What is user experience design?

Last updated: April 2024

What kind of experience do users have when they interact with your product? This is the fundamental question that user experience (UX) design seeks to answer. Simply put, UX design is the process of optimizing the experience that users have when they interact with a product.

UX design spans multiple software and design disciplines — traditional computer interaction, information architecture, visual design, usability, and user research. The field emerged from UX, which focuses more broadly on the interaction between users, machines, and their contextual environments. In the 90s, designers began thinking about UX due to the proliferation of workplace computers. It was during this time that usability engineer Donald Norman joined Apple as a user experience architect and popularized the term "user experience."

Why is UX important?

UX is the link between your offering and your users. It strongly influences how people navigate your product, how they feel about it, and whether or not they continue to use it. Thinking about what your users are trying to accomplish and how they experience your product is essential to lasting customer happiness. This is one reason why software developers integrate UX into their work — so that the user experience can inform feature requirements and interaction plans.

Here are some of the key principles of UX design:

  • Improving usability

  • Simplifying documentation while providing clear design requirements

  • Expediting design and development through detailed guidelines

  • Testing concepts to validate them before committing to code

  • Reducing the cost of ownership and support by producing a product that has an easy-to-learn design


What is the difference between UX and UI?

UX design is often associated with user interface (UI) design, but they are two distinct concepts. At the most basic level, the UI refers to the pages and views that allow users to interact with a device, product, or service. UI design is similar to graphic design — the goal is to create visual elements that are functional and appealing to the user. You can think of the UI as one component that contributes to the broader user experience.

UX is the complete experience that users have as they interact with every aspect of your company's products and services. UX design is a more analytical and technical field because it includes elements of software development and information architecture. Both UX and UI design are vital to creating the actual experience your customers have while they are interacting with a product.



UX and PM: Who owns what?

Because UX design plays such an essential role in the success of a product, UX designers should work closely with product managers. Frequent communication and open collaboration between these two roles are key to achieving a Complete Product Experience (CPE). Everyone in the organization needs to care deeply about optimizing each interaction that customers have with your product.

Want an easy way to conceptualize the differences between product management and UX? Think of product management as the “what” and user experience as the “how.” Product managers are responsible for envisioning and defining what should be built. UX designers (along with engineers) are responsible for implementing this vision of the product.

The table below breaks down some of the main areas of focus and crossover functions between UX and product management:

User experience

Crossover functions

Product management

Information architecture

User research




Business modeling

Interaction design

User stories

Data analysis



Stakeholder input

Visual design

Competitor analysis

Scope planning

UI sketching

Product/market fit

Usability testing


Journey mapping

KPI monitoring



How should UX and PM work together?

UX designers and product managers can work incredibly well together to iterate on a product. Before any design work begins, it is important that UX designers have a clear picture of where the product is going and why. The product manager should explain the product strategy upfront so that UX designers can produce new designs with the big picture in mind.

Product managers own the product roadmap, which deepens the UX designer's understanding of the industry, market, and technology (as well as the work required to achieve the company and product objectives). In turn, UX designers contribute to creating the CPE — helping product managers achieve their goals for the product and making users happy.


What tools do UX designers use?

  • Aha! software: The Aha! suite covers every step of the product development lifecycle — from setting strategy and capturing customer feedback to exploring visual concepts and wireframing on a digital whiteboard. Our software is used by product teams, UX designers, developers, and more.

Try the sitemap template below — with a free trial.

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  • Atomic Control animation and events in precise detail with advanced interactive design features like logic, data, and variables.

  • Axure Make wireframes and prototypes for websites and apps. Axure offers drag-and-drop, resizing, and formatting options.

  • Balsamiq Create mockups and wireframes quickly on a virtual whiteboard.

  • Empty States Download design templates for any device so your users do not encounter boring blank pages.

  • Figma Collaborate with teammates in real time on designs and prototypes.

  • Flat Icon Access more than four million free icons in PNG, SVG, EPS, PSD, and BASE 64 formats.

  • Flinto Add sound effects, haptics, and animated transitions to your prototypes.

  • Framer Draw, animate, and share realistic designs so you can get feedback from teammates and users.

  • Invision Transform web and mobile designs into interactive prototypes and mockups.

  • Lunacy Design UX with built-in graphic assets, and AI tools. Works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

  • Miro Work on designs with distributed teammates in real-time on this online whiteboard platform.

  • Sketch Create icons, make interactive prototypes, and test your design ideas.

  • The Noun Project Select from millions of free symbols and icons in this diverse collection of iconography.

  • UX Archive Use this library of mobile user flows to analyze how other apps solve design problems.

  • UXPin Design prototypes, join static screens with transitions, and visualize the user journey through your product.

UX design is a crucial element in building a product or service that people enjoy using. As a product manager, it is important to have a solid understanding of what UX is, how to collaborate with UX designers, and what tools are used to create excellent user experiences.

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