10 Key UX Design Terms You Need to Know

Time to talk terminology.

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In the quest for high paying, flexible, and creatively fulfilling work, tech can be a direct pipeline to all three qualities—but it’s a much more inclusive pipeline than people sometimes think. Tech is a wide-ranging industry with lots of different career paths, which means no matter who you are, there’s a job for you.

Take UX (User Experience) for instance. UX design is a tech field that involves researching the user base of digital products like websites and apps, testing those products with user groups, and using that data to improve the experience people have when they interact with the products.

All of this has a lot more to do with listening to people’s experiences and synthesizing them into product improvements than it does with coding or design. If you’re a good listener and a critical thinker, you can excel with UX. And it shouldn’t hurt to know that UX base salaries average at $86,927/year at the time of this writing, while Indeed lists nearly 200,000 jobs currently open in the UX field.

However, UX terms can sound like their own language when you’re new to the field. Whether you’re a UX hopeful or a copywriter, web developer, or designer working with UX professionals, it’s critical to learn how to speak User Experience. In order to get you started, here’s 10 key UX terms and their meanings that will have you talking the talk in no time.

1. UX Research

UX research is the process of studying a product’s user base, understanding users’ needs, analyzing how these needs are served by the current product experience, and determining how to improve that experience based on these research results. UX research is usually conducted through a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods.

Qualitative UX research methods include:

  • Personas and prototyping (see entries below)
  • Ethnographic studies (research into social behaviors and perceptions in people, groups, organizations, and communities in relation to a product)
  • Focus groups (small, demographically diverse groups that are led in a discussion about their thoughts on a product)

Quantitative UX research methods include:

  • A/B testing (see entry below)
  • Surveys (conducting user interviews, collecting user questionnaires, etc.)
  • Heat mapping (see entry below)
  • Web analytics (measuring, collecting, and interpreting website traffic data)

2. A/B Testing

A/B Testing involves user testing two versions (A and B) of digital content (a website or app) with a target audience and learning which one the audience prefers. When it comes to digital content, this preference is usually measured through something called a “conversion rate.” Conversion rates track the number of visitors to a website or app who take a desired action during their visit (things like signing up for an email list, purchasing a product or service, or subscribing for a paid membership.

Testing A and B versions of things like homepages or sign up forms with different copy or features is an essential part of gauging user satisfaction, which in turn helps UX teams make UX strategy decisions between competing design ideas.

3. Heat Maps

Heat maps are analytical UX tools that track and record the location of a user’s mouse pointer on a computer screen when interacting with a website or application. Heat maps create a visual chart that shows the concentration of mouse locations over time, with high traffic points on the screen turning increasingly red with “heat.”

By analyzing common mouse patterns on the screen, UX designers can use this data to improve website or app navigation features and layouts. (Iif a heat map tells you that users spend a lot of time using a certain feature on a site, it’s important to design the site so that it’s as easy as possible for users to get to that feature.)

4. Information Architecture

Information Architecture (IA) might sound intimidating, but you’re probably familiar with it even if you haven’t heard the name. Simply put, IA is the decision process behind arranging apps, websites, software, printed materials, or even physical spaces in order to make them understandable and easy-to-use.

The signage pointing you where to go in a parking lot, the way columns are arranged in a magazine, or the flow of a menu on a webpage are all examples of IA. The challenge of the UX professional is using UX research to figure out how to arrange a product’s IA in the most user-friendly way possible.

5. Iteration

In UX, iteration is a central component of the product development cycle. UX iteration is an ongoing process of prototyping, sharing prototypes with users, conducting user interviews, and refining and reworking the product design based on this research.

The whole purpose of UX is to actively involve users in the product development process rather than releasing a product as “done” without input from the people who will be using it. Iteration makes sure that user input plays a critical role in informing product design.

6. Journey Mapping

Journey mapping is the process of creating a visual representation of a user journey with a product based on data collected from UX research—also known as a Customer Journey Map. A user journey typically starts with initial product engagement (like. a user’s first visit to a website after finding it through a Google search) and moves (hopefully) to a long-term product relationship.

By visually charting out a customer’s experience trajectory, UX professionals can easily reference how customers come to engage with a product, what kind of customer needs arise at different points in the customer journey, and identify the divide between intended and actual user experiences.

7. Personas

Personas are fictional user profiles created by UX designers to define the types of users a product is being built for. User personas are created based on demographic information, customer experience metrics (like links commonly clicked on by specific customer groups, time spent on linked pages, search terms used to find and visit a client’s website or app, etc.), and other data coming out of UX research.

Once user personas are created, UX professionals can then inform product strategy and user experience design choices according to the needs of these theoretical users.

8. Wireframe

Website wireframes are visual blueprints that map out the skeleton of a website or web application. Wireframes allow UX professionals to visualize and plan the arrangement of website elements, including page layouts, locations of on screen menus, features like videos, animated graphics, and interactive user forms, and any other content that will be included on a website.

Through wireframing, UX pros can share site ideas with test users, design and developer teams, clients, and stakeholders without the need for a fully functioning digital product.

9. Prototype

A more fully developed model than a wireframe, a prototype is a sample version of a product that can be used for testing before the product’s final release. Prototypes are critical to UX iteration because they are rough drafts of a product that allow for tweaking and refinement without costing the kind of time or money a final product requires.

Depending on where a product is in its development cycle, a product prototype can range from a mockup sketch on paper to a fully functional digital model. When test users offer their thoughts on an unreleased product, it’s most likely after spending time with a prototype.

10. Usability Testing

Usability testing is a research practice where users are given versions of a product to try, while UX professionals observe the users’ ability to complete tasks with different iterations of the product. This give UX professionals direct insight into the general user experience and specific usability issues at different stages of a product’s development.

The product iterations used for usability tests can range from paper sketches at the earliest part of a development cycle, to interactive digital prototypes close to an intended release. Performing usability testing throughout the development cycle allows a UX team to identify problems early and adjust as needed.

If hearing more about UX design resonated with you, be sure to sign up for notifications about Skillcrush’s upcoming UX Professional Blueprint course.

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Scott Morris

Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.