I’ve been asked a few times recently, “So what exactly is user experience?”

It’s a good question, but there’s a problem with it. The word ‘exactly’. Trying to define user experience exactly is like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

However, recently a Munich based user experience and interactive design studio Envis Precisely made an infographic (see below) outlining the disciplines of user experience.

I think they did a pretty good job, but a lot of people involved in user experience will be looking at it and thinking ‘Looks pretty, but where do I fit in here’. And that includes those with such titles and fields as Service Design, Content Strategy, UX Strategy and others.

The criticism won’t stop there. Others will complain that there’s no intersection between certain disciplines like HCI and Computer Science, or that the size of circle for their field is disproportionate in it’s importance or in relation to others, like Writing (content and micro-copy).

And that’s the problem – this infographic is not meant to define relationships between all these disciplines. It can’t, because there is no rigorous definition of the terms. Interaction design is not 37.34% user interface design according to some role-based equivalence of  the SI standards. There’s so much that affects a person’s view of these disciplines, and it varies from person to person, project to project, org to org.

There is no way this chart could be fixed and keep everyone happy, and certainly not have it remaining accessible.

So this chart does not, and cannot answer the question “So what exactly is user experience?”, especially as asked by someone already in the field.

No – what I like about this graphic is that it answers the question “So what is user experience”, as asked by someone seeking understanding and who does not already have an opinion, and in that context, I think this visualization is (almost) perfect.


The Disciplines of User Experience Design

Update: 3 Oct 2013: 
The original source of this diagram

For those who know that little is new,  the above infographic was based on an original graphic by Dan Saffer from 2008.

An interesting question raised by Saffer in that article was  that of  “what is user experience design by itself, those areas that aren’t filled up with other bubbles?

It would be wrong to think of this as an empty or negative space. The opposite in fact, because as Dan goes on to say: the practice of user experience design itself is about the “management and coordination between the disciplines“, not solely the involvement in the disciplines themselves.

That, I think is a great way to look at trying to explain user experience – not just as a set of disciplines; not limited to the relationships between them, but the coordinated cohesion of the disciplines into an environment that produces not just a product, but a great product.

So – if you want a metaphor that uses bubbles: User Experience is not just the bubbles that float, it is the air that carries them, and the surface tension that bonds them. Or something.

[ Now let’s go see if that’s on the somewhat-less-than-great UI/UX Analogies ]

Credit: Bubbles photo by flickr user sfllaw (source – license)