12 different answers to the question “What is UX?”

The more projects we do, the more workshops we run, and the more people we teach, the more we find that the theoretical definitions of User Experience rarely survive first contact with the actual realities of running a business.

In reality, each business is unique, each client is unique, and each project is unique. Therefore, each company’s implementation of UX is necessarily unique. Some projects might go through the full end to end process from User Research to Prototyping to Design to Development, while some might just have time for a quick Prototype and some Usability Testing, and some “Need to be delivered by Friday!!!” which further limits what’s possible.

Getting bogged down in absolutist statements of what UX is or isn’t rarely helps us outside of the classroom. What does help is getting down to work and delivering value to the business and its’ users.

In early 2017, I sat down with some of the top UX people in the Philippines to chat in detail about how each company approached the challenge of doing UX in their own competitive and ever-changing business environments.

From startup to corporate to student to BPO to agency and beyond, here’s how each person I spoke to defined UX, when I asked them “What exactly is UX anyway?”:

Cathy Blanquesa, UX/UI Specialist at Security Bank:

“For me, UX means the study of your user and the client. The more you know them, the more you can give them a solution. Regardless of what process you’re using, the main goal would be to create something that the user can easily use and to give the business what they need – conversions. It’s hard. That’s the hard part of UX. You have to really think about people on the business side. On the business side, people often ask ‘How will this give me ROI?’. We make sure both the user and business are represented equally.”

Mike Togle, Associate head for UX + Marketing at Pointwest:

“UX is about bringing value to the business while at the same time having equal importance to bringing a more positive experience for the people that will be using the product or service, or even something as small as a single page of a website. For example, Facebook, when Facebook changes the input field where you try to post – each and every time that changes, some UX designer was involved in order to improve the user experience for everyone.”

Mica Diaz de Rivera, UX Specialist at NuWorks:

“It’s designing products, designing services in such a way that it’s easy to use and helps customers get their goals done. Sometimes the customer goals are married with the business goals as well, but really it’s about getting the goals done. With some clients, we use Design Thinking to help them figure out the business goals and even the problem that needs to be solved. The best clients come in to the office and think through the problem with us. That’s where our ideas and solutions come from, and also we learn ‘Ah, this is the problem that we have to solve’.”

Dominique de Leon, Digital Producer, Dentsu Jayme Syfu:

“Our context is doing UX for campaigns for products, so UX for me is three things: research, testing and iterations. Researching ahead before you design, testing as early as you get the design, then from the user feedback revising or iterating it. The hard thing is empathy. No amount of workshop or training can teach you empathy. More and more people are understanding the cost of bad design and understanding that people are buying good or better experiences. Simple experiences can be engaging and become automatic for users.”

Sam Chan, UX Designer at Eden Technologies:

“It’s the entire narrative of a user engaging with a company or a product. The story of a user using Facebook on their mobile phone while traveling is different from the story of a user using Facebook on their couch which is also different from the story of a user using Facebook on their desktop. You have to consider context as well.”

Anj Garong, UX Lead at Sprout Solutions:

“UX is making customers happy across different touchpoints. In my experience in the startup world, it is about making sure the product or service we create meets their needs and adding value to our business.UX is not a set of tangible deliverables by a single person or team in a company but a responsibility of every person in it. It is important that the UX culture is strong inside so it is felt outside. Sprout says, ‘We design solutions for people and with people to make sure their needs are met and they feel delighted in using them.’ As the UX Lead, I make sure that each of us knows this by heart.”

Alexis Collado, User Experience Society – Founder:

“Making technology easier to use and designing for an experience that elicits a positive emotion. Just focus on building the experience for the user and then the business goals will follow. When you design for the user, you’ll probably hit your business goals anyway. It can seem superficial if you’re focusing on business goals, but then that’s the reality.”

Pamela Cajilig, Co-Founder, Curiosity Design Strategy:

“Let’s break down the keywords “use” and “experience” and contrast it with marketing communications and advertising, which adopt a consumption framework. There are overlaps between the two fields because there’s an attempt to focus on the target of a product or service in both. However, a consumption framework, which tends to be cerebral and psychological, emphasizes individual needs and aspirations, which is still important but isn’t the sole focus of UX. When we talk about “use”, that means that there’s an interaction between people and the product. And so, the /material qualities/ of whether it’s a product or service come into play which is not necessarily foregrounded in the consumption point of view. Things like colour, size, shape, texture, materials…all these things matter in assessing viability. It’s an acknowledgement that “real life” often trumps our /ideas/ of how things ought to happen.

Meanwhile “experience” implies the involvement of the senses: how do things feel? How do they look? What do they sound like? How is good aesthetics defined and why do people define it this way?

Last but not least, it’s important to understand the systems of meaning, power, and social relationships that underpin user experiences. Perhaps something is or isn’t working because of the degree of cultural relevance, or because of a particular set of overlooked stakeholders, or because of  legislation (or lack thereof). The details of everyday life and larger social and political structures are equally important. People don’t design or use things in a social vacuum.”

Birdie Salva, Co-Founder, Curiosity Design Strategy:

“Some people approach UX with the objective of telling the user: “I want you to use my product more and I will do my best to convince you to do that.” Whenever you’re trying to apply UX with that kind of approach, it’s not a very solid fit.

We’ve done our best work for clients who come to us and say “We really want to make our users’ lives better, let’s find out how can we make it better for them” not the opposite which is “I have something and I want them to buy my stuff”.”

Denise Haak-Luchangco, Founder, Quiddity Usability Labs:

“So Quddity has a definition but I think the best way to start defining UX is to say what it is not. UX is not web design and UX is not interface design – these are all subsets of UX. UX is not just the testing, or just the development, UX is a lot more encompassing. I think the reason that people get confused with UX, is because it’s like asking somebody “What is marriage?” because it’s a user-based thing so marriage will mean many different things to many different people. It will be different depending on on the nature of the project, who the users need, what the client needs, who the dev team is. I think to understand UX better, you have to understand those parameters – who are the users, who’s the client, what’s the product purpose – all of those melded together, whatever the resulting experience is of a user. Be it an experience of a feeling, an experience of a completed transaction or something more functional like transferring money. Whatever the resulting experience is from whatever part of a product. It doesn’t have to be the whole product, it could just be: ‘I went to the ATM and I just withdrew money, I didn’t use the whole product, but I had an experience’.”

Angela Obias-Tuban, Founder, Priority Studios:

“The simple way that I explain it is: it’s a design process where you keep whoever is going to use your product in mind– as you go through the process of designing your product.

A lot of design processes aren’t necessarily like that. Like, engineers should always keep the user in mind, but that doesn’t always happen in real life.  Sometimes, people design out of their own inspiration.

So, UX is a type or approach to a process. It’s not as if it’s incredibly groundbreaking — it’s just that on a basic level, it means telling yourself ‘Hey, keep the person in mind while you’re designing something for the person’.”

Mark Lacsamana, Product Designer, OLX:

“UX is basically anything and everything that a person does as an experience. As designers it’s our job to constantly find ways to make those experiences more pleasurable or even actually doable for those with disabilities.”


There you have it, 12 interviews with 12 different explanations, but at the core:

UX is about empathizing with the user and empathizing with the business to do something that works for both. It’s not about doing things by the book. It’s about doing things that add value at the product/service level or even at the strategic level in the C-suite.

Are you using UX in your team right now? We’d love to know!

Phil Smithson

The owner of On-Off Group, Phil is passionate about human-centered design and designing better end-to-end customer experiences.
Phil Smithson

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