UX is not a subset of CX

cx-ux[This article was originally posted on ZS Associates’ CX Factor blog.]

User Experience (UX) isn’t just about user interface design (though many conflate the two). Rather, the field is a convergence of art and science, including design, ergonomics and human factors engineering, the social sciences, and more.

As a domain, UX has matured rapidly. Undergraduates now can study in cross-disciplinary programs that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and in recent years, UX professionals have started thinking much more broadly about the types of problems that we can solve if we take a human-centered approach to business. We aren’t thinking about one interface or a set of interconnected interfaces anymore, though that certainly is part of what we do. Seasoned UX professionals are thinking about large-scale business transformation or even enterprise software. We’re thinking about measurable business impact and enterprise-wide task flows. In this way, we have much in common with our customer experience colleagues.

There has even been a shift, in many places, from the term “user experience,” which implies a singular relationship between an end user and an interface, to “experience design.” Don Norman, who coined the term “user experience” to describe his role at Apple in the early 1990s, now eschews the term, himself. In his current work, he’s focused well beyond the design and human factors aspects of software, and is working on how to apply a user-centered design approach to much broader problems such as the U.S. healthcare ecosystem. There are other wonderful examples, such as how user-centered design being used to transform the economy of Peru, as illustrated in a recent Harvard Business Review article entitled “Design for Action.”

It’s been interesting to see how some analysts at Cambridge, Mass.-based research and advisory firm Forrester have been attempting to define this space and to describe the relationship between UX and CX. For example, in a 2013 blog post by Kerry Bodine, UX is described as a subset of CX, and the post includes this diagram to illustrate her point:
a_UX Value

Bodine describes UX as a field that “primarily focuses on the design and development of digital interactions,” which is accurate but (in my opinion) woefully incomplete. As I described earlier, an experienced, capable UX professional—especially one working in the enterprise space—is thinking well beyond a set of digital interactions to the business goals and anticipated value, the context of use, how the solution fits into a broader set of business and user activities, and more. Bodine’s definition is like saying that the electrician works for the carpenter because electricity is integrated into the walls of a building. It’s convenient, but it’s not true.

CX professionals are not well served if they start from the (narrow) Forrester position that UX is a “design and usability” service provider. I would argue, instead, that all of these professionals are engaged in business transformation of some kind. Thus, I would revise Forrester’s diagram like this:

a_CX & UX

I would describe customer experience as a business domain with a specific set of tools, and CX professionals are seeking to borrow from UX. If CX is a business domain, then it makes sense for the CX professional to be driving the vision and strategy. The discipline of user experience, on the other hand, is a flexible set of skills, methods and ways of working that enable us to engage in a wide range of business transformation efforts. But the UX team, with a valued seat at the table, also can contribute in significant ways that some Forrester analysts fail to recognize in their most recent reports on this topic.

In a more recent Forrester article entitled “Bridging the CX/UX Divide,” Leah Buley states that “CX and UX professionals remain disconnected in many firms.”  I agree. In many organizations, the UX team often isn’t part of marketing. In those cases, the UX team might sit in a technology or strategy group. Or, if the team does originate in marketing, it might be called experience design, instead.

UX and CX professionals have a lot in common: They often consider the customer first; they are able to engage in big-picture thinking across silos and especially in the digital space; and they share many methods and ways of working that can make for a fantastic collaboration. If you consider the UX team to be a critical contributor to the success of your CX initiative, you’ll get the best possible outcome for your project team, for the business and, ultimately, for your customers.

2 Comments on “UX is not a subset of CX”

  1. Pingback: Cyberculture agenda: “How states manipulate social networks… « Erkan's Field Diary

  2. Pingback: UX Maturity Models – A Collection | Natalie Hanson

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