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How the UX role fits in to modern software development

When it comes to modern application development, understanding the role UX plays is key. Expert Jason Grant explains how a working knowledge of UX can save time and money.

You're at a barbecue hanging out around the grill, and someone asks what you do. If that person is in the industry, your response is probably not just simply developer. Rather, you would probably say front-end developer, back-end developer, full-stack developer or one of many other specialties. Similarly, the user experience role encompasses many different specialties, each with diverse tasks for different phases of a project. Some of the commonly used acronyms that people will use to describe their UX role are:

And there are even more UX roles that don't have acronyms, but every one of these has different responsibilities and tasks that make them unique.

When asked to describe what UX means, most people respond with something that implies design, usability or the UI, but there is much more to the UX story and a UX role. A well-designed UI is just icing on the cake but has minimal impact on the holistic experience. The official definition of user experience by the International Organization for Standardization is: "A person's perceptions and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service."

This term, user experience, was first used in 1993 by Don Norman to describe his vice president position at Apple's Advanced Computer Group. Norman is a cognitive scientist, design critic and author of The Design of Everyday Things. In an interview with Peter Merholz for Adaptive Path, Norman said, "I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person's experience with the system, including industrial design graphics, the interface, the physical interaction and the manual. Since then, the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose its meaning."

This is why a UX role matters: Today's users expect to have great experiences, and a poor experience can cost you a second chance. This applies beyond the website to every interaction the user has with the company, including products and support. Harvard Business Review found that 23% of customers who had a positive experience told 10 or more people about it. It also found that consumers' impulse is to punish bad service more than they reward delightful service.

So, why doesn't everyone invest in great user experiences by creating a UX role? Many people say, "We don't have time to invest in the process" or "We just need to get something shipped, and we will fix it later." The Insitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in an article titled "Why Software Fails," said 40% to 50% of a developer's time is spent on avoidable rework rather than value-added work. Investing in a UX role and UX in general can help provide an environment where developers are receiving better requirements that have already been tested with users.

As a developer, you want to create solutions that perform well and that users find elegant. It can be frustrating to revise a seemingly cool feature over and over trying to guess why users aren't using it. The UX role should not be to demand something fancy that is hard to code but to provide user flows that are tested before you develop.

To dig deeper into the UX role, there will be a series following this article that will look at the five W's (and one H) of UX: who, what, when, where, why and how. These future articles will provide a holistic look at the different aspects of the UX role.

Next Steps

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This was last published in August 2017

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