Is UX Design an art or a science? UX Question #47

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Connor from Walla Walla, Washington, asks: Is UX Design an art or a science?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Connor. This is UX Question number 47 and I am Ben Judy.

Is UX Design an art or a science? Well, I already touched on this briefly back in episode 21 when I said, the kind of design we do in user experience is more problem solving than art. While UX work often requires some degree of artistry or may have artistic elements, I see it as fundamentally different from art.

We can certainly look at some of the artistic aspects of UX design. User interface design, depending on the content and the branding of the UI, can involve artistry.

Early in my career I was a junior visual designer for an online business. And I would work with photos and there would sometimes be a need for an illustration. When I did small business web site design I would often get into branding. Logos and brand identity.

When you’re making visual design decisions, you’re picking colors and fonts and doing layout. Graphic design is a different discipline than UX. It’s not a core, essential, UX design skill—see episode 40. But in many cases, the UX designer has to also do some graphic design work. So depending on the project, you might get to be a bit of an artist.

But there’s so much more science, I think, in typical UX work.

What is science anyway? Science is using proven, repeatable methods to discover how things work. You formulate hypotheses and conduct experiments, you analyze data and draw logical conclusions.

UX research, done well, is very scientific. You gather data which you then analyze. Usability testing and other kinds of UX analysis activities should be repeatable, based on proven methods, and lead you to logical conclusions.

I’ve worked with some people working as UX designers who really wanted to be artists. And it’s always a recipe for frustration, when you try to make the work more like art. If you approach a UX project with the subjectivity of an artist, you’re possibly in the wrong line of work.

All the way back in episode 2, I said that UX design solves problems for users. An artist isn’t concerned with usability or efficiency. Now, an artist and a UX designer are both concerned with the experience people are having, but in very different ways. In UX we want every user to have a similar experience; artists generally want to leave room for interpretation, so two people could have very different experiences with a piece, and that’s great.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: How can I get UX work done when I have so many meetings?

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