Why is it UX and not UE (User Experience)? UX Question #22

Watch on YouTube

YouTube player

Listen to the podcast

Read the transcript

Celia Marie from Cleveland, Ohio, asks: why is User Experience abbreviated as UX and not UE?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Celia Marie. This is UX Question number 22 and I am Ben Judy.

Why is it UX and not UE?

Well, it might surprise you to know that early on, some people were abbreviating it UE. One example of this comes from Apple, where Don Norman and some other, early UE pioneers worked. I came across one documented instance from 1995 in which Apple talked about creating a User Experience Requirements Document as part of their product design process. And they abbreviated it UERD.

Some time over the next decade or so, we commonly started calling it UX instead of UE.

I don’t know exactly when this changed or who to credit with doing it first. But here are some observations.

First, it makes sense phonetically. It’s just how the word “experience” sounds when you say it out loud. The first syllable is pronounced the same as the letter X.

Think about clothing sizes. We say XL for Extra Large. It rolls off the tongue differently than EL, and some might say it sounds cooler.

There are many other abbreviations like this, especially in the world of computer technology. EXtensible Markup Language has been called XML since the mid 1990’s. Extreme Programming is XP, not EP. Microsoft gave us Windows XP—a name probably chosen for marketing reasons because, again, starting with an X just sounds more interesting.

Consider also that UX is a more unique abbreviation. UE could mean dozens of things in different contexts. Unknown Entity. Universal Energy. In English the European Union is EU, but in Spanish, it’s La Unión Europea or UE. So, UX is better for disambiguation and not having to rely on context.

At the executive level of a business, we already have the term CEO for Chief Executive Officer. So, along comes the Chief Experience Officer, and we can’t very well call him or her the CEO as well. So we use CXO. Sometimes, X is used simply because E was already taken in common usage.

Psychologically, there’s just something about the sound and the shape of the letter X. “X marks the spot.” I don’t think we’re going to pivot from UI to UN for user iNterface because the letter N just has a different feeling to it.

Hey, as far as I’m concerned they can call us whatever they want. “A rose by any other name…” and so forth.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: what are the top UX trends for 2023?

Referenced in this episode:

Support UX Questions

Visit us on Patreon and check out the great perks at each level of support!

Become a sponsor

You can advertise your products or services—our promote yourself as a UX professional—by sponsoring episodes of UX Questions! Send an email to userexperiencequestions@gmail.com and ask for details.

Hire Ben Judy

Ben is available for consulting engagements as a workshop facilitator, mentor, design coach, and more! Send an email to userexperiencequestions@gmail.com and ask for details.