The User Experience (UX) Glossary

UX is an abbreviation for User Experience. A UX Architect creates enjoyable user experiences by applying reusable design patterns that have successfully validated with users. One of the concepts that I leverage as a UX Architect is that there is a design language that can be used to describe everything. In order to level set, it is important to have a shared vocabulary so you can easily share ideas and concepts, for this purpose I have put together a UX Glossary that can be referenced when reading posts on this site.


Affordance – When a user interface control/component behaves as its appearance suggests. Assumption A supposition or belief in something without any proof. To believe in something before it happens, even if uncertain. Auto-complete A software feature that helps finish what a user is typing by predicting what the user wants to input based on previous or popular entries.


BDUF (Big Design Upfront) – The expectation that UI Design of a release to be completed, perfected and documented in detail before writing source code. It is often associated with the waterfall model of software development. Backlog In software development, a backlog is an accumulation of uncompleted requirements (user stories).

Branding– branding is a promise that is made to the user, and effective branding is fulfilling the promise. It contains  the message that is being delivered to the user about the product they are using.


Card Sorting –  A method that is used to check the intuitiveness and usability of user interface information architecture (labels, nomenclature, navigation, data structure). Used when there is an immature or unestablished navigation structure. Case Study Analysis of a group, person or event to explore causation or determine underlying principles.

Clickability Cues – A visual indication that a given word or item in the user interface is clickable or selectable.

Clustering – Patterns which emerge from the analysis and synthesis of large sets of data which help the design team select appropriate design solutions.

Cognitive Design Principles – Design principles related to comprehension of object behaviors, interpreting complexity, distinguishing functions, and switching modes or changing focus within the user interface.

Competitor Analysis – An assessment of the relative strengths or weaknesses of competitor products or organizations.

Context Scenario – Used to explore, at a high-level, how the user interface can best serve the needs of the persona. Also known as “day-in-the-life” scenarios. Created before any design is performed and are written from the perspective of the persona and focus on human activities, perceptions, and desires. Content and context for the scenario is derived from data collected during user research.

Contextual Inquiry – The best way to understand the users’ work practices. During Contextual Inquiry the person doing the discovery work observers the user in their natural environment, making note of their surroundings, and their work processes. This is the most unadulterated way to collect user data.

Convergent Thinking – The ability to narrow the number of possible solutions to a problem by applying logic and knowledge.

Customer visits –  These are sessions where one goes on site to gather as much user data as possible, this can be done through contextual inquiry, and discovery interviews.


Debrief – A meeting taking place between design team and occasionally with stakeholders at the end of a research session. In it, significant findings, conclusions are presented by the research facilitator(s) and discussed collectively with the team.

Design Brief – A comprehensive written document for a design project distributed to designers which represents the business need for the design. The document is focused on the desired results of design – not aesthetics.

Design Hypothesis – Also known as a “presumptive design”. A prediction that a specific design will result in a specific outcome. A design hypothesis must 1.Identify the design’s theory, 2.provide a concise description of the design preferably in the form of a low-fidelity model, 3.state what the design must achieve in a verifiable fashion, and 4.clearly identify critical assumptions that support the hypothesis. (See “Hypothesis”)

Design Iteration – Refinement of small yet significant changes made to a design in order to enhance the idea and increase the effectiveness of its ability to solve users problem(s).

Design Pattern – User interface design pattern is a recurring and general reusable solution to solve a common design problem within a given context in software design.

Design Principles – Broadly applicable guidelines that reduce work for the user.

Design Thinking – Ways of thinking, conceptualizing, imagining, and envisioning solutions to problems that (i) redefine the fundamental challenge or task at hand, (ii) develop multiple possible options and solutions in parallel, and (iii) prioritize and select those which are likely to achieve the greatest benefits in terms of, for example, impact, viability, cost.

Disruptive Innovation – An innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

Direct User Data – Feedback that comes from the face-to-face research method such as a one on one interview or focus group.

Divergent Thinking – The ability to develop original and unique ideas and to envision multiple solutions to a problem.

Drivers – Drivers are the knowledge and conditions that are the catalyst for the tasks/activities for which the design was created. Knowledge and conditions can include such market forces, business cost reduction, etc.


Early Adaptors – An early customer of a given company, product, or technology. Typically this will be a customer who, in addition to using the product or technology, will also provide considerable and candid feedback to help the vendor refine its future product releases, as well as the associated means of distribution, service, and support.

Early Majority – The first sizable segment of a target population (typically 34%) to try or adopt an innovative new product — typically technology — after a much smaller population of innovators and early adopters have done so

Eclecticism or Appropriation – The incorporation of elements from different sources which allows designers to express a diverse array of ideas

Effective – Measure or description of how accurately a goal can be accomplished Efficiency Measure or description of how quickly and easily a goal can be accomplished

End Goals – The users motivation for performing specific tasks. Why the user wants to do End User Refers to those people who use the interface to solve a problem or complete a task

Epic –  In Agile software development, an epic encapsulates a large body of work. It is essentially a large user story that can be broken down into a number of smaller stories. It may take several sprints (work cycles) to complete.

Error Analysis – A part of task analysis that identifies the frequency and type of errors that occur for each specified set of tasks Error of commission An error in which user attempts to complete a task incorrectly Error of omission An error in which a user misses a specific task or step

Error rate – Frequency in which errors occur in a given time period Error recovery The ability for a user to correct and continue to pursue their goal or complete a task

Ethnography – Qualitative study of the human behavior of people in their natural settings over a period of time

Experience Goals – The quality of the user interaction with the product interface. What the user wants to feel when completing the task.


Feature-centric – An approach to technology that favors the complexity or amount of functionality over the user experience.

Fitts’ Law – A model of human movement primarily used in human-computer interaction and ergonomics that predicts that the time required to rapidly move to a target area is a function of the distance to the target area and the size of the target.

Fluid layout – When a user interface layout contracts and expands horizontally inside a user’s device window despite the size of the window or screen resolution.

Form Factor – In the field of Human Factors Engineering, the form factor is the physical size and shape of a device or item.


Gestalt – Principle which states people do not visually perceive items in isolation but as a part of a larger whole. These principles include human tendencies towards simplicity, proximity, continuity, and closure.

Gesture – In the field of Human Factors Engineering, a gesture is a movement of part of the body to interact with the human machine interface of a device.

Get Out of the Building (GOOB) – A term from the Startup community which refers to the idea that to create a valuable product, service or campaign, you need to get out of the building and talk to the people who will potentially use it.

Goal-Directed Design – A standard approach for user-centered software interaction design. GDD was created by Alan Cooper and is a method that helps software teams to identify the goals and behaviors of users, and the goals of a business, and directly translates these into models that can be user-tested and refined to converge into an implementable design.

Global UI Elements – User interface components and design assets that are present throughout the software application.


Hick’s Law – The time it takes to make a decision increases proportionally to the number and complexity of choices

Hierarchical drill-down – To move from high level or summary information to detailed content or data focusing in on a topic.

High-Fidelity Prototype – Simulates the real system functionality and design details

Hover help or Tool tip/Tooltip – Usually a smaller box with information that appears or pops up if a user hovers their mouse over a designated graphical element or text.

Human Factors – The multidisciplinary study of human biological, physical, psychological, and social characteristics in relation to environments, objects and services.

Human Factors Engineering (HFE) – Applying what is known about human capabilities and limitations to the design of products, processes, systems, and work environments. It can contribute to the design of any system with a human interface, including hardware and software.

Human Machine Interaction (HMI) – Involves the study, planning, design and uses of the interaction between people (users) and computers.

Hypothesis – A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. (See “Design Hypothesis”)


Icon – An image that is usually interactive and represents an object or action or marker for entry into information.

Image map – Regions of a single graphic image are designed to be clickable and hyperlinked to different pages or destinations.

Information Architecture – A process for organizing and presenting data in a clear and meaningful manner. An intuitive information architecture should enable a user to easily find what they are looking for. Card sorting exercises are ways to help determine how information should be organized based on a users thinking.

Innovation – Bringing newness into the world; making and remaking the world anew. The transformation of insight into actionable knowledge that can make new use of the social and material technologies already available.

Intellectual Property – A work or invention that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript or a design, to which one has rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc.

Iterative Design & Testing – An approach to user interface development in which a concept is design and tested and changed repeatedly at different stages of design/development to eliminate usability issues before the product is launched.

Interaction Design (IxD) – The study, design and measuring of how a user interacts with a user interface of an application or product.  Interaction design consists of theories, practices, and methodologies based on human-computer interaction and user interface design.

Internationalization – A system whose primary design has been developed to work in multiple languages and in the cultural contexts of different locales.

Interpretation Sessions – After gathering user data it has to become usable to the people who weren’t at the interview. During an interpretation session customer information is shared with a team. The team has the opportunity to ask questions and puts together artifacts based on the shared information, this could be work models, insights or design ideas. The goal is to create a shared understanding of the customer.


Jidoka – Visual cues/signal located in high-traffic areas that provide the entire team with the ability to detect when an abnormal condition has occurred and immediately stop work, allowing for course correction and quality to be built in at each step.


Kaizen – Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the better”, refers to the continuous improvement of processes in diverse organizational systems.

Kano Model – A theory of customer satisfaction and product development that identifies five (5) product qualities based on how they affect the customer’s perception of the product.

Keypath Scenario – During the design phase, context scenarios are revised to become Keypath scenarios by more specifically describing user interactions with the user interface and introducing a vocabulary of the design. Focuses on the specific user interactions always maintaining attention on how a persona uses the user interface to achieve a goal.

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. A principle for encouraging simplicity in areas of design and engineering

Knowledge Mapping – a diagram that uses a verb/noun format to illustrate data, and enables discovery, conversation, gap analysis, education and synthesis. I use knowledge maps to illustrate a users workflow through the interaction process.  A knowledge map can be used to illustrate product requirements, organize a users needs and expectations, perform a content audit, and design navigation.


Labeling Systems – The consistent selection and placement of labels that best accommodate navigation. Validated through Card Sorting or Tree Sorting techniques.

Laggards – The last group to try or adopt a new technology or service. Laggards use friends and neighbors as information sources, dislike change, and accept new things only when forced to.

Late Majority – The group will adopt a new technology only after seeing that the majority of the population already has.

Learnability – How easy or difficult it is to learn to effectively use a system or interface

Life Goals – The ‘why’ behind end goals. What the user wants to be as a result of completing the task.

Localization – Customizing or personalizing a national or international product for a local market

Low-Fidelity Prototype – A prototype that is sketchy and incomplete, that has some characteristics of the target product but is otherwise simple, usually in order to quickly produce the prototype and test broad concepts


Market – A group of people for whom the product or service solves a problem or fulfills a need and who may want to buy the product

Marketable – Able or fit to be sold or marketed

Memory Design Principles – Design principles related to recall of object behaviors, names and location of design elements, and relationship between objects

Mental Map – The user’s conception of the ‘ideal’ structure of the user interface. The closer the user’s mental map is to the functionality of the site, the higher the site’s perceived usability

Mental Model–  diagrams that are based on collected user content that show how the user thinks, can be used to determine needs and expectations about a certain topic. The best data for a mental model is derived from Contextual Inquiry, but it can also be based on customer interviews.

Minimum – The least or smallest amount or quantity possible, attainable, or required

Mock-up – A model or representation of an idea concept (made of just about any material sufficient to communicate the idea) which offers no functionality.

Modal Window – Also known as “popup window”. A window that is opened up by the browser,
not by the user.

MVP (Minimum Viable Product) – A strategy used for fast and quantitative market testing of a product or product feature. The term was coined by Frank Robinson and popularized by Eric Ries for software applications


Narrative – The storyline of a storyboard artifact that is an account of connected events presented to a reader in a sequence of written words and a related sequence of images. In user experience design, narratives that influence or persuade readers are said to be “compelling.”

Noise – Refers to elements within a design that serve no purpose such as random lines, dots or odd patterns.


Ockham’s Razor – Principle states that elements that are not really needed should be pared back to produce something simpler and in doing so, the risk of introducing inconsistencies, ambiguities and redundancies will be reduced. Ockham’s razor is also referred to as the “principle of parsimony” or “law of economy”.

Outcomes – The measurable impact reached as a result of a process that impacts changes in knowledge, actions, or conditions.

Output – Tangible things produced during a process such as documents, workshops, meetings, prototypes, code


Page Density – A measure of the percentage of a single user interface screen that is filled with text and graphics

Page Flow – A hierarchy or sequence suggested by arrangement of user interface elements on a screen

Page Templates – Predefined layouts or formats for sets of common user interface screens

Paging – A user interface design technique that requires users to follow a series of “Next page” links to read an entire article. Moving from page-to-page is an alternative to scrolling through long pages.

Panels – Visually and thematically-defined sections of a user interface screen which often contain content, navigation aids, interactive elements.

Paper Prototyping – A prototyping method in which paper models are used to simulate computer or web applications.

Parallel Design – A design methodology that involves several designers pursuing the same design problem simultaneously, but independently, with the intention to generate divergent solutions and combine the best aspects of each for the ultimate solution.

Participatory Design (a.k.a. ‘Collaborative Design’) – Happens when you bring people – business stakeholders, designers, users, customers into the design process. A blended, team-based approach that gets a group of people who are invested in the final outcome together to solve design problems

Path – The route taken by a user as they move through the user interface to complete a task

Performance Test – A usability test that is characterized by having typical users perform a series of tasks where their speed, accuracy and success are closely monitored and measured

Personas – Fictitious characters based on real customer data that are created to help represent the different types of users within a targeted demographic. These are used during the design process to state a users goals or motivators, and help to answer design decisions about a product, feature or interaction.

Personification – An abstract quality in the overall design that is used to represent the highlighted characteristics of a company or brand

Pivot – A shift in strategy. Keeping one foot firmly in place, as you shift the other in a new direction

Physical Design Principles – Design principles related to required movements, gestures, actions, switching between input modes and steps requires to perform a function

Point of difference or unique selling point (USP) – The point of difference or unique selling point (USP) is the combination of values and attributes that
differentiates a company or product from all other similar companies or products.

Poka Yoke – Is a Japanese term that means “mistake-proofing”. A poka-yoke is any mechanism in a process that helps avoid mistakes . Its purpose is to improve final output quality as a result of eliminating defects by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur.

Presumption – To be sure of something before it has happened. A supposition or belief that in something without proof but based on probability

Problem – The reason people are going to use a product or service

Product – The way the a problem is solved

Prototype – A functional model or representation of an idea concept (made of just about any material sufficient to communicate the idea).


Qualitative Research – The study of human behavior that focuses on context and observations rather than numerical data or statistics

Quantitative Research – The study of human behavior that focuses on numerical data or statistics


RDUF (Rough Design Upfront or Emergent Design) – Sufficient design is completed up front to provide a framework on which to build in the design detail as the project progresses.

Representative Sampling – Choosing a group of participants that represent the target audience

Responsive Design – Refers to the adaptation of the user interface according to the end-device (form factor) on which it will be displayed.

Retrospective – A meeting that’s held at the end of an iteration (Agile software development work cycle) during which the team reflects on what happened in the iteration and identifies actions for improvement going forward.


Sample – Typically a collection of five to ten people who share the characteristics of the target group and who can be used for one-to-one interviews, surveys or usability testing

Sandbox (a.k.a. “Playground”) – An experimentation and testing environment that isolates untested design or code changes from the production environment

Scalability – The ability of a system, network, or process to handle a growing amount of work in a capable manner or its ability to be enlarged to accommodate that growth.

Scanability – How easy it is to understand a body of text or collection of data presented on a screen without the need to focus in on the details. When Scanability is high, it is said that meaning can be derived “at-a-glance”.

Section 508 – Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.

Serendipity – In user interaction design serendipity is the act of the user finding something valuable or delightful in the interface when they are not looking for it. In information technology, serendipity often plays a part in the recognition of a new product need or in solving a design problem.

Signal/noise ratio – The proportion of strong messaging (signal) with extraneous information (noise)

Signature Moments – Small pieces of user interface functionality that require a single brief user interaction (known as a “use-case moment”) which become a signature of the product’s brand identity. For example, Facebook’s “Like” button.

Similarity – Perception that elements of the same size, shape or color belong together

Simultaneous Menus – Menus that simultaneously display choices from multiple levels in the menu hierarchy, providing users with the ability to make menu choices in any order.

Sketching – A thinking tool in the design process where designer uses drawing tool and viewable surface to outline initial ideas at both the macro and micro level

Storyboard – A visual representation of how a user will interact with an application or interface.

Storytelling – A user experience design technique used to communicate user research, put a human face on analytic data, communicate design ideas, encourage collaboration and innovation, and create a sense of shared history, problem context and purpose among a team.

Style Guide– these are guidelines that designers use to ensure consistency of experience. These usually contain information about design patterns, branding information, and information that a designer/developer needs to keep an application interface and interactions cohesive.

Style sheet – A set of statements that specify layout and presentation of design elements and components in a user interface.

Sustaining Innovation – An innovation does not create new markets or value networks but rather only evolves existing ones with better value, allowing the firms within to compete against each other’s sustaining improvements

Swarm Intelligence – Using the group to make a better decision than most of the individuals in the group would be able to make A high-level of intelligence that “emerges” as a consequences of interactions between a large number of individuals. It is a property of a system or collective, not its components. Outcomes produced by the swarm generally supersede outcomes produced by the individual.

Synthesis – When research team combined information gathered during user research and draws inferences and forms conclusions based on how the observations compare with each other. This is as opposed to ‘analysis’ where the individual observations and data are examined in isolation of additional context, perspectives and subject matter expertise offered by a team.


Task Analysis – A method used to identify and understand the activities to be performed by users when interacting with a user interface

Task Depth – The number of levels in a hierarchical structure

Task Flow Diagram – A representation of the various tasks and their interrelationships in the user interface

Technology Adoption Lifecycle – Describes how a market develops for a new product category. Helps businesses focus future strategies and allocate resources for radically innovative products

Thinking Aloud Method – Method used to determine how user-friendly a user interface is by asking the test participant to speak out loud everything they think or feel during the usability test process

Three Gesture Rule – A theory that users will abandon a user interface if they are unable to complete their task within 3 gestures (click, tap, swipe, etc.)
Time-on-Task TestA usability test which measures the average amount of time it took for participants to complete a task

TIMTOWTDI (pronounced Tim Toady) – This means simply that ‘there is more than one way to do it’ and follows the belief that a problem may have several different, but equally valid, solutions.

Tree Sorting – A method that is used to check the intuitiveness and usability of user interface information architecture (labels, nomenclature, navigation, data structure). Used when there is an established and complete navigation structure.


Usability – Optimized for human usage with respect to task completion, speed, accuracy, self-evidence and discovery (minimized training requirement), satisfaction, and safety.

Use Case – The counter form of the product or service offering. A narrative example that captures the specific instance in which a real or imagined product or service offers value or meaning to its user.

User Experience (UX) – Describes the entity of all experiences the user makes while interacting with a product or service

User Interface (UI) – Refers to the contact point of computer and it’s user. It is the gateway through which intrinsic and extrinsic value of software features is accessed. UI does not include the reaction or evaluation of the user – those aspects are part of the User Experience (UX).

User Story – One or more sentences in the everyday or business language of the end user or user of a system that captures what a user does or needs to do as part of his or her job function

User Experience Research – All forms of data capture, research, intelligence gathering, and insights generation that may serve to inform the design and development of the user experience for any product, service, system or solution


Validated Learning – A practice in which one learns by trying out an initial idea and then measuring it to validate the effect.

Value Proposition – A promise of value to be delivered and a belief from the customer that value will be experienced

Venn Diagram – A diagram that uses circles to represent sets and their relationships, with the position and overlap of the circles indicating the relationships between the sets.

Viable – Capable of being done or used. Capable of working successfully. Feasible

Visual Design Principles – Design principles related to users orienting, distinguishing components and reading instead of recognizing

Visualization – The transformation of textual, numeric or otherwise symbolic information into a diagram, map, or other form of graphic illustration so as to express or provoke a new kind of understanding of the same information


Waterfall model – A linear design process whereby, steps are completed and the project passes onto the next phase with evaluation completed at the end.

Wicked Problem – A subclass of problems for which there is no ready-to-hand or off-the-shelf solution, but which can only be addressed through multidisciplinary Design Thinking.

Widget – Screen-based controls that are used to interact with a Web site and other systems. Widgets include pushbuttons, selection lists, radio buttons, sliders, etc.

Wireframe – A highly simplified sketch of a the important information in a user interface screen. Also known as page schematic or blue print as it indicates the placement and content of navigational and content elements.

User Experience Skills

Design from the User's Mental Space

Usability Research

Customer Visits

Contextual Inquiry

Card Sorting

Task Analysis

Design Hypothesis

Heuristic Evaluation

Demographic Research

A/B Testing

Make Data Meaningful

Data Synthesis

Affinity Diagrams


Information Architecture

Mental Models

Interpretation Sessions

Context Scenarios

UX Elements and Themes

Socialization and Governance

Interactive Prototypes

User Requirements

iRise Simulations

Lo-fidelity wireframes

Responsive Design

Style Guide

UX Architecture