How To Explain UX Design To Your Family This Holiday Season

“So, what exactly is it that you do again?”  Since most people aren’t familiar with the term “UX design”, or how it relates to everyday life, answering this qu…

Nicole Tanoue
Nicole Tanoue
Dec 19, 2019
Min Read

“So, what exactly is it that you do again?” 

Since most people aren’t familiar with the term “UX design”, or how it relates to everyday life, answering this question as a UX/UI designer can be a challenge. And most likely, you’ve tried in the past, and folks were no clearer after your answer than they were before they asked.

To add to the confusion, there are all the other exotic job titles out there in our industry to contend with—including product designer, which is essentially another name for UX/UI design, but is often mixed up with the design of physical products (actually called “industrial” design). 

And then, of course, there’s the assumption that people commonly make as soon as they hear the word “designer”, namely that you’re a graphic designer (or if you’re lucky, a fashion or interior designer).

However, there are opportunities to break through the bamboozlement. Although the term “UX design” isn’t widely understood outside the design industry, everyone does understand the difference between good and bad experiences with digital products and other everyday things. 

Whether you’re new to the design industry, or a seasoned pro, here are a few easy tips to help you explain your job to friends and family this holiday season!

1. Describe UX Design as it Relates to You

UX Design is a process for creating meaningful and delightful experiences for users. However, while this makes sense to fellow designers, the description may still not mean a lot to someone unfamiliar with the tech industry.

Reframing the definition to relate specifically to your role automatically makes the topic of conversation more engaging for family and friends. After all, they’re more interested in knowing what you do, rather than what the entire industry is up to. 

For example, if you work as a UX Designer for a recipe finder mobile app, you could explain how you help make it easier for people to find and share recipes using their phones. 

Talk about what excites you about your job, and explain the challenges you get to tackle at work. Sometimes getting straight into the details can help others grasp what an average day really looks like in your work. 

2. Show How UX Design Affects our Daily Lives

UX Design is all about making things easier to use, less frustrating, and more delightful. Explaining how your work relates to how we interact with physical environments can help people understand the value of your work. 

According to Don Norman and Jacob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group

The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use.

Just by reading this description, it’s clear that user experience relates to every industry or application we can imagine. 

Don Norman is also the author of the best-selling book, The Design of Everyday Things, where he explains the importance of good design in the usability of everyday objects. 

If poorly designed, everything from our TV remote, our kitchen appliances, or even non-tech household items like coffee mugs, salt shakers, or cheese graters can become unusable. 

Everyday objects with poor user experience cause frustration, making people feel inadequate or incompetent. The same goes for digital products like mobile apps, websites, and software.   

Explaining how design affects the user experience of the objects your family members use every day can help demystify the concept of UX design, and start to understand what you do for a living. 

3. Ditch the Jargon in Favor of Simplicity

Rather than using the term “UX Design,” simply saying “user experience design,” or even just “experience design,” makes the explanation much more straightforward. 

The acronym “UX” is tech jargon rather than a household term, so it can intimidate or exclude those not familiar with the industry. Even the term “user” is quite technical, and often we’re better off just saying “person” or “people.” Here’s an example:

As an experience designer, I am focused on improving the experience that a person has while using the apps or websites that I’m building.

Simply being intentional about the words you use can make your work much easier to understand.

4. Use the Holiday Party to Explain the UX Process

If there is still confusion after explaining what you do, you could try to illustrate the UX process using the holiday party itself!

Step 1: Understanding Your Guests (User Empathy/User Research)

In the case of the holiday party, it’s important to understand the types of people who will be there, and what to plan to make it enjoyable for everyone. 

You might send out an email or text before the party asking who can make it or if anyone has dietary restrictions or preferences on the food served. If it’s a pot-luck-style holiday party, you might send out a survey or spreadsheet for people to sign up to bring a dish. 

For a UX Designer, this is the equivalent of researching an audience or user base. When designing digital products, we do similar things, including user interviews and sending out surveys. 

In both cases, we’re trying to be empathetic by understanding the needs of the people coming to the party (or using our app.)

Step 2: Planning the Party Schedule (Mapping out the User Flow)

When planning a party, you may want to plan out a rough schedule of what will happen. 

Even if it’s a really casual party, the timeline would usually include: guests arrive, guests sit around eating appetizers, guests gather around the table for dinner, guests start dessert, guests play games, and finally, guests leave. 

For a UX Designer, this is similar to creating a user flow: mapping out the steps that a user will go through as part of their experience of an app or website. 

Step 3: Hosting the Party Itself (Designing the Digital Product)

Now that you know who’s coming and the rough plan for the night, all you have to do is execute! It’s time to buy the ingredients and supplies, do the cooking, and put up the decorations! 

For a UX Designer, at this stage, we would execute a design by bringing together the required interface elements into app screens or webpages. We ideally always create prototypes before building the final thing, but it’s hard to prototype a holiday party… unless you have two parties.

Step 4: Did Everyone Have Fun? (User Testing and Feedback)

You might start by asking your guests for feedback about how they enjoyed the party. Did they like the food? How about the music? Asking these questions will help you gather information that can be used to improve next year’s gathering. 

For a UX Designer, the equivalent is gathering user feedback and results from the testing process. We ask people questions about their experience to figure out how it could be improved and made easier to use, either before the full launch, or before the release of the next version.     

Using these tips, you’ll be ready to take on those difficult holiday party conversations. You might even help make the party planning process more enjoyable! 

Illustrations by Annie Devine

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Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.