Design Jargon, Simplified

We designers tend to like our fancy (and sometimes heady) terminology. The UX industry has gone through many different rounds of trying to define what we do, e.g. UX, service blueprints, journey maps. Describing our work can be exhausting for those who aren’t immersed in our world. Sometimes it’s even exhausting to talk about our work to fellow designers.

At the end of the day, we all just want to make great experiences for people, right? By translating our work and its value into plain language, we can make the world a better, more humane place.

To this end, Cooper and I are on a mission to boil down and define some commonly-used design terms. We polled the design community about how we talk about our profession. We received lots of responses, and synthesized them to articulate some basic definitions. 

If *you* answered the survey, thanks!  Here goes…

Customer Experience (“CX”)

Customer experience is the result of a customer’s interactions with a company, its brands, products, and services. 


The CX of working with Palau Airways* includes: seeing and clicking on a Facebook ad for the airline, reviewing the website, calling Customer Service to ask a question, buying a ticket, getting a confirmation email, checking into the flight, eating the meal, hearing a flight status update from the pilot, redeeming luggage, lodging a complaint, and receiving emails about flash sales.

*Palau Airways isn’t real.

User Experience (“UX”)

User Experience is how someone emotionally or viscerally responds to their interaction with a product, most commonly a digital product, like a website, mobile app, or database.


The UX of working with Palau Airways comes from visiting the online ticket purchasing tools to buy a one-way flight from SFO to Koror. The buyer feels frustrated because he has to fill in thirty required fields, and nervous because the form requests a social security number. 

Interaction Design (IxD)

The practice (pioneered by our epic co-founder, Alan Cooper!) of designing the intended behaviors (or interactions) between a human and a digital product.


Good interaction design will help Palau Airways create a ticket purchasing tool with a more manageable number of fields and a better sense of security about the information requested.

Design Thinking

A creative problem-solving approach, rooted in a deep understanding of user goals, which generates innovative and out-of-the-box solutions.


Palau Airways should apply design thinking in considering how to deepen their relationship with repeat customers in a new and more meaningful way.

Service Design 

The design of a holistic experience that includes tangible and intangible touchpoints*. Service Design typically takes into account two audiences: (1) the direct beneficiaries of a service, and (2) the individuals, teams, and third parties who make the service happen. Front-stage (or customer-facing) and back-stage (internal) systems support these two audiences. For more on Service Design, check out this blog post.

*By touchpoints, I mean websites, mobile applications, check-in services, private lounges, customer support calls, etc.


Palau Airways is using service design to create a new multi-modal loyalty program for frequent fliers by addressing both the different touchpoints the flier will have and all the back-end systems needed to provide this superior service.

Product Design 

Defining the form of a physical or digital thing. This term is broader than Interaction Design, and relates to both interfaces and objects. 


The Product Design Team at Palau Airways is designing two products: a private lounge in the Koror Airport for frequent travelers, and a special app with an online concierge who makes booking future trips a breeze.

Talking about design is hard work. However, developing a shared understanding of our basic vocabulary will enable our industry to grow and prosper. I hope these definitions have brought you some clarity.

Have ideas for other terms to define together? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @KayceeACollins@cooper

Kaycee Collins

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