What is a subset of the other?

8 Feb 2010 - 8:01am
6 years ago
8 replies
2199 reads
Sachin Ghodke

In my organization, there is a simmering debate that Interaction
Design is not a subset of User Experience, where as people think that
it's just the other way around. This has me a bit in a fix because I
have been trying to tell some of our management that IxD is a subset
of UX.

The two images in reference are:

Or am I the confused one and some of the arguing personalities in my
organization are correct. I hate to think so.

We are in a debate because there is a growing need to start a IxD,
UseX and Usability department(s) in our organization.


8 Feb 2010 - 9:51am
Ari Tenhunen

This is interesting topic. And the point of view adopted by your
organization as a preferred one seems to define the shape of the
organization. So this is not just an academic question to you.

UX is a wider concept and involves things like content, aesthetics
and such in addition to usability. I think UX design is about
striving to generate desired impact to user%u2019s emotions and
memory by various means. IxD concentrates on usability and how the
system responds to user%u2019s actions. And it sure affects the
user%u2019s experience. I think TIxD and UX design complement each
other. They are more like sisters than mother and daughter.

Avoid over-conceptualizing this. In your organization, subduing IxD
to UX design might be as bad as subduing UX Design to IxD.

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9 Feb 2010 - 10:42am

Hi Sachin,

FIRST OFF: Interaction design is part of the user experience.

How can anyone debate that, everything we do is to better the user
experience. From laying out a screen, to architecting the work flow,
to recommending highlight of a button as you move over it, and what
happens when you click that button, and much, much more is all part
of the experience,

If I may offer my humble opinion, I have contracted for many banks
and large financial institutions, which seem to be the only in-house
design, dev, and much much more organizations who have the deep
pockets to afford ever imaginable department, title and role under
the sun.

I found that having that many layers and groups of potentially
conflicting opinions will cause you to never deliver on time, under
perform, and basically look bad. It will cause you the most pain, to
the extent that it will drive you to quit your job one day.

I don't know your companies political reasons for suggesting such an
obserd break up of a naturally collaborative team makeup, but
respectively, you are the expert, not the executives who probably
read the latest blog about what a so called expert thinks is the best
way to work.

I agree with Ari but I would add for you to avoid over-complicating
your team.
Good luck.


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9 Feb 2010 - 11:24am
Paul Bryan

User experience is a fairly recent concept that seems to be used most
frequently to describe the presentation layer of a digital media
product. Many roles, some of which are overlapping depending on the
team setting, contribute work products that impact the user
experience: business strategy, marketing, merchandising, user
experience strategy, user research, interaction design, information
architecture, visual design, content strategy, site development, etc.
A director or manager of user experience needs to have authority and
budget to ensure quality of all these work stream and products,
including interaction design.

Interaction design can include work products, e.g. functional
specifications, which in some team settings have implications outside
of user experience.

Lagniappe: Customer experience is broader than user experience. I
would like to see user experience have dotted line reporting to
customer experience, which covers customer touchpoints across all

Paul Bryan

Usography ( http://www.usography.com )
Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/uxexperts

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9 Feb 2010 - 12:25pm
Elizabeth Bacon

In my assessment of this situation in the world at large, User
Experience (UX, or UXD) has become the umbrella term for a range of
fields that consider and address various aspects of the user
experience with products and services. All the fields of UX can be
defined as operating on a spectrum of skills involving Understanding,
Definition, and Communication. IxD is one of the design fields in the
space of DEFINITION, being a sibling of Information Architecture and
Industrial Design and yet other fields.

I created a sundial model to illustrate this understanding of UX and
also took it to the level of assessing the particular practices of
the discipline of IxD that also lie on this spectrum of skills. See:

Along with the other materials proposed in this thread, perhaps this
model can help inform your company's organization and understanding
of the relationships between the larger whole & its constituent


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9 Feb 2010 - 12:53pm
Aaron Wester

User Experience is a subset of Interaction Design:

Interaction Design consists of several components including:
- User Experience
- Information Architecture
- Usability Studies
- Graphical User Interface
- Web Analytics / Business Intelligence

UX is the process by which usage behavioral patterns are identified,
interpretted and applied in way that's highly beneficial for both
the end user and the business.


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10 Feb 2010 - 1:46am
Elizabeth Bacon

So interesting. Living, nearly opposite definitions alive in the
community. What say ye?


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11 Feb 2010 - 2:06am
Elizabeth Bacon

Don't know why, but Bruce Esrig wrote a reply that isn't showing up.
Bruce wrote:

"This answer is for the question posed at the beginning of the
how can I help my organization define these terms?

The top priority is to be able to convey meaning. That's why
the scope is so effective. A good definition will connect each term
with one or more sets of specific items (responsibilities, behaviors,
goals) that it may cover in particular contexts according to
particular speakers. The recognized bundles of meaning can then be
recognized as possible scopes. Once the scopes are defined, someone
the organization has to issue a ruling stating which terms stand for
each scope.

It's a brave try to make "user experience" stand for the entire
experience of users and to make "customer experience" stand for the
entire set of positions held by people who actually buy the product.
It's a linguistic grand unification: notice how you can take the
in the noun phrase, read them, interpret them, and tell the story of
how your interpretation is driven by the component words. It's just
great. It makes it easy to talk and be understood.

But user "user experience" isn't just a noun phrase standing
asking to be assigned its natural meaning. It's a marketing term for
one or more designers carrying out one or more design disciplines.
Even though many leading interaction designers have adopted it with
delight and defined it as an umbrella term, the community that traces
its lineage via usability also has its natural definition of what the
term should mean, a definition that homes in on usability issues,
which then can also be defined broadly or narrowly. Now I am noticing
for the first time a third community, of IxDA list members for whom
user experience has taken on the meaning that user interface design
might have had before. That's natural if your perception of
interaction design is formed from the most common application area
where interaction design is known to happen: in digital user

So the meaning that you choose for the term may depend in part on
community you are trying to assert you belong to, or perhaps the
opposite: you might choose a meaning based on the community you
to. But you're better off choosing a meaning based on the community
you need to talk with.

If you're being asked to define it, and if you're really lucky, you
can do water-cooler ethnography. It sounds as though your
has already determined how to assign responsibilities to groups. If
not, that's the first step. Then, you can ask what terms the people
you work with assign to each of these sets of responsibilities,
especially the people whose usage is likely to influence the way the
organization talks about it. Make sure the key influencers either
adopt the usage you want or tell you the usage that you're going to
use, so that the terminology becomes stable inside your organization.
That way, they'll know what to say when they want to fund the

If you already knew this, then the discussion should confirm your
suspicions. Adopting terminology is a social process, and much though
"the community" would like to answer your question, the
on this list don't form a single unanimous community, and there are
multiple definitions to point to. It's those definitions that you
to discuss internally and assign names to. If the right people are
comfortable with the terms, everyone else will take their cue from
them, or else the exercise, ending without consensus, will enable
little subgroups of individuals to wink at each other, knowing that
they share an interpretation.

The key is to enable everyone to understand one another, whether or
not they can all bring themselves to use the same language.

Best wishes,


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