User Experience vs Design

A pedestrian choosing a well trodden footpath over a paved walkway

You may have seen this image or variants thereof circulating in social media lately. The caption is usually something along the lines of “User Experience vs Design”, indicating that the paved walkway represents Design, and the well trodden dusty footpath represents User Experience. Clever as it may appear to be, I feel this very simplistic interpretation is perpetuating misunderstandings that already exist about both concepts. Let me explain what bothers me most about it:

  1. User Experience and User Behaviour are two different things
    The footpath should be labeled “User Behaviour” since walking on the paved road will also render a user experience which differs from the user experience of walking on the footpath.
  2. User Behaviour is studied by testing design
    I don’t agree with the way the image implies that the paved walkway was a poorly considered design solution. For all we know, only 1% of users deviate by using the footpath, or perhaps the footpath represents a secondary endpoint that can be addressed in v2 of the design? Good design always considers both the objective and data available at the time, then presents a solution within the given constraints. This image tells us very little about the design process or the constraints, it only shows a result of user testing.
  3. Two sides of the same coin
    Design and User Experience go hand-in-hand, the one is constantly informing and influencing the other. To imply that there is some sort of rivalry between the two concepts or that designers often stubbornly try to force users to behave in a way that is counter-intuitive or inefficient is simply not true.

Design lives within the uncomfortable overlap between Art on the one side, and Engineering on the other – it is 100% concerned with function and 100% concerned with the aesthetic. The reason I call it uncomfortable is because of the apparent paradox between the freedom of artistic creativity and the rigid rules of engineering logic. I’m sure you’ve heard the mantra “Form Follows Function”? It was popularised by the 1920’s Bauhaus movement, but truthfully, with Design, the way something looks and its functional purpose are inseparable.

Good Design is always User Centred. As a designer, if I’m not designing with the experience of the end user in mind, what am I doing?

Imar Krige is a graphic designer with over 11 years of experience and co-founder of Solid Stuff Creative. A numbers station is a type of shortwave radio station characterised by unusual broadcasts or incomprehensible morse code messages... similar to his blog posts.

3 Comments

  1. Lisel says:

    Bravo!

  2. Kobus Smit says:

    A landscape designer for a new university in the US left the pathways between buildings undeveloped for a year and only planted grass. After a year, a satellite picture revealed the trodden paths and the paving was laid according to the natural flow of traffic. Not all designers have the luxury of this kind of input.

    1. Imar says:

      That’s brilliant! Having valuable data to work from beforehand certainly helps produce better design.

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