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What is user experience (UX)?

First, let’s define user experience. Wikipedia defines it as follows, “User experience or UX refers to a person’s entire experience using a particular product, system or service.”

When any one of us sits down in front of a computer, lift our tablet or mobile phone, visit a website or use an app, we have become users of that service. Every interaction we have with a website from our initial impressions through to leaving the site and our recollections of it afterwards, all contribute to the user experience we have had. We will revisit this and offer further interpretations of user experience in module two, UX design.

Not just the user interface

One of the most important points to note about user experience is that it doesn’t refer to the user interface alone. It is important to understand that we cannot talk about UX as just a surface layer. Researching the user experience as you’ll see goes far deeper than this and gets to the very fundamentals of business goals and user needs.

It’s worth bearing in mind that in any UX project, research is beginning to help shape the end user experience from day one. To quickly illustrate the difference and approach between a UI, or user interface, project and a full-blown user experience project, consider what the underlying thrust of each project might be.

A UI project might ask simply, “How can we make this complex process more visually appealing to the end user?” A user experience project will go further and start earlier and ask, “How can the business manage complexity in order to offer the end user simplicity?”

We are all users now

The web has changed the nature of the study of human computer interaction. What the web created was a huge number of user behaviors that can be studied and analyzed in order to improve the experiences and offerings for end users.

“The internet has impacted all industries in ways we could not have imagined three decades ago. But nowhere has that impact been felt more so than in science research and academic publishing.” This point from the Huffington Post relates to science research, and certainly applies equally as much to the science of human computer interaction.

What is UX research?

What then is UX research? According to Robert Schumacher, in his book The Handbook of Global User Research, published in 2009, user research is “the systematic study of the goals, needs, and capabilities of users so as to specify design, construction, or improvement of tools to benefit how users work and live.” You can see from this that, just as UX itself is a far-reaching discipline, the scope of UX research is similarly broad.

As we will discuss later in the module, we are interested in behaviors, and needs, and matching those with the capabilities of digital tools, of which websites are one in order to make users tasks and as Schumacher mentions, lives measurably better. And measurably is the litmus test for the outputs from research. We’ll look at what can be measured and why, later in the module.

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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.

By the end of this topic, you should be able to:

  • Appraise practices for planning UX research
  • Critically evaluate the roles of innovation and users in User Experience (UX) research
  • Evaluate cognitive biases that can affect research data

    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 Research
      Rick Monro
      Skills Expert

      With the help of Rick Monro, you will develop the knowledge and skills to build highly effective user experiences. You will learn how to think like a user in order to understand their priorities and needs, and you will recognize the role of various research and analytics techniques such as tree-testing, card-sorting, user-testing, user-surveys, Google Analytics and specialized tools such as Click-tale.