Defining the User Experience profession

Elizabeth Bacon
3 min readJan 28, 2014

Like every senior practitioner within the fields of User Experience (UX), I too have cast my modeling hat in the ring when it comes to defining User Experience Design. Note that already I come from a design perspective: my own roots lie in Interaction Design and Design Research, while I have a particular appreciation for Human Factors Engineering, and the management arts as well.

I’ve proposed a view that represents the fields of User Experience Design organized on a spectrum comprised of the soft skills we all possess: Understanding; Definition; Communication. We must excel in understanding people, technology, domains, problems; we must excel in providing definition to that understanding and advancing it towards a goal, in terms of creating models, approaches, scenarios, solutions, frameworks, systems; and we must excel in communicating this user-centered understanding and solution definition in all ways, including visually, verbally, and into development and launch which gets into product management territory.

Here’s that view:

All of the root disciplines of UX can be placed on this spectrum in terms of their most natural affiliation with the skills of Understanding; Definition or Communication.

Obviously none of us would survive as professionals if we didn’t have a balance of all three. If we delve deeper into the individual disciplines, we can see that each of the specialty’s primary work practices is also mapped according to its focus on the matters of comprehending problems, solution modeling, and disseminating our output.

Since I know the practices of Interaction Design inside and out, here’s my analysis of its detailed activities:

Yes, my essential view is that “UX” is just an umbrella term for the related sets of considerations that are required to research, design and develop digital products and services.

Hiring is always a major concern when we’re talking about UX fields. For a given product, a team may need a cross-section of different specialists to comprise a full UX group. A deep website with heavy taxonomy implications will want a full-fledged IA; a mobile team will need a strong IxD to handle the frequent state transitions and come up with an elegant pathway through the system; a team working on medical devices will need to fill evaluation roles with solid Usability Testing and Human Factors Engineering practitioners. Hopefully this model can support recruiters and managers looking to both assess candidates’ skills as well as define a hiring plan to support a solid, balanced team. In other words: titles don’t define people.

Here’s my UX self-assessment for starters:

And there’s an awesome coda! The good folks at UX Mastery, who used this UX sundial model in their book and related materials to help up & coming practitioners, inspired an intrepid person to create an actual interactive UX self-assessment tool. Go check it out!

(Btw, I’d be really interested in hearing from developers who may find that their own discipline may be understood with these same three soft skills, or whether there are more applicable skills that underlie their hard-core definitional, creative/analytical work. And since I’ve moved into Product Management roles, I’m also game to consider how this field reflects the same spectrum of soft skills, or whether it requires different ones.)

Go forth, designers — and keep progressing your skills of understanding, definition and communication!

Originally published at on January 28, 2014.



Elizabeth Bacon

Conceiving & strategizing. Humanizing healthcare. Changing the future. Loving nature and inner mind. Optimistically engaging.