.

Trying to argue the differences is just silly, organizations use titles
differently. For example: an IA at one firm would be called a BA at another.
There are no hard set definitions, you need to define yourself by what you
actually do. In this business a title does not accurately explain what you
do, yet.

-J (Web Designer, Sr. Designer, Art Director, Creative Director,
Information Architect, Sr. Usability Specialist, Prototyper, Manager, Sr. UX
Designer, Interface Designer)

3 Nov 2009 - 9:07am
Jennifer Vignone
2008

I would add to this that each environment, such as a design firm, an advertising agency, a financial institution, an educational institution, and so on, may view the responsibilities within each "title" differently, thus making it almost impossible to iron out one satisfactory job description or definition for each role.

================================

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Jason Maxham
Sent: Monday, November 02, 2009 12:35 PM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Distinguishing between UCD, UX, and usability

I have had a variety of titles throughout my career, the person signing my
paycheck can call me whatever they want. I will continue to use a
user-centered design approach to find the best solution for the interface we
are are designing.

Trying to argue the differences is just silly, organizations use titles
differently. For example: an IA at one firm would be called a BA at another.
There are no hard set definitions, you need to define yourself by what you
actually do. In this business a title does not accurately explain what you
do, yet.

-J (Web Designer, Sr. Designer, Art Director, Creative Director,
Information Architect, Sr. Usability Specialist, Prototyper, Manager, Sr. UX
Designer, Interface Designer)
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30 Aug 2010 - 11:05am
robert01
2010

Its pleasure reading your informative article on software testing. Please keep on writing.

 

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