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UX Defined: A frequently updated list of jargony user-centered design principles and terms

The User-Experience (UX) industry preaches the importance of plain language, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to jargon. Far from it, in fact. From “accessibility” to “tree-testing” to “UX concepts,” we UXers use a variety of terms every day that can cause confusion.

Because Anthro-Tech works with such a variety of client teams with mixed knowledge of the UX field, we’re experienced at breaking through the jargon to educate and empower our project partners. A major goal of every one of our projects is to leave a legacy of user-centered design, and that begins with defining the fundamentals and concepts that pave the way to usable digital experiences.

We’ve provided definitions and visual examples of some common UX jargon. Check back often, as we regularly update this post with new terms. Have a question about a UX topic that’s not on the list? Send us a message on Twitter and we'll add it to the list!

A/B testing: A form of UX testing in which two versions of a product with just one variation are randomly served to a group of users to measure which version is more effective.

Accessibility: Ensuring equal access to services, products, and technology for users of all abilities. For a website to be “accessible,” a person must be able to operate it fully, equally, and independently. Read more about creating accessible digital products.

Archetype: Like a Persona, an archetype is used to highlight information about user groups. Unlike personas, archetypes focus less on the demographics of a group and more on the behaviors of a group, such as preferred browsing times, motivations, frequent tasks performed, etc.

Baselining: The act of evaluating a design or interface with a set of metrics to compare future iterations against. This helps designers measure the effectiveness or performance of changes to a design.

Benchmarking: The act of evaluating a design or interface with a set of metrics to compare against baseline performance to measure the effectiveness of changes to a design.

Card sorting: A research method used to understand how people group and classify items. Users group cards labeled with information from your site into categories that make sense to them, allowing you to discover their mental models and begin to develop a usable information architecture. Watch:

Everything your organization shares with your audience physically or digitally, not just the text on your website! Content also encompasses: illustrations, charts, graphs, tables, PDFs, videos, podcasts, social media, blogs, forums and more.

Content strategy: A process that helps us think strategically about our content across all mediums and channels. It considers specific components of content creation, such as:

  • Substance: the information itself
  • Structure: how content is organized, prioritized, and accessed
  • Workflow: How content is created and maintained
  • Governance: How decisions about content are made, and who owns the policies, guidelines, and standards
Credit: Brain Traffic and Kristina Halvorson

Diary/Journal study:
A qualitative research method in which users self-report behaviors and experiences in a journal or diary over a period of time. This information is then used to map the user experience and inform design decisions. (See journey map)

F pattern: Research from the Nielsen Norman Group that tracked users’ eye movements when looking at a webpage showed people generally create an F pattern with their eyes when browsing for information. People tend to scan the sections available on the page and then come back up to read more details of any sections that interested them.

Credit: Nielsen Norman Group. The F pattern is showcased in this eye-tracking heatmap.

Faceted navigation: Facets are categories of the different ways that we can describe the content. Facets allow users to filter and manipulate their search results to easily find the information they require. We use faceted navigation frequently when shopping on online stores such as Amazon, Kayak, Zappos or to find information on library or museum websites or search engines.

First-click study: As the name implies, a form of usability testing that focuses on the first place a user a user interacts (taps, clicks) with a website or digital product when performing a specific task. It’s helpful in determining the effectiveness of your navigation.

Gestalt laws: A set of principles that examine how users perceive and organize design elements into cohesive groups or patterns. These principles help UXers design interfaces that are intuitive and useful for a broad audience. By leveraging people’s natural tendency to group things, designers help users understand spatial relationships of information on a user interface.

Information architecture (IA): A map of how you store and give access to information on a website. Your IA informs your site’s navigation, so you want the arrangement to match your users’ context and understanding (their “mental model”) as much as possible. Learn more about creating a data-backed IA.

Inverted pyramid: A web writing principle that recommends putting your key messaging at the top of the content section so that users, who are frequently in a hurry, can find the information they need to complete their task and get more or background information if they want it.

The inverted pyramid details how you should prioritize your content for the best user experience.

Journey map: A visual representation that details a user’s touch points with an organization throughout their experience. For example, a user’s journey from seeing a social media advertisement, clicking into the website, and then purchasing a product could be detailed in a journey map. Journey maps are used to communicate a user’s touch points with an organization and key metrics that highlight the quality of the experience and problem areas that can cause poor experiences. They can be broad in scope or specific to a single task.

Mental Model: A user’s understanding about how items are associated or grouped or how elements of a product should work to make logical sense.

Participatory design: A holistic design approach that involves input from a variety of stakeholders involved with the project. Incorporating feedback from users, stakeholders, researchers, and designers ensures the final product not only meets multiple business goals but is also a usable experience for the intended audience. Participatory design is also an effective means of building buy-in from the entire organization on a final product.

Prototyping: Using simplified models (mockups) of a product to explore, refine, and validate design ideas and test functionality. Website prototypes range from rudimentary mockups on paper (paper prototypes) to nearly fully designed and built digital creations (high-fidelity prototypes).

Persona: A fictional person who realistically represents a major group of users. The composite is informed by user research and often reflects data about demographics, goals and tasks, contexts of use, and values of a user segment. Personas help teams and stakeholders prioritize focus on users and help maintain a data-driven decision-making process.

Plain language: Simplifying your content so that it is understandable and usable by as many people as possible. Principles include: writing in active voice, keeping words and sentences short and simple, using personal pronouns, and reducing/defining jargon. Washington State government defines this concept as “plain talk.”

Qualitative research: A method of gaining insight by collecting information that relates to the participant’s thoughts, emotions, opinions, motivations, and perceptions. This information is then coded and interpreted and used to create things like personas, archetypes, and more. Common methods of collecting this information include: field studies, user interviews, focus groups, journal studies, and card sorting.

Quantitative research: This method focuses on collecting and analyzing objective measurable data from site traffic analytics, customer support analytics, user surveys, polls, questionnaires, A/B testing and more. This data can be charted and averaged to provide insights into how users interact with a product or service.

Remote usability study: Using screen-sharing and other software solutions to conduct a usability study with a user who is in a different location than the researcher. Benefits include a natural environment for users to evaluate a product , and the ability to connect with users on short notice or across great distances. Remote studies also allow researchers to access people who wouldn’t be able to come to an in-person study because of time or travel constraints or a physical disability.

Task analysis: Performed early in your research process, task analysis illuminates how users operate a product to achieve their goals. Task analysis provides insight into user goals and behaviors and the type of tasks and navigation your product should include.

Task flow: The path the user takes to perform a specific task. The task flow maps each stage along the completion of that task. For example, if the task was for a user to renew their driver’s license using a state DOT website, the flow would begin with the homepage and end with the task confirmation page and highlight each step of the process in between.

Tree-test: A usability research technique that tests the findability of topics in a website by asking users to indicate where they would look to find information or complete a task within a simple site structure. Learn how we use tree-testing in our website projects.

Usability: a measure of how easily someone can use a product or service (website, application, real-world directional signage, etc.) as it was intended with little explanation or training.

Usability test: Evaluating the effectiveness of a product or service by having users complete common tasks. Researchers will gather feedback by either moderating the study, taking notes, and interviewing the participant or by examining quantitative data gathered from the study. Usability testing lets you identify how easily users can complete a task, the amount of time taken to complete the task, user satisfaction, and other metrics.

User-centered design: A philosophy that places users at the center of the product or website design process. It’s a systematic approach to gathering, understanding and applying data about the users of the product throughout the planning, design and development of the product.

UX Concept: An early stage draft of the intended user experience for a digital product. It is grounded in user research and presented from a user’s perspective. It is used to communicate the status of the design, get buy-in from stakeholders, highlight content considerations, and get early feedback from users.

A whiteboard brainstorm of some UX concepts for a client.

User experience vs. customer experience: The user experience is the interaction between a user and your digital product, a website or an application or a game, etc. A customer experience is the total sum of interactions a user has with your brand. This encompasses your digital products, marketing, physical locations, and even customer service personnel.

User task scenario: The context behind why a user group undertakes a task with your product. Scenarios commonly define the user and why they’re coming to the site (tasks and goals). Some more elaborate scenarios will also flesh out the mental state of the user and detail context about the user’s background and situation in which they’re accessing the product.

Voice and Tone: These items detail the personality and impression your content makes on the user. In the same way that your voice carries a personality, the Voice of your digital product does, as well. It’s important to reflect the same Voice across all of your products so that your users see you as a unified entity. Also like in real life, your organization’s Tone is situational. If you’re giving the user instructions, your Tone might be more authoritative. If you’re writing content to address a customer service issue, your tone might be more conciliatory or sympathetic.

  1. UX Project Manager, Krissy Kimura, Joins Anthro-Tech
  2. User Experience Researcher, Jeff Nicklas Joins Anthro-Tech