Full Screen

Elements of User Experience

More Free Lessons in

Web Design, CRO and UX View All →

Get cutting-edge digital marketing skills, know-how and strategy

This micro lesson is from one of our globally recognized digital marketing courses.

Start a FREE Course Preview Start a FREE Course Preview
Global Authority

The Global Authority

12 years delivering excellence


245,000+ Members

Join a global community


Associate Certification

Globally recognised


Membership Included

Toolkits, content & more

Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

Anatomy of a user experience

So let’s look at the discipline of UX and the component parts that go into creating an online experience for an end user.

This diagram by Jesse James Garrett, an American UX professional and founder of UX agency, Adaptive Path, is from the year 2000. In it, Garrett set out to show how a user experience is built up in layers with appropriate elements from different contributors coming into play at various times.

You’ll notice that the diagram encompasses business analysis, technical and content requirement analysis, interaction design, information architecture, navigation, interface design, and finally, visual design.

It is crucial to understand that we sometimes hear the acronym “UI” used interchangeably with UX.

  • UI stands for ‘user interface’ and refers only to the visual layer that is presented to the user.
  • ‘UX’ is the entire experience.

To echo Steve Jobs again, design is not just what it looks like and feels like, design is how it works.

This table by UX designer Steve Psomas is not unlike Garrett’s. However, the emphasis here is on breaking down the constituent contributions into granular elements. You can see much more clearly from this breakdown the sheer amount of activity that goes into creating a positive user experience well outside of how it looks.

Contributing disciplines

The contributing disciplines to user experience include:

  • Research
  • Business analysis
  • Information architecture
  • Interaction design
  • Content strategy
  • Visual design
  • Front-end development

All of these can have an influence on the quality of the end user experience.

History and evolution

When the World Wide Web arrived in the late 90s and became part of our daily lives, suddenly the wider population was interacting with what was essentially software but which hadn’t yet matured. Early websites were usability nightmares, unprepared for the job that they had to do.

Usability was now center stage and the web provided not just the demand for it, but with so many people using and interacting with it, the web also provided a mass of insights into how people interact with online systems, which in turn helped to refine and mature the discipline.  User experience inherited many approaches from behavioral psychology, cognitive science, human-computer interaction, and of course, design itself.

The UX toolkit

All of this serves to illustrate that a UX designer needs at least an appreciation of the contributing factors to user experience. This doesn’t mean they need to be an expert in all of them, but they should have a specialism which folds within the wider skill set.

Another important skill is knowing when each of the activities should come into play. It’s difficult to define a typical UX project, and the goals within different projects can be quite disparate. While optimizing the conversion rate of an e-commerce website might involve an amount of usability testing, for instance, to see if usability issues are affecting conversion, a dedicated usability project will call on a slightly different skill set.

Gaining support

One of the key elements of user experience design is understanding the different facets and challenges within a business or organization. Silos within organizations are one of the primary barriers to good user experience.

As customers, we like to feel as if we are dealing with an organization as a single entity. When interdepartmental issues or tensions become apparent to end users, it erodes their confidence in that company’s transactions.

Consulting and listening to different challenges within an organization will lead to better understanding of the challenges which might be involved in offering a seamless or joined up experience to end users, and also give those contributors a greater sense of ownership over the project.

Good communication is an important skill for any professional, but listening and understanding is particularly key in user experience design. Understanding the problem or challenge which UX work needs to address is a foundational activity in any UX project.

UX project plan

Starting a UX project should involve putting together a plan of activity.

This describes:

  • The types of activity that will take place within the project
  • Detail what the purpose of the project is overall
  • Determine how success might ultimately be measured.

This can be as straightforward as documenting what improvements are being offered to users in terms of an improved experience, and similarly how the business or organization can expect to become better as a result of the project.

The project plan can be a simple table listing these various elements. Stages of the plan should articulate:

  • Research activity
  • Analysis
  • Prototyping work
  • Design outputs

The project plan can demystify the process for others and help to set expectations. It may not always be required, for instance, where UX activity is limited and where resources will not be available.

ROI and competitive advantage

Improved user experience can result in huge benefits to a business’s bottom line. This quote, taken from a Fast Company article in 2012, offers a figure of a return anywhere between $2 and $100 for every dollar invested in user experience design:

“Every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return.”

The figure stems from a source at IBM, who when talking about their software, added:

“For every dollar spent to resolve a problem during product design, $10 would be spent on the same problem during development and $100 or more if the problem had to be solved after the product’s release.”

Numerous industry studies have gone on to corroborate and further clarify these figures.

Another of the world’s largest UX design agencies, Human Factors International, has come up with a number of return on investment calculators. (It can be accessed using the link in the lecturer’s notes of this presentation.)

So good user experience is good business. People simply prefer products or services which reduce friction or make things easier. For all of the information we have given previously around the disciplines contributing to UX, the purpose of user experience work can simply be to remove friction and pain points for end users, to save them incremental amounts of time or effort versus competitors, and in this way to make their lives just that bit easier. We all like it when that happens.

Back to Top
Rick Monro

Rick Monro is UX Director at Fathom. He has extensive experience in user research, interaction design, user-centered design, and design strategy with private and public sector organisations throughout the UK and Ireland.

Data protection regulations affect almost all aspects of digital marketing. Therefore, DMI has produced a short course on GDPR for all of our students. If you wish to learn more about GDPR, you can do so here:

DMI Short Course: GDPR

If you are interested in learning about the principles of UX and the tools or techniques that you can use to develop and refine your user's experience, DMI has produced a short course on the subject for all of our students. You can access this content here:

DMI Short Course: UX Essentials

The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library

You will not be assessed on this content in your final exam.


    UX Design
    Rick Monro
    Skills Expert

    The UX Design module will cover in depth the differences between interactive and presentational communication, illustrating how the priority of the marketer shifts from getting attention in a presentational environment, to giving attention in an interactive environment. You will understand how a user-focused approach to design impacts content planning, information architecture, customer-journey planning, prototyping, testing and validation, progressive-disclosure and other powerful approaches to the display and interactivity of content.