Design is 5% of UX


There is a fairly heated debate going on at a company that I work for.
It started out as a discussion about why it is that most UX companies have such unattractive websites. Someone stated that "design is just 5% of UX."
That got one of the designers a bit heated up, and he said

“Making things pretty is only like %5 of user experience”. I don’t really agree with this, and it kind of makes my profession sound almost entirely redundant. It’s more than ‘making things pretty’. And it’s not ‘making things pretty’ for the sake of ‘making them pretty’. Most things, for the majority of us, are experienced very much through the eyes. If an experience is more easily digested, easier to navigate and interact with and become involved in … well then it’s a better user experience. How it works is very much how it looks, and vice versa.

What are your thoughts?


I am currently in the midst of a similar debate at the moment. I’m the solo UXer in a team of almost 30 people and hardly anyone understands what it is I do. I’m seen as someone who just makes things pretty and occassionally gives advice on usability and as a result of this I am finding that people are quite closed off to discussing my long term goals and plans.

I’d like to stay here beyond the terms of my current transfer (I’m a permanent employee of the organisation, I’m just on a temporary transfer to another area until March) but I’m seen as someone who will not be useful beyond that date.

I keep trying to educate them but they’re just not listening to me and it’s not easy. People can so close-minded and roll us up into these little boxes that they think they can contain with a label and throw into the too hard basket but it doesn’t work that way.I think UX is still a hugely misunderstood field. I wish I could just say: I have a brain, I make my decisions for a reason and you think the end result is ‘pretty’ because I’ve cleverly constructed in a way that appeals to you on a much deeper level.

OK - rant over :slight_smile:


Ooooh, I’m not surprised that that is a heated debate. A similar thought around design importance recently came up in a work yammer post that myself, and my work mate responded to in defence of design. All I will say is the term “sparkly” was used.

I would say that they also go hand in hand. For instance when you do rough sketches around interfaces things seem fine, but when you go to do more high fidelity mocks with colour and styling and content that you realise that these buttons all behave the same, and these buttons don’t, that you realise you could have a fundamental problem. Should buttons be used in both cases, if so, they should probably look different if they behave differently etc.
The same is said of organising the content and hierarchy of information into digestible pieces that are easy to read and know where you are. If you have a website where all the information is crammed together, the buttons are all different colours, and there are no defining features to the text, you are going to scare away your users. It wouldn’t be a very pleasant user experience at all.

I guess it also depends on your definitions of the roles as well. For instance iconography, could go to the designers, and this is very important! It could also be said that we design the user experience. For us, design also helps tie everything in to the brand guidelines, so it keeps in line with the business image and how they want to be portrayed.

So design is not just the lipstick, it helps make the experience good as well. Design helps pull in customers, even before they see and play around with features and the experience.

Just some of my thoughts.


Hahah yes a close friend and mentor of mine is always saying “Don’t put lipstick on the pig!” when people think that making something pretty will erase the fundamental issues buried deep within.


I guess it also depends on what your definition of UX is. You both seem to be talking about UX with regard to websites, but what about other experiences?


Very valid point Hawk, I can only comment that my view is from the web and from the side of products that are digital. I’ve not been involved with industrial design, but I would think it would be similar. Some possible examples I can think of:

  • Architecture: you can design a house that suits all a person’s needs. But in the end, if it isn’t structurally appealing, and visually appealing, and the finer details thought through, people won’t really want to buy it.
  • Doors: The push/pull conundrum of some doors and their handles. I would personally say that this is part of the design that leads to a possible experience.

The more I think about it, to me the more chicken and egg design and user experience seems to be.


Being an Industrial Designer, I view UX as something that goes far beyond websites - that just happens to be what I’m working on at the moment.

I had a project at uni where I had to find a product or service that could be re-designed to incorporate universal design principles specicifcally to include older users.I looked at the user experience of Canberra’s public transport system. It was fun running comtextual inquiries in the bus interchange and mapping out and understanding the pain points.