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The endless hunt for better UX analogies

The endless hunt for better UX analogies

“So, what do you work at?”

It’s a straightforward question, yet one which instils fear in the heart of nearly every UX professional. Whether an analyst or designer, researcher or consultant, it is much more difficult than it really should be to describe what you do for a living in fewer than a hundred words and without sounding like a pretentious fop.

“I work in UX.”

“Oh, UX what’s that?”

“It stands for User Experience, it’s kind of like web design.”

“So you’re a web designer.”

“Well, not quite, it’s focused on the science and psychology of design; it’s rather like a subset or a niche of web design.”

“Aren’t all websites designed based on science and communication principles?”

“Well, actually, not really – only the minority are.”

This dialogue continues until inevitably the poor victim, wondering how on earth they’ve been sat next to this weirdo asks the only question worse than the opener above “How does web design differ from UX” or to express the question in UX–parlance “What’s the difference between UX and UI?”

This is where the rubber hits the information superhighway.

There are countless blogs written on that subject, but of course the dinner party victim has neither time nor inclination to read them. And it is in this dark hour that the UX professional goes in search of an analogy, to seek to explain what she does for a living.

As we look around the web for the smorgasbord of common analogies to explain the difference between UX and UI we see a huge variation in quality. Below we rank, for the first time in internet history, common UX analogies from 1 (truly terrible) to 10 (passably mediocre).

1. Did someone say smorgasbord?

Smorgasbord image with food

To confirm, content is the vegetables sitting in the shop, UI is the cutlery, and UX is eating. So now you know. (1/10)

2. Keep it simple (and) stupid

Cartoon showing food, a fork and a female face

Minimalist variation on the smorgasbord on offer here, with the UX (lady) being afforded a very limited interface (fork) with which to eat a chicken drumstick, a feat so difficult only the current President of the United States can accomplish it. The forced grimace and slight glaze on UX’s eyes suggests she may have mislaid UI somewhere painful. (1/10)

3. When bad analogies give you lemons

Pile of lemons, some of them in a bag

If you can’t squeeze your UI over your fish you can’t call it UX. (2/10)

4. Ketchup with the rest of the dinner party

Two types of ketchup bottles

Strongest analogy we’ve seen on the market, whose global dominance is entirely consistent with the Heinz brand and Tomato Ketchup product. (8/10)

5. Duck shark

Cross between a duck and shark

The lovechild of Daffy and Jaws boasts a Design beak, UX dorsal fin and a Testing tail fin. Part duck. Part shark. All bad metaphor. (1/10)

6. Taking the Seabiscuit

Cartoon style picture of a horse

This metaphor is sure to give you a long face. Its author has certainly never ridden a horse, and from the evidence may not have ever seen a horse. (3/10)

7. Dark side of the brain

Prism and rainbow colours in the style of a famous album cover

An object lesson in how one of the finest albums of all time can also be one of the worst analogies of all time. Throw it in prism and hide the key. Rock–n–roll–tastic. (11/10)

8. Drunk prism

Prism, separated light colours, and icons

Like the regular prism but more drunk and less useful. Proof that like kids, UX designers shouldn’t do drugs. (3/10)

9. Iceberg

Iceberg floating, with the majority below the surface

Not since Kate and Leonardo looked into the distance has the sight of an iceberg been so unwelcome. This one will leave you cold. (4/10)

10. Path

Two paths, one constructed, one manmade

Better than most, but still not great. Why does no one talk about the disadvantages of the shortcut, such as the roughness of the path or how wet and dirty it gets when its wet? WHY DOES NO–ONE TALK ABOUT THE DESIGN TRADE OFFS???? (5/10)

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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