UX? UI? CX? HCD? — Whaaat!?

If you’re here you’re probably new in the field. Or, like me, you might be mentoring new people in the field that are confused. Or maybe you keep hearing people talk about those concepts and it seems like they are referring to different things.

Welcome to the digital world!

We are all pretty much figuring this thing out and while we are at it, us, the experts, are the ones confusing everyone else around.

So let’s take a minute and clarify these concepts one by one, showing also how they overlap with each other — to keep it a bit confusing!

Graphic Design

A lot of people believe Graphic Design is only about print — It isn’t!

Let’s start by defining that “design” is about solving problems. If you’re not solving any problem is called art.

So inside design, the main disciplines are the following:

  • Fashion Design: anything you can wear.
  • Interior Design: environment-related indoors (living room) or outdoors (an event).
  • Product Design: 3D products like furniture. (Ikea designers are here)
  • Industrial Design: Machinery and mechanics. Like a motor of an airplane for example.
  • Graphic Design: Communication, information. Anything that combines text and images (or shapes). And this can be done in any medium. One of the biggest Graphic Design sub-disciplines is branding which is represented across so many different mediums: print, digital and even overlapping with other design disciplines. A Graphic Designer can then specialise in digital design, in animation, illustration, branding, packaging, advertising, editorial, or even in copy-writing!

What’s more interesting on this is that any of those disciplines (and all that fall under them) follow the same creative process: learn > identify > create > implement > repeat.

And repeat! (Source: DesignKettle.com)

Human-Centered Design

“Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem-solving. One that starts with people and ends with innovative solutions tailored to meet their needs”

Can’t explain it better than this:

Customer Experience (CX)

CX is about the whole customer lifecycle, from gathering the information of different products, all the way to the purchase, usage, troubleshooting and returning to buy more. It’s all about how the customer is treated and what is he/she offered or told.

Service Design

Very related to Customer Experience. Service Designers are conceptual and take care of services like government or hospitality answering questions like: “how might we make the experience of staying at a Carlton hotel better?”

The work together with different disciplines like architects, marketing and sales directors, customer support, mechanics… Whoever has a specific knowledge related to the service given.

User Experience (UX)

Because the name sounds so broad, most of the people mistakenly think UX takes care of CX and Service Design. In reality, UX takes care of the DIGITAL part of the product or service offered to the customer.

Let’s take UBER as an example. The UX Designers at UBER work on the mobile app for different platforms as well as the browser version of it (responsive).

They use the same method as all the others: research, identify problems, create solutions, test them and launch them. And repeat. Only in this case with specific tasks and deliverables tailored to solve problems on the digital world such as: sitemaps, user flows, wireframes or usability testing.

Some examples of UX tasks and deliverables along the way. (Source: Netsville.com)

A UX Designer, therefore, is typically strong on everything around research, testing and wireframing. They tend to be also either very technical (close to developers and even knowing code themselves) or more business oriented (closer to the Business Analysts).

I really like this image by Glenn Bennet on the relationship between UX, CX and HCD that hopefully makes it even more clear for you:

Visual Design

Since an UX Designer can come from multiple backgrounds, they don’t have to have strong aesthetic skills. Those skills are mastered by Graphic Designers. But not every Graphic Designer decides to learn about research or conceptual tasks and deliverables typical from UX.

This is why the Visual Design discipline appears. It takes care of the overall look & feel of a digital product or service. It’s very related to branding since they should make it all consistent and aesthetically delightful.

Visual Designers are strong on the visual composition of the information, the hierarchy, the weight of the elements on a page, using color theory to improve conversions and usability and also ensuring a good readability by applying the right fonts.

How user-friendly and beautiful are these? :) (Source: hype4.com)

User Interface (UI) Design

UI Designers take care of all those elements that the user is going to directly interact with. They are extremely detail oriented: while a visual designer ensures the overall look and feel, the UI Designer makes sure the button has the right size in every device and all the form error types are covered and understandable.

Example of a UI Kit from Sketch App Resources


As you’ve seen, all concepts overlap a lot. And the tendency, like in anything, is that everyone thinks their discipline is THE ONE. UXers try to describe UX as UX + CX. Product Designers are also now claiming that product is the WHOLE process. This only proofs how young these disciplines are and how they are trying to constantly assess each other and find their space.

Quite an exciting time to be in the eye of the hurricane, right!?

Design Thinking is something a lot of companies are looking at which basically means applying this creative process, bringing empathy to the table and collaborate with different disciplines to any field.

So if you’re thinking about learning more about UX, design or any creative process, go for it! Even if you decide not to pursue a career on it, you will be able to apply the basic knowledge in any field to come up with better more empathetic solutions that people will adapt to easily.

Managing Director at Designed.org

Managing Director at Designed.org