Deciphering User Experience/User Interface Terminology

Custom software consultants work with clients in all sorts of industries: finance, technology, education, healthcare, and so on. Not only do we learn all about our clients and their specific business needs—we learn about the industries they operate in as well.

Because we’re often in new territory, early client meetings are sometimes overwhelming. There is a lot of terminology and jargon thrown around. You find yourself asking a lot of questions on what a certain acronym stands for or what the title of a process means. This dynamic can go both ways in terms of user experience terminology.

Bobby Drawing on Whiteboard at Atomic Object

As a UX designer, I realized I use a lot of my own industry lingo to explain rationale, methods, and concepts. Part of being a UX designer is to practice empathy for potential users of software or applications we are building. I explore their goals and the pain points of performing tasks to accomplish their goals. While I do my due diligence when designing software, I realized I haven’t been addressing a potential pain point in meetings. That’s why I want to address some terminology and adjectives that designers may use. I’d also like to provide some context and definitions to go with them.

Powerful, Meaningful, and Delightful

These are at the core of every good product. And while these are great adjectives to use, what do they really mean in terms of quality software?


Power is not measured in terms of how much processing is required. It’s measured in terms of how easily users can perform a task and how in-control they feel they are. Have you ever used a website or piece of software and felt limited by what you could do? Did it feel slow, or cumbersome to use? Users expect applications to do what they want, and the way they want to do it.


Remember the “old” tagline there’s an app for that? Well, there seriously is now. Technology has infiltrated nearly every aspect of our lives. As consumers and users, we need to be diligent in selecting the best products to fit into our days. A meaningful application is one that provides significant value, aligns with a user’s goals, and makes doing tasks easier.


There is a pretty grey line where delightful ends and tacky begins. Delight is subjective, and as designers, we really need to understand users’ motivations. An app like Snap can provide a lot of delight in terms of selfie accessories, face swapping, and transformations. This works on an extreme level because of the purpose of Snap.

A user would not want these same kinds of “gimmicks” in a mobile banking app. You would not want to see fun animations of dollar ($) signs flying around the screen when you pay a bill. Sure, it’s cute and gamey, but no one is delighted to pay bills.


A workflow is made up of all the actionable steps it takes to complete a task. This means every click or tap, every page visited, and every widget used to complete a task. We often think of software as a group of different workflows used by different users that all work in harmony. A workflow for a teacher to add an assignment to an application for her classroom will lead to a workflow for a student to complete the assignment, which will lead to another workflow for the teacher to grade the assignment.

User Feedback Mechanisms

When the background color changes as you move your mouse over a button, or when you select a tile from an app and it animates, expands, and fills the whole screen, you’re experiencing User Feedback Mechanisms. They help tell the user, “Yes, this is a clickable button,” or, “You just selected this item.” User Feedback mechanisms provide vital context to actions for a user, but they are often overlooked in the early stages of product development or even left out entirely.

Our industry has plenty more jargony terms, but I highlighted these as the ones that tend to create the most confusion when they come up in meetings. Are there any other terms you’ve heard designers say that you don’t understand?

  • Michael Baldwin says:

    It’s important to establish common meaning when communicating, especially across different domains. Thank you for sharing! However, I believe it’s pronounced “Snapchat” :)

  • Comments are closed.