What is UX? The scientific method’s new look

Is it Marketing? Is it Web Design? Is it coding? What are you?


Maria Stiller

3 years ago | 3 min read

If you’re interested in User Experience Design (UX) and find yourself struggling to understand exactly what it is, you are not alone.

I remember Googling “UX” and seeing beautiful photos of whiteboards filled with post-its and well-meaning Venn diagrams that gave me a clue into this field but not clarity.

Screenshot of “UX” Google Search

Is it Marketing? Is it Web Design? Is it coding? What are you? 🧐 🧐

Well, UX designers leverage tools from all these fields. They use competitive analyses like in Market Research, design software like Web Designers, and collaborate with coders to learn best practices for the web. These are UX methods but none of them defines UX design.

Its true basis is something many of us have already seen and believe or not, it dates back to your middle school science class.

Image of my middle school science textbook

Yes, the very over-lookable Scientific Method. I can feel my 10 years old self exhaling in boredom as I skim this all-too familiar chart.

Flow chart of the Scientific Method

Well actually, 🤔 🤔 🤔 this is the heart of User Experience Design. It is what makes UX distinct from other fields.

It makes so much sense. The scientific method is a way to draw reliable conclusions as opposed to ones based on assumptions.

With the limited real estate of screens, every pixel counts. Each design decision should have a “why.”

A business might think they need a mobile application and hire a web designer and developers to build it only to find users don’t engage with their business through phones at all. UX design is about designing a solution with its actual users at its center.

The Scientific Method vs UX

Image Source: Career Foundry

Step 1 & 2 — “Identify a Problem and Research”

In UX design, these 2 steps make up the Discovery phase.

A client wants to address an issue. The UXer must dig deeper to ensure designs will function in the real world.

Tools like surveys, ethnographic field studies and 1:1’s with subject matter experts vet assumptions and get a deeper understanding of the problem.

Research means gathering data and contextual insights around the problem space.

Based on the data and observations, did any common patterns emerge? What pain points are users facing? Do they seem to have a preference? A preference over what exactly? And most importantly, why?

Step 3 — Posing a Hypothesis

In Science class, this is the classic if-then statement. “If I get at least 7 hours of sleep, I will do better in school.

In UX, the design is the hypothesis.

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It’s a first attempt at creating a user experience with the features and approach the research suggests should be priority.

That being said, hypothesis testing should not feel like a wack-a-mole. When ideating on designs, hone in on a select few aspects of the experience you want to learn more about.

Step 4 — Experimenting

Time to get testing! Put the prototype in front of users and get feedback.

Just like in your middle school science class when you have to decide what variables will validate the hypothesis, UX testing identifies metrics of success. They assess how well the design has met the goal.

For instance, a standard metric is to measure how long the user takes to accomplish a task. It’s a useful way to gauge how easy something is to navigate. Maybe the first time around, users take a long time to onboard. Is there something on the screen causing a moment of confusion?

Just like reviewing the results of an experiment, collecting data gives the design team an objective way to evaluate the design.

Remember it’s ok for the design to perform poorly. With a systematic approach, this is still major takeaway. Find out what works, what doesn’t and iterate! Back to the drawing board to work out any kinks or make improvements. This is met with more testing until a final design is reached.

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Step 5 — Conclusions

In UX, we don’t write a science report, but we deliver the final handoff which often includes a summary of findings, annotated wireframes and anything useful for the development team to implement the design. 🥳 🥳

And just like that the scientific method gets a facelift showing that the principles of discovery are timeless. The methods which explain phenomena like gravity can be used to construct our digital spaces.

It’s important to note that UX rarely happens linearly, often parts of the process move around depending on the project but all the components are there.

So hopefully, the next time you find yourself revisiting the question, “What is UX?” you remember it’s designing with the Scientific Method.


Created by

Maria Stiller







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