A user friendly dictionary of UX terms

Welcome to our comprehensive dictionary of UX terms, abbreviations and phrases!

In the week that Samuel Johnson, the 18th century lexicographer who wrote the English language’s most comprehensive dictionary, celebrates his 309th birthday, it’s only right that he is bestowed with one of the greatest honours known in the modern world…

To be mentioned off-handedly in the introduction for an online dictionary of UX terms that he could barely fathom in his Georgian-era brain.

What would he make of such complex, futuristic ideas as ‘multivariate testing’, ‘wireflows’, ‘conversion rate optimisation’ or ‘actor’. Well okay, that last one he’d technically get right, but he’d be wildly off the mark with ‘quick and dirty’.

So it’s a good job that I’m here to present this comprehensive dictionary of UX terms and phrases, and not the ‘father of the modern dictionary’ because it turns out he’d be rubbish at it.

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A super accessible guide to UX terms

The following descriptions are taken from articles found around our site, which I’ve linked to individually below. Where I’ve needed help with definitions, the sources are fully credited and to them I offer my humblest gratitude.

5 second test

A simple usability test in which a participant is shown a webpage for five seconds and is then asked some simple questions around what they can remember – such as, “Who is this site for?” or “What can I do here?” It’s basically to gauge a user’s first impressions and helps to test the focus and clarity of the webpage.

A/B test

A/B testing can be used to compare the performance of a webpage, app, email, or advert by pitting a control, ‘A’, against a test variant, ‘B’.

A/B testing works by randomly splitting your inbound traffic equally between the two versions. The data we capture from each group and their interaction with the variant can help you to make informed, evidence-based decisions about marketing, design, and user experience.

Actor

When customer journey mapping (see further down the page), the actor is the person who is experiencing the journey. It’s the person you’re focusing on – either they represent your customer base, or it’s someone else you’re interested in researching.

Also there’s the cast, who are the people influencing the actor’s journey – i.e. if the actor is a B2B purchaser, these people could be clients, colleagues or stakeholders.

Advanced UX research

An unmoderated UX study that allows you to: change the settings to record either the participants’ screen, microphone and/or camera, collect both attitudinal and behavioral data, combine multiple different research methods in one study (e.g. a card sort and a usability test).

Agile

Agile is an iterative approach to developing software, websites, apps or any other kind of digital experience.

Within this method, a multi-disciplinary team formed of relevant people from across the entire organization work in short 2-3 week ‘Sprints’ to deliver a specific part of a product rather than working on one massive, finished project.

This might be a part of a prototype, maybe some updated piece of code, or a new page design. Basically, something small gets delivered that improves the overall product, and everybody in the Sprint works towards it.

Card sorting

Used for assessing and designing the navigation and structure of a website or app. In card sorting, participants are presented with a list of items (for example, all the products featured in an online supermarket) and they’re asked to group the items in a way that makes the most logical sense.

All of this will hopefully create an easier, more logical way of navigating your site. You can validate your card sorting results by using tree testing (see further down the page).

There are three types of card sort:

  • Open card sort: participants are asked to group cards into categories that makes sense to them, and then they label each category in a way that they feel accurately describes the content.
  • Closed card sort: participants sort cards into category groups that you’ve already labelled and defined. For example, this is handy if you’re launching a new page for ‘watches’ and you’re not sure whether to put it under a parent category ‘Accessories’ or ‘Jewellery’.
  • Hybrid card sort: this is a mixture of open and closed. Participants can sort cards into categories you’ve already defined and then create their own categories if they think your categories are inaccurate.

Click test

A click test presents participants with a static image or screenshot of a page from a site or app, before asking questions such as, “Where would you click to trigger a specific action/navigate to another page/open a piece of content?”

Conversion rate optimization (CRO)

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is the process of tweaking your website in order to increase the number of visitors who will complete a specific action on the page. More often than not, a conversion tends to mean a purchase, but it can also mean a newsletter sign-up, or a whitepaper download, or an account creation.

Although easy to get confused with UX, CRO is more directly focused on business goals rather than improving the user experience.

Customer experience (CX)

Customer experience is the impression customers have of a brand as a whole throughout all aspects of the buyer's journey. As opposed to UX which relates to a specific interaction between a user and a product.

“I’m still annoyed at the ‘Georgian-era brain’ thing”

Customer journey map

customer journey map tells the story of your customer’s experience. From initial contact, through the various points of engagement, to the eventual long term relationship.

The customer journey map can focus on one particular part of the story or it can give an overview of the entire experience. Either way, it should always identify the key interactions a customer has with your organisation.

It’s within these interactions where you will find out what the user is feeling, what their motivations are during each phase of the journey and surface any questions they might ask when interacting with each of the touchpoints.

The goal of a customer journey map is simple: to teach organisations more about their customers.

Diary study

Diary studies gather information about a user experience over an extended period of time. Participants write about their experiences with a particular product or service in a diary. They may also take photos or perform other activities to record their experiences. Once the study period is over, the researcher analyses the findings.

Ethnographic study

Ethnographic studies are a field study technique, which involves talking with people and observing them perform their tasks in their own natural context.

Expert review

In an expert review, a UX professional examines your product to identify usability, design and accessibility problems. Unlike other more traditional usability inspection methods, such as heuristic review (see further down the page), an expert review doesn’t follow a strict process. Instead, it relies on the reviewer’s own expert knowledge of usability and design best practices.

This usability test should be seen as an early activity that occurs before using a research method that involves actual users.

Courtesy of Jim Ross, via ‘User research methods: has beens and all-stars

Eye tracking

Eye tracking measures the location and duration of a user’s gaze on stimuli (web page, computer screen, mobile app, etc.), and can provide valuable insight into users’ viewing behaviors. This can unearth usability problems in which elements are being missed.

Formative research

Formative research is done early in the product development to help form the product’s shape and design. Formative usability testing answers the why and how questions of the design’s usability.

It answers why something is not working and involves iteratively evaluating a product during design and development.

Guerrilla testing

Guerrilla testing is a way to gather cheap and fast feedback from the average person, by going out and asking people what they think of your idea or getting them to use your wireframes (see further down the page).

A popular way of carrying out guerrilla testing is by setting yourself up in a coffee shop (or another public place where your potential audience might hang out) with your website or other digital product open on a laptop, then ask people to test in exchange for a coffee and a muffin.

Heuristic review

Heuristics are basically ‘educated guesses’ – a quick, but well-informed way of solving a problem. In UX, a heuristic review comprises a team of usability experts who evaluate your website and compare it against a set of established usability principles, the most widely used being the ’10 heuristics’ as developed by Jakob Nielsen.

It’s largely outmoded now, as gathering three to five usability professionals together in a room is a luxury few can afford. It also lacks actual user feedback.

In-depth interview (IDI)

An in-depth interview is a qualitative research technique that involves conducting multiple individual interviews. They involve one-on-one engagement with participants, usually taking place face-to-face, either remotely or in-person.

IDIs are used to get a more detailed and well-rounded perspective of users’ opinions, experiences, and feelings about UX.

Information Architecture (IA)

Information Architecture refers to the way content is presented and accessed from any given page on your website – whether through menus, breadcrumbs, categories, links – whatever takes you from one page to another.

A good IA can help people on your site understand where they are, what’s around, and what to expect.

Information Architecture typically focuses on…

  • Structure: the way information is laid out i.e. people should be able to predict where to find what they’re looking for
  • Organization: grouping information in a way that makes sense to people
  • Labels: ensuring elements are appropriately titled so people can find information

Interaction Design (IxD)

Interaction design is a very broad term that relates to the design of how a user interacts with a product. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, the goal of interaction design is to create products that enable the user to achieve their objective in the best way possible.

There are ‘four dimensions’ of interaction design, as developed by Gillian Crampton Smith, an interaction design academic, with a fifth added by Kevin Silver, a senior interaction designer.

  1. Words: the text on clickable buttons should be meaningful and simple to understand. They should communicate information to users, but not too much information to overwhelm the user.
  2. Visual representations: graphical elements like images, typography and icons that users interact with. These usually supplement the words used to communicate information to users.
  3. Physical objects or space: through what physical objects do users interact with the product? A laptop, with a mouse or touchpad? Or a smartphone, with the user’s fingers? And within what kind of physical space does the user do so? For instance, is the user standing in a crowded train while using the app on a smartphone, or sitting on a desk in the office surfing the website? These all affect the interaction between the user and the product.
  4. Time: this mostly refers to media that changes with time – animation, videos, sounds. Motion and sound play a crucial role in giving visual and audio feedback to users’ interactions. It also refers to the amount of time a user spends interacting with the product.
  5. Behaviour: this includes the mechanism of a product. How do users perform actions on the website? How do users operate the product? It also includes the reactions, emotional responses or feedback of people using the product.

Iterative design

UX designers and researchers follow an iterative process – testing pieces and versions of the product and making improvements along the way, until, in the end, you’ve got a thoughtful and useful product that people love.

Ideally, that UX process involves creating sketches, then wireframes, then prototypes, and then the final product.

Lean UX

In Lean UX, non UX-trained people carry out UX activities involving all members of a development team. This method would be used when if your team has adopted the Agile method of development – where you work in rapid, iterative cycles. Lean UX is all about what you can achieve ‘here and now’ based on the team’s ‘assumptions’, which have been generated in a workshop.

Source: Interaction Design Foundation

Live intercept

Live intercept refers to ollecting user insights by surveying live visitors to a website, mobile site, or app. Typical questions/insights include learning the goals of their visit, perceptions of how those goals were met and tracking where users went in the site or app during their visit

Mental model

Mental models derive from the way humans perceive the world around them. They are developed from observation, perception, immersive experience and, most importantly, culture.

Within UX, mental models can allow developers to understand and analyse any problems in a design. The reason that people make mistakes when interacting with​ ​a product is often because their mental model is different to the developer’s mental model.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

In product development, the minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just enough features to be considered ‘working’, i.e. it achieves the purpose it was built for in the most basic way.

Building an MVP means you can test the product fairly cheaply at an early stage, helping you iron out problems and gain feedback for future iterations.

Moderated test

In moderated testing, the participants are observed by a moderator, either in-person or remotely. The core reason for getting into a moderated session is so that you can be in a live setting with a participant.

This allows you to have a conversation with your users as you’re observing what they are doing to better understand their behavior and dig deep into usability issues and attitudes.

Multivariate testing

Multivariate testing is the same as A/B testing (see further up the page), only you’re testing multiple versions of the same page rather than just two.

Participant recruiting

Participant recruiting is the act of defining, finding and inviting representatives of your target audience into your user research or usability study.

You can do this remotely, using automated software that sources and screens participants based on your own criteria, or you can recruit participants yourself

“Bit of a half-arsed entry. Wouldn’t find that in MY dictionary”

Personas

Personas are a way to help organisations understand their potential and existing audience in a more personal way.

In essence, personas are detailed profiles of a particular audience member, who represents a distinct group of people – in that they share similar behaviour, attitudes, personalities and preferences of your product, but are the ‘figurehead’ for a larger demographic.

Personas are constructed by researching and interviewing real people to gain qualitative data (see below), and this information often shapes the development of a product.

Prototyping

UX prototype is a simple version of your final product, which you use to test the design before launch. The earlier you test a prototype, the more user-centred the development and the less likely you’ll waste time and money launching a failure.

You may hear the term fidelity when it comes to prototyping…

  • High fidelity prototype: the model is as close to the finished, fully workable and realised product as possible.
  • Low fidelity prototype: the model is incomplete, simple and has the very broadest idea of what the finished product will look or feel like.

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is any kind of investigation, experiment or study where the results aren’t in numerical form. These will be the observations, comments, thoughts and feelings of the participants. You may also hear this referred to as empirical research.

Qualitative research can take the form of conversations, interviews, open-ended questionnaires or focus groups.

At WhatUsersDo we mainly deal with qualitative research. If you run a UX test on your website using our panel of testers, you’ll receive videos of those tests in which you can see the user interact with your site and, crucially, you’ll hear their thoughts and feelings spoken out loud as they navigate.

Quantitative research

Quantitative research is any kind of investigation, experiment or study where the results can be presented with numerical values. The data you’ll uncover in quantitative research is all to do with ‘how many, how often and/or how much, etc.’

For a complex example of quantitive data, just take a look inside the analytics of your website – pageviews, sessions, bounce-rate, frequency of visits over time – are all quantitative data.

For more detail, read our guide to the difference between qualitative and quantitative research.

Quick and dirty testing

As the name implies, this is a way to get fast user feedback on your product without any scientific rigour whatsoever. There’s no time or thought given to recruiting the ‘right’ participants, you just show it to the first person you find and see what they think. This can give you immediate insights into quick and simple fixes, can be done at any time, as often as you like, with anyone remotely suitable.

The arguments for quick and dirty testing are that doing some usability testing is better than none. The arguments against are that the results might be as good as doing no usability testing.

Remote user testing

Remote UX testing is the use of video recording software to capture the actions and spoken thoughts of users as they interact with your website, content or other marketing assets. It shows you what works, what doesn’t and how to improve the user experience.

Research method

The research method is the approach used to answer a research question.

“This dictionary is rubbish and boring, plus you missed out sausage”

Scenario

When customer journey mapping, the scenario is the specific journey that’s being mapped. You should have something specific in mind for this. For instance, imagine you’re a business person looking for a new phone and price isn’t a priority, but you want unlimited minutes and low overseas call rates plus good customer support. These details can all form your specific scenario.

Screener

Before running any kind of user research study you’ll want to find people to participate. People who will carry out the tasks you sent them.

A screener (or screener question) is an opportunity for you to have bit more control over who carries out your test before they begin. This will also help you filter out anybody who wouldn’t necessarily be right for it.

Study

A study is what you set up in an online research tool to answer your research questions.

Summative research

Summative usability testing is usually performed later in the product development process when a product is fully developed. It is often conducted when a design is reasonably complete and involves evaluating the design against quantitative goals or competitor’s products.

It is an evaluation of a product with representative users and tasks designed to measure usability (defined as effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction) of the complete product.

Surveys

Online surveys are a series of questions that are used to gather quick information about consumer attitudes, preferences, sentiment, past experiences, or overall impressions of a brand or product.

Think-out-loud (TOL)

Think-out-loud (TOL) is a study that is used to get verbal feedback from participants while they interact with your website, app or online prototype.

Questions in a TOL test are crafted in a way to uncover insights into how users behave, make decisions, and think and feel in the context of your product or service

Tree testing

Tree testing is used for assessing findability within the hierarchy of a website or app.

In tree testing, a text-only version of the site’s hierarchy is laid out in front of test participants, who are asked to highlight a category or page within that structure where they would expect to find a particular item or piece of content.

During a tree test, you’ll set a task for your participant to complete. For instance: “You are on a camping supply website, where would you go to find a sleeping bag? Click through the main menu until you arrive at the location you’d expect to find it.”

Then you can look at the following measures in order to help make improvements:

  • Directness: the percentage of users completing the task without hesitation and getting the correct answer first time
  • Success: the percentage of users that completed the task vs. failed attempts
  • Time: the time it took users to complete a task

Unmoderated test

Unmoderated tests are how we describe unobserved tests, where a participant is left alone to complete tasks without the presence of a moderator.

These sessions can be recorded for later viewing as part of a qualitative study, or the data is collected and analysed as part of quantitative research, or both.

User centred design (UCD)

User-centered design is an iterative design process in which designers focus on the users and their needs in each phase of the design process. The point of user-centered design is to incorporate user research and user feedback throughout the design process. Ideally, designs are truly based on user needs and wants.

User experience (UX)

User Experience (UX) is everything that happens to your users when they interact with your business or organization via your website, application or online communications. It includes everything they see, hear and do as well as their emotional reactions.

Usability

Usability is a measure of how well a specific user in a specific context can use a product/design to achieve a defined goal effectively, efficiently and satisfactorily.

Usability task

When you instruct a research participant to complete an activity on a website, prototype, or mobile app for the purpose of understanding whether they can achieve a goal

Usability testing

A Usability test is a study to gather qualitative feedback from users as they interact with a website, mobile site, or app. Data includes a video of the users’ screen and audio recording, together with responses to any pre-determined survey questions.

User Interface (UI)

The means by which you interact with a product – be it physical or digital – is called the user interface. So to take this website as an example, the UI consists of its layout, the navigation, the search box, the links… basically all the visual components that you can use to interact with the site.

Much of what we call UI nowadays is really GUI (graphical user interface), i.e. the images and icons on your computer or mobile.

User research

In order to design a truly relevant, useful and successful product, you need to clearly understand your potential audience. And the only way you’re going to understand the people who might use your product is if you talk to them first.

There are many different types of user research. You can go out to observe and interview people in their own natural environment (which is documented in this collection of user research war stories), you could invite people into your office to be part of a focus group or hold one-on-one interviews.

Alternatively, you can run UX testing on your prototype, in order to get some early insight into how people will use your product. Bear in mind it’s much easier and cheaper to change a prototype than a finished product.

“Hello. I’m actually Samuel Pepys. I am a different man”

UX benchmarking

UX benchmarking allow you to measure your digital product's baseline performance and measure how changes are affecting the UX needle over time. Typical benchmark studies are either longitudinal, in which you continually measure your own products over time, or competitive in which you measure your product's performance against others.

UX metrics

UX metrics are a set of quantitative data points used to measure, compare, and track the user experience of a website or app over time. They are vitally important for ensuring UX design decisions are made and evaluated using fair evidence rather than opinions.

Wireframe

Wireframes are used to show webpage layout ideas. It’s a quick and cost-effective way (because you don’t necessarily need more than a pen and paper) to get early user insight. This is also known as paper prototyping.

Example of a standard wireframe from NN/g

Workflow

Workflows map out a users’ movements across the wireframe or prototype. So this has more in common with a customer journey map (see further up the page), in that it highlights interactions – but doesn’t go into the details a user would see on the screen.

Example of a workflow from NN/g

Wireflow

A wireflow presents a combination of wireframes and workflows. Wireflows document the process of a user working through a task on the product or website, but with each step you can see wireframe mock-up of the relevant page.

Example of wireflow mockup for mobile by NN/g

I have undoubtedly missed out many other terms in this dictionary, so please let me know of any more that should be included. Likewise, if you’d like to challenge or add to one of the descriptions, thenI will see you at dawn with duelling spearsplease hunt us down on Twitter.

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