The Great Debate #3 “Design is More than 5% of UX"


We’re run debates in the past which were both entertaining and informative. Partly for that reason, and partly just because I like a good debate, I’ve decided to do it again.

This time around we have two members offering to put their heads on the chopping board. Those two brave souls are ASHM and [URL=“”]Natalie Eustace. Just to make this battle even more epically proportioned, I’d like to point out that we have an Aussie and a Kiwi fighting it out for the glory.

Here is how it will play out:

[SIZE=16px]The Topic [/SIZE]
Design is more than 5% of UX.

[SIZE=16px]The Contenders[/SIZE]
Taking the affirmative position is Natalie Eustace. Natalie is a User Experience Designer working with Wynyard in Christchurch, NZ. She recently completed a Masters in Human Interface Technology with the HIT Lab NZ, and her work currently focuses on digital product experiences. She has an avid interest in all things User Experience.

Taking the negative position is Ashlea McKay, a UX Researcher and Designer based in Canberra, Australia. She enjoys conducting user research, facilitating usability evaluations, analysing the results and creates kick-ass reports detailing her findings. Ashlea is UX Agony Aunt at Optimal Workshop and enjoys engaging with and helping those in need of UX advice.

So without further preamble, I’ll throw it open to Natalie to make her opening statement.

May the best woman win!


Greetings ladies and gents. Now do we have a treat for you. Long have Aussies and Kiwis been slogging it out over, well, pretty much everything. Who created the pavlova, that the Aussies keep claiming ownership of our actors, or the tension when a sports game is on between our two countries.

Today, I begin another friendly debate to add to the running total, that of whether design is more than 5% of User Experience (UX). I’m here to say it most definitely is.

I’ll start out by saying this topic is of huge significance in a variety of industries, not just UX, and it can be quite harmful for our interactions with workmates and businesses in general if people hold the belief that Design is just aesthetics. So I will not only talk about why design is much more than 5% of UX, but also the damage that can happen when people believe this is not the case.

As with most debates, definitions are really important. My first distinction to make is that Design can be both output, and it can be an intergral part of any process. With UX being a process, I’m taking the bigger slice of the pie (or actually all of the pie because I’m greedy) by saying in this case Design is the process and the output.

Lastly, if you look at my title/profession, it is User Experience Designer. We are designing the user experience, and this applies throughout the UX process. The fact that people seem to have so much trouble coming up with job titles, and fall back to this generic one (which also has one of the most generic job descriptions) is a clue as to what society thinks we might do.

I’d like to leave the floor with a quote from Matt and Luke’s “Getting Started in UX” before handing over to the lovely, convict through heritage, Ashlea.

“User experience is the what, where, when, why, and how someone uses a product, as well as who that person is.”

– We design ways to get the answers to these questions (strategy & research), to find out the information that we need (analysis), to iterate on designs in order to come up with solutions (design). We then design tests for our designs (testing/evaluation), in order for us to narrow down to a suitable solution.


Excellent opening statement, Natalie. Nice use of a UXMastery quote. :wink:

…the lovely, convict through heritage, Ashlea
– definitely my favourite line…

Over to you @ASHM


Natalie my friend, firstly I commend your attempt to be clever however you are seriously mistaken if you believe I descend from convicts. My surname of McKay clearly indicates that my family is Scottish – I’m a savage not a convict. They built a wall to keep my people [I]out[/I] not in. Don’t worry, we all know that Australians are smarter.

As you all know there are two sides to our (more valuable) coin. I am here to present the negative view in this friendly debate and prove that design is not more than 5% of User Experience (UX).
My opponent discusses the importance of definitions for this debate. That point, I believe is the one thing we can both agree on. While the speaker for the affirmative side presents a fairly flimsy definition of design, her biggest oversight is actually the lack of definition provided for UX.

Allow me to fill in the blanks.

Now I must say I am so pleased that the other side felt the need to quote Australian UXers and look, I tried to return the favour but sadly ‘insightful Kiwis’ appears to be an oxymoron because I came up empty.

So, I had to settle for Jacob Nielsen and Don Norman. They define UX as:

[I]“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products. [/I]
[I]-Jacob Nielsen and Don Norman[/I]

Add this to the fact that we all know that UX is a multifaceted field that is not all about design. It includes and is not limited to: business analysis, business modelling, marketing, backend process, strategy, communications, engineering, content management, branding, research, human factors, information architecture, psychology, sociology, software development and much more! Without all of that, design has no purpose, no goals and is pretty much homeless.

UX is all about balancing: user needs, business goals and technology constraints. It’s huge! Design is just one piece of a very large puzzle with lots of pieces. Why does one piece think it’s more important than the others? That I believe is the real dangerous thinking. This topic refers to UX for a reason. It does not say “UX Design” – it says UX.

UX transcends design.

PS. You can keep Rusty. he’s gross.
PPS. My mum’s pavlova is better than yours!


grabs popcorn and makes himself comfy

This is going to be a good 'un! :smiley:


Now it’s ME that’s offended! How dare you! :wink:

This is hotting up alright. Nice work ladies!

I’d now like to invite @Natalie_Eustace back to rebut, and to enlarge on the points in her case.

This is also the appropriate time for the audience to partake in some friendly heckling…!


My dear Ash, Australian’s being smarter? This may be the case if you take in the fact that your population includes a number of kiwis to offset the tests, but I have to point out that I did include a definition of UX. Unless, of course, you’re saying the definition provided by your Australian counterparts doesn’t hold. If this isn’t the case then this leads me to believe that you did not fully understand my opening statement.

Alas, I will try and make it clearer for you.

Indeed the question in this debate is not whether design is more important than UX, I would never say that, what I am saying is that it is an integral part, and is indeed more than just 5%. Therefore the argument that design has no purpose and goals without the overarching field is moot. I am saying that they complement each other, for instance if we look at research. Research wouldn’t hold up to much if you couldn’t design experiments to test the theories.

Now to explain the harm that comes from believing design is just “lipstick on a pig” in some cases, or purely aesthetics. One it undermines the effort and skill that has gone in to making something both useable and a pleasure to use, and it leads to the belief that it can be tacked on at the end of the process. Quoting Donald Norman from his book Emotional Design, “attractive things make people feel good, which in turn makes them think creatively” and “aesthetically pleasing objects enable you to work better”. This shows that design is important in the overall process and output, as people will choose something that is usable and aesthetically pleasing, over something that is just useable. In order for us to come up with things that fill these needs, we need to be thinking creatively and this creativity be increased through good design.

As you were so helpful to list a few of the fields that can be encompassed in UX, I will use some of these to demonstrate my point of design being part of the process as well as output, and therefore must be a lot more than 5%.

To be successful with [B]Marketing [/B]you need to have goals, set out a plan of how you want to increase your sales, and test out your theories among other things. Marketing can include design output such as flyers, posters, ads, instructional videos, but it also includes design as a process where you create the plan of how you want to reach your goals and what you want to say when you present your product or service to your market of choice.

For successful [B]Information Architecture[/B] using tools such as card sorts, getting users to perform tasks to find certain things are important, or even if we are talking about how computer systems and how their data models fit together. The output are diagrams that have been designed with programs such as Omnigraffle and the process is achieved through designing tests with programs such as OptimalSort.

And lastly to drive my point home I will give a brief example of one of my current days in my job as a User Experience Designer. I get to work in the morning, and briefly catch up on blog posts, UX mastery forum posts, and any emails I have received. Most of the time design is fully integrated into the blog posts. I then read through the scope document that has been created through design process for a project that we are currently working on. Once I know I’m on the right track with our current sprint, I continue on to sketching ideas, narrowing them down, and finally transferring them to illustrator mockups to discuss with our developers, business analyst, and product owners. Discussion always includes constructive feedback, as well as our design rational behind the choices that were made for certain features. By the time it reaches the end of the day, and a very rushed lunch later, we’ve iterated on our ideas and have the next set of wireframes to discuss the next day. For our particular case, we need to get our mockups to a certain point so that we can then take a larger number of them to our users to test (as we don’t get to visit them very often).

So looking at that, as a User Experience Designer, on most days currently I spend around 80% a day, as both design as an output and design as a process.

PS. Ash, do Australian’s ever actually do any work? every time you see them at road works they are all standing around watching one of the guys doing all the work?


Go Natalie! Things are getting punchy!

What say you, Ash?

I’d love to hear any opinions from the audience at this point too. Are you erring any particular way at this point?


Interesting stuff guys. I’m leaning towards siding with Natalie at this point (I’m letting the Aussie sledging slide right off, you know I love you Ash!).

Don’t want to shape the conversation but would be curious to hear the debater’s views on what the breakdown is for other components, as part of the argument. E.g if design is 5%, what percent are the other activities—research, analysis, production etc.



Hi, Great start guys, as a graphic designer I’m starting out on the side of Natalie on this one, however I am open to being convinced otherwise.
PS Love the Trans-Tasman bashing, keep it up.

Paddy :smiley:


This is a great debate. =) Natalie has put up some excellent arguments, but I’m siding with ASHM’s line: [I]“UX is all about balancing: user needs, business goals and technology constraints. It’s huge!” [/I]Go Ash!


Natalie my friend, just because kiwis live in Australia doesn’t mean they are active participants in any testing – unless of course Centrelink is running them?

As for work ethic, well I’m gainfully employed with two jobs. The road workers you are referring to were probably those kiwis that live here given that it’s a low skilled job.

A huge part of UX is the ability to communicate clearly. The need for you to clarify your opening statement is entirely on you. It is not my job to decipher what you’re trying to convey.

You seem to make a lot of assumptions. Your constant need to bring up aesthetics is not adding value. Is there a third person in this debate? Because I certainly didn’t say that and it’s not in the topic. If your imaginary friend has indeed taken the day off, are you simply trying to fatten up the word count?

Calm the farm Natalie – no one has said that design is purely aesthetic. Speaking of farms – no, you can’t have our sheep (Yep I totally went there).

I’m honestly not surprised by your complete lack of originality in taking what I put forward and claiming it for your own (being a kiwi), but you’re totally missing the mark. You’re zeroing in on tiny details and you’re missing the much bigger picture.

UX is so much bigger than design! It’s more evolved. Design woke up and smelled the freakin coffee and realised hey without: business analysis, business modelling, marketing, backend process, strategy, communications, engineering, content management, branding, research, human factors, information architecture, psychology, sociology, software development and a zillion other things– I’m not really achieving much. UX is far greater than the sum of its parts and it has many, many parts…

We have a very different definition of the word ‘brief’. You clearly love the sound of you own voice if you think it’s ok to drag us through that 200+ word play by play of “a day in the life of Natalie”. All that noise leads to one blindingly obvious statement: your job title says designer so therefore you spend 80% of your day doing design- well duh! What else would they be paying you for?!

You also glossed over the roles of the other people you interact with: developers, business analysts, and product owners. They are all UX professionals and design makes up a very small portion of their day. You are one piece of a large puzzle and saying you spend most of your day doing design proves nothing – what about the other pieces?

But hey since you keep bringing up job titles, let’s take a look at the other job titles held by UX professionals. A quick Google search and a few articles later turned up this list as a start:

Business analyst
UX/UI Engineer
UX/UI Developer
Content Strategist
Content manager
UX Copywriter
UX Researcher
Usability Researcher / Specialist / Analyst / Engineer
UI Artist
Business modeller
Marketing strategist
Communications specialist
Human factors specialist
Information architect
Project Manager
Account Manager
Accessibility specialist
And many, more…

I could go on all day. Every single one of those people are UX professionals. There are more than 20 titles on that list. Each has their own equally valuable role to play in that bigger picture I’ve been talking about and what happens when you divide 100 by numbers greater than 20? Yep, you get less than 5%.

Just last year, Susan Farrell and Jakob Nielsen conducted a study on UX job titles, roles and work descriptions. From information gathered from 1015 UX professionals, they found that:

[I]The majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work…There’s no single [B]job title[/B] to aim for: our respondents had [B]210 different job titles[/B]. The most popular title was “[B]user experience designer[/B],” but only 6% of respondents had this title.[/I]

[I]-Susan Farrell and Jakob Nielsen[/I]

You just said that you spend ‘around’ 80% of your day doing design work. You presented that information as though it represents the normal, average UXer. So if 6% of those 1015 UX pros consulted by none other than the Nielsen Norman Group, have your job title and spend 80% of their time doing design work, design really is less than 5% of UX!

PS. I’m devastated that you didn’t take the bait for the mum joke- were you alive in the ‘90s?


Jeepers, I think I might have unleashed a beast! This is becoming a bloodsport! (In case you don’t realise, these two are actually good buddies, so I think we can take Ash’s comments as great enthusiasm!)

Let’s hear what you’ve got, Natalie.


Whoops! Things did get a little carried away there and the gloves are certainly off in this epic Aussie Vs Kiwi battle!

Natalie and I are indeed good friends and we love a good debate :slight_smile: Looking forward to round three - BYO mouthguard!


Oh, you went for the sheep joke? Well, Australia does actually have more sheep than we do, but due to everything in your environment wanting to kill you, I think I’ll stick with our healthy, snake free, green pasture raised ones.

Originality? I know it is hard to prove that Design isn’t more than 5% of UX, but I’d love a point that isn’t just a rebuttal of what I’ve said.

Design is integral, I’m not questioning the importance of the fields, just that design has a symbiotic relationship with them. I mean if you go to any job site, such as SEEK, and look for UX jobs in any location, roughly 90% of the jobs that come up are UX [B]Designer[/B]. Now even if we take all of the examples you gave of UX job titles, you imply that these professions have very little to do with design on an average day. However on a brief search through job descriptions for these, a majority of them required design as a specific skill that their applicants needed. This implies that if the candidate requires design skill to get the job, then design will be an integral part (i.e. likely over 5%) of their job.

So looking into [B]Susan Farrell and Jakob Nielsen’s [/B]report a little bit further, I thought I would include a few more quotes that were “conveniently” missed out and analyse these a bit further.

“The majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work.”
This first section of quote is irrelevant to this debate as it talks about the degrees people in UX have received, not the UX jobs themselves.

“Our respondents had 210 different job titles. The most popular title was “user experience designer,” but only 6% of respondents had this title. (A further 3% were “senior user experience designers).”
This full quote says that there were actually 9% of respondents with UX designer in their title. Now maybe I do more design currently than a typical UX Designer does, lets say 50% is typical of that 9%. Seeing as you brought maths into this, we will do some recalculations.
Just to double check the numbers, there were actually 963 participants (not 1015), so:
[]9% of 963 = 86.67 (number of participants that had job titles including UX designer)
]50% of 86.67 = 43.34 (total amount of design in those UX designer positions)
[]43.34 / 963 = 0.045 = 4.5%
[/LIST] If these assumptions are correct this supports your argument, BUT you imply that 91% of the other respondents had no design in their roles. In my previous argument I’ve shown they do require design to some extent. Now lets say only 1% of their job is design.
]963 - 86.67 = 876.33 (people who are not UX designers)
[]1% of 876.33 = 8.76 (total amount of design in non-UX designer jobs)
]8.76 + 43.34 = 52.1 (people/design in all jobs out of 963)
[*]52.1/963 = 0.054 x 100 = 5.4%
So using the lowest amount of design as part of a typical UXer’s job, we still get over 5%. Now of course many of those jobs will have more than 1% of their work being design, therefore the resulting percentage is likely much higher.

And to take my own quote from [B]Susan Farrell and Jakob Nielsen’s [/B]report:
“Respondents recommended reading and taking courses. But they also advised newcomers to practice [B]design[/B], get an internship, and find a mentor.”

So to conclude:
[]Design is part of the UX process and it is also output
]Design is an integral part of fields in UX
[*]Design is more than 5% of UX
I’d like to say thanks for this challenging and Trans-Tasman taunting, Ash you are a worthy opponent :), and I’ll leave with one last Australian joke:
[I]“Aussie is proof that God has a sense of humour”[/I]


[SIZE=14px]Sure did!

Here’s another one just for you Natalie:

[I]A tour bus full of tourists stops by a farmer holding a sheep. One of them calls out “are you shearing?”.[/I]
[I]The farmer yells back, in an unhappy tone ‘NO, **** off and get your own!’[/I]

Oh… one more couldn’t hurt!

[I]What do you call a kiwi with multiple partners? A shepherd. [/I]

Ok that’s enough!

So, we’ve come to the final post of the [B][I]The Great Debate #3 – Design is More than 5% of UX[/I].[/B] It has been a heck of a ride fueled by trans-Tasman rivalry and it’s now my job to deliver my final rebuttal and the closing arguments. I do love getting in the last word!

So let’s talk about [B]Susan Farrell and Jakob Nielsen’s[/B] study some more.

[I]The majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work.[/I]

My opponent feels that this information is irrelevant and I couldn’t disagree more. The degrees held by UX professionals are incredibly relevant to this debate! It relates back to that bigger picture stuff I mentioned earlier. Our backgrounds and our stories shape who we are and UX is a broad field that thrives on that diversity and acknowledges the immense value those people bring to the table.

Now, as for numbers I’m sorry Natalie but I was correct in my original statement. While the survey had 963 participants- the information gathered to generate the report came from 1015 UX professionals because they included the data gathered during the pilot tests. This quote from the report proves me to be correct:

[I]In total, our advice is based on [B]1,015 UX people’s collective experience[/B].[/I]

As for the 6% vs 9% argument regarding the study with the additional 3% referring to Senior User Experience Designers, I think the 3% should be excluded. Why? I don’t know what your Senior UXers get up to, but the ones I know have roles that have a strategic focus rather than an operational one. They spend their time doing high level requirements gathering and understanding the strategic direction handed down to them from above. Many of them are directors and team leaders and almost all have staff. That means administration tasks. Mentoring, training and managing the 6%. That takes up a lot of time and in fact quite a few that I’ve spoken to avoid senior roles like the plague because it stops them from doing the doing. The 6% are the ones on the ground getting their hands dirty.

To reiterate my earlier points:[/SIZE]
[][SIZE=14px]There is a reason why the title of this debate refers to UX not UX Design. UX is all about balancing: user needs, business goals and technology constraints.[/SIZE]
][SIZE=14px]UX at its heart is about people. It’s about what we all bring into the mix and how we think.[/SIZE]
[*][SIZE=14px]UX transcends design.[/SIZE]

[SIZE=14px]This is farewell and thank you from the negative side of the fence. Someone had to present the other side of the story and I enjoyed every minute of it! Thank you Natalie!

I have one more kiwi joke…well, actually it’s a whole list and no there’s no sheep sorry to disappoint!

[B]How to speak New Zealand

Say out loud for full effect![/B]

Milburn - capital of Victoria
Peck - to fill a suitcase
Pissed aside - chemical which kills insects
Pigs - for hanging out washing with
Pump - to act as agent for prostitute
Pug - large animal with a curly tail
Nin tin dough - computer game
Munner stroney - soup
Min - male of the species
Mess Kara - eye makeup
McKennock - person who fixes cars
Mere - Mayor
Leather - foam produced from soap
Lift - departed
Kittle crusps - potato chips
Ken’s - Cairns
Jumbo - pet name for someone called Jim
Jungle Bills - Christmas carol
Inner me - enemy
Guess - vapour
Fush - marine creatures
Fitter cheney - type of pasta
Ever cardeau - avocado
Fear hear - blonde
Ear - mix of nitrogen and oxygen
Ear roebucks - exercise at the gym
Duffy cult - not easy
Amejen - visualise
Day old chuck - very young poultry
Bug hut - popular recording
Bun button - been bitten by insect
Beard - a place to sleep
Sucks Peck - Half a dozen beers
Ear New Zulland - an extinct airline
Beers - large savage animals found in U.S. forests
One Doze - well known computer program
Brudge - structure spanning a stream
Tin - one more than nine
Iggs Ecktly - Precisely
Earplane - large flying machine
Beggage Chucken - place to leave your suitcase at the earport
Sivven Sucks Sivven - large Boeing aircraft
Sivven Four Sivven - larger Boeing aircraft
Cuds - children
Pits - domestic animals
Cuttin - baby cat
Munce - usually served on toast[/SIZE]


This is getting ridiculous … and I’m loving every minute of it.

There are actually some great points raised on both sides, amidst all the heckling. I look forward to seeing who the community thinks has been the most persuasive…


It’s time to take it to the polls!
You have one week to get your votes in.

Who do you think has taken this one out?

Place your vote here.


Phew had to have a second coffee at lunch for that, well done Natalie and ASHM.
Great points and well argued, i’ll have to think on it some more before I can vote, I still have an issue to the ‘5%’ figure being too low for design.

Well done.
Paddy :slight_smile:


Thanks Paddy :slight_smile:
Well that was the debate topic and both sides had to be argued :stuck_out_tongue: