Design is Only 5% of UX

Natalie and Ashlea

Natalie and Ashlea go head to head in the latest of The Great UX Debates. The topic? That design is more than 5% of UX.

Hawk gives you the full run down here, so that you’re equipped to go to the polls and back your favourite.

Yup, you heard me. Only 5%. At least, that’s what Ashlea McKay would have us believe – but then she IS an Australian, so perhaps we shouldn’t put too much stock in her opinion.

And just like that, I’ve summarised The Great UX Debate #3.


You’d be forgiven for wondering what I’m on about, so let me explain. It all started with a fight to the death between Matt and Luke. They argued it out in the first of The Great UX Debates (“We should design for usability, then add delight”), and Luke (affirmative) walked away the victor. Next up, Angela and Donna went head to head (“Up-front user research is a crucial part of the UX process”), with Donna (opposing) taking it out. This time around we have two forum favourites in the ring, and they haven’t disappointed.

Here’s how it all went down…

The Topic

Design is More than 5% of UX

The Contenders

Taking the affirmative position is Natalie Eustace. Natalie is a User Experience Designer working with Wynyard in Christchurch, NZ. She recently completed a Masters in Human Interface Technology with the HIT Lab NZ, and her work currently focuses on digital product experiences. She has an avid interest in all things User Experience.

Taking the negative position is Ashlea McKay, a UX Researcher and Designer based in Canberra, Australia. She enjoys conducting user research, facilitating usability evaluations, analysing the results and creates kick-ass reports detailing her findings. Ashlea is UX Agony Aunt at Optimal Workshop and enjoys engaging with and helping those in need of UX advice.

My Interpretation of the Facts

The bell rings and Natalie comes out fighting, with her claim that not only is design much more than 5% of UX, but talk to the contrary is damaging. She starts out with a solid foundation, defining design as both the process and the output of said process, and wraps up her opening statement with a well placed quote from Matt and Luke’s Get Started in UX. Smart girl.

RELATED:  Transcript: Ask the UXperts — Redesigning UX Mastery with Matt and Luke

No shrinking violet, Ash hit the ground running with a definition from none other than Jacob Nielsen and Don Norman, but it was this line from her argument that made things real for me:

UX is all about balancing: user needs, business goals and technology constraints. It’s huge! Design is just one piece of a very large puzzle with lots of pieces.

Unfortunately, she then muddied the waters with a nasty dig at one of my favourite actors, Russell Crowe. I thought about declaring Natalie the winner at that point, but I’m bigger than that.

Then Natalie gets to the crux of her argument – that we tend to confuse aesthetics with design. She drops in an example from her own experience – an inspired move – and brings it home with some solid stats. Who’s not a sucker for cold hard numbers?

Ash has the final word. The gist of her argument is that UX at its heart is about people and therefore it transcends design. Not a silly idea.

So there you have it. My impartial summation of a spirited debate.

And now it’s your turn. We’re taking it to the polls and you have one week to cast your vote. So what are you waiting for?

Read the full debate here

Place your vote here


Written by
Sarah Hawk
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