User experience (UX) research and design is all about making products, services, and ideas easy to use, and like any discipline, it has its own terms and vocabulary. While UX has less jargon than other fields, it contains many overlapping terms that seem similar but are actually quite different, like user testing versus usability testing.
That’s why a UX dictionary can be helpful: a single repository to return to while learning to make sure that these various research and design terms mean exactly what you think they do. Whether you’re a veteran or newbie, a UX designer or UX researcher, or someone working in a related field like product management or growth marketing, having a handle on all the most important UX vocabulary and terms can make a huge difference. Consider keeping this page bookmarked until you find yourself not needing it anymore.
A/B testing is an experiment in which users are shown two variants of a design to find out which performs better. This can be used to fine-tune everything from copy placement to button layout to CTA copy. It is one of several types of funnel testing.
Accessibility is the overarching concept of whether a product or service can be used by everyone, regardless of disability or variation in context. Note that accessibility differs from usability, which is concerned more with whether a design is effective. Accessibility refers only to the ability of all potential end users to perform the desired tasks.
An affinity map is a tool used in product design and development to organize and categorize insights and ideas generated from user research. It’s a visual representation of the relationships between various pieces of information and can help product teams understand patterns and connections between data points.
Affordance is the relationship between a person and a physical or digital object. The affordance is what a user can do with an object. That’s a little abstract, so think of it this way: A chair affords being sat on. A classic example of affordance in UX is a clearly designed button, which affords clicking (and doing whatever its accompanying text says).
Breadcrumbs are a series of links on a website that allows a user to travel backward and quickly see where they sit in the website’s hierarchical structure. Often these are nested in the corner of a page.
Card sorting is a research method in which participants group topics into categories according to criteria that makes the most sense to them. This can be helpful in understanding how groups of people understand complex clusters of topics. There are different types of card sorting, including closed card sorting, open card sorting, and hybrid card sorting.
A clickstream is the series of links (or clicks) a user takes to navigate to a particular page.
Continuous product discovery is a framework that allows product teams to gather customer feedback and insights on an ongoing basis, rather than only at specific intervals. It’s an iterative process that helps teams understand real-life scenarios and come up with solutions they might not have thought of otherwise.
Conversion rate is the percentage of users who take a desired action. This can be a helpful metric in determining the efficacy of UX design – i.e., a high conversion rate on a sales page is likely a good thing.
Short for “call to action,” a CTA is any element (whether image or copy) that invites the user to perform a given action. A “learn more” button is a good example, because anyone clicking it is indicating an interest in moving further down the funnel.
A decision-making approach to the design process that relies heavily on collected data about users’ behavior and attitudes. An alternative to data-driven design would be designing via aesthetic preference or gut instinct.
A decision matrix is a method that helps a team evaluate ideas based on a set of specific criteria. These are often organized as an L-chart, with the X and Y axes each representing different qualities (say, difficulty versus benefit), with various possibilities sorted into the resulting matrix. Teams can then use this to more logically decide a course of action.
Design debt is the idea that shortcuts made in favor of short-term goals will create greater problems down the road, particularly if they are left to accumulate. For example, if a coherent sitemap is skipped in favor of getting a shopping cart functionality implemented more quickly, this could create a problem as the site expands. Design debt is like the idea of technical debt, which posits that technical issues left unaddressed can mount and negatively affect the overall user experience. Learn more in our full guide to design research.
Design surveys are used to get feedback about a design – whether it’s a website, app design, animation, prototype recording, video ad, or logo concept. Designs and questions are displayed at the same time, which gives respondents an opportunity to scrutinize the design so you can check their understanding.
Design thinking is an iterative process and ideology that seeks to solve problems in a user-centric way, based on the way humans actually engage with the product or service. The five phases of design thinking are 1) empathize with the user, 2) define the problem to be solved, 3) ideate varied solutions to the problem, 4) prototype a version of the best solution, and 5) test the prototype, after which the designer likely goes back to one of the earlier phases, depending on the results.
An empathy map is a visualization that helps designers articulate what they know about a particular type of user. Empathy maps are generally split into four quadrants: Says, Thinks, Does, Feels. By filling out this map, teams can better design for a type of user because they have empathized with their lived experience.
End users are the people who actually use a product or service after it’s been designed.
Ethical design is a way of thinking that strives to balance design thinking with an individual’s morals and beliefs, as well as the principles of their business. An example might be prioritizing user privacy, even if selling their information could be more profitable.
Eye tracking is a technology used to see where a user’s eyes gravitate on a page. This can identify distracting elements that compete with desired uses or KPIs. You can also use eye tracking to create a heatmap, aggregating vision patterns of several users into a single visualization.
A first click test is a test that checks if a user can perform a desired task easily – that their first click is the desired one. Web analytics packages can tell you where users clicked, but not what they were trying to achieve. Click testing allows you to ask users to carry out a specific task, letting you isolate and investigate user behavior around each different scenario separately.
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A five second test is a test that involves displaying an image to a user for just five seconds, after which they’re asked questions based on memory. Five second testing gathers both quantitative and qualitative feedback that can help optimize a design.
A flat design is a minimalist design style that emphasizes simplicity and two-dimensional illustrations. While typically free of distraction, it’s sometimes criticized for not offering obviously clickable elements.
A flowchart is a diagram that shows the steps a user takes to complete a task within a product, such as a website or mobile app, from beginning to end. A flowchart might show the process by which a new user creates an account, resets a password, or searches for and purchases a product.
Funnel testing is a process in which slightly different versions of a website or landing page are tested to see which is most effective at converting visitors into customers.
A heatmap is a visual representation of where certain actions happen on a webpage, with “hot” (or warm-colored) sections showing where more of those actions happen, and cooler sections showing where they don’t. Click heatmaps, for example, show where more users click on design elements.
Icons are quick, intuitive images that represent core ideas, capabilities, or topics. Icons are best at adding value when they are well recognized and improve the visual design and usability of a UI.
Information architecture (IA)
Information architecture (IA) is the organization of information in a website, app, or other digital product. It involves creating a logical and meaningful arrangement of content so that users can easily find the information they’re looking for.
Interaction design is the process that makes websites and apps interactive, transforming digital products into something more natural. Think of it in terms of examples: swiping on a dating app, pinching to zoom, using a breadcrumb trail to navigate a website’s hierarchy.
Iterative design is a process in which cycles are repeated in order to optimize based on user feedback and data until a desired outcome is reached.
Journey mapping visually represents the steps a customer goes through in their interaction with a company, product, or service. It helps to understand the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors of customers and identify opportunities for improvement. Journey mapping is typically created as a visual timeline or storyboard.
KPI is short for “key performance indicator”. It’s a metric by which success is evaluated. Conversion rate may be a good KPI to target for a sales page, while “time on page” may be desirable for a content initiative.
A mental model is how a user understands a product or system. Their mental model of a chair is fairly straightforward, whereas their model for logistics software might be quite complex. Keeping the end user’s mental model in mind while designing is one way of centering their needs through the design process.
Microcopy is pieces of text, such as labels, error messages, button copy, and tooltips, that provide guidance for how a user should engage with a website or app. Slight variations in microcopy can nudge user behavior in desirable (or undesirable) directions.
A mockup is a visual representation meant to simulate the look and feel of a finished product. Mockups help stakeholders from different backgrounds visualize the end product and can also be used to get feedback from users.
A mood board is a series of visual elements (including images, photos, colors, fonts, and competitive examples) used to communicate the ideal aesthetic and tone of a finished product. It can be used to create alignment between stakeholders and team members.
MVP is short for “minimum viable product”. A basic version of a site or product featuring only the core features necessary to meet the needs of users and stakeholders. An MVP is usually a good idea when there’s a need to get something live quickly, either to begin collecting data or sales, after which it can be iterated upon.
Navigation tests analyze how users navigate through a website or application, given a specific task or goal. The results help you hone critical user flows and improve your information architecture.
Pain points refer to the challenges or problems that users face when interacting with a product, typically related to usability, accessibility, or performance. One example of a pain point might be an overly complicated user login process that stops users from checking out a cart. UX strives to minimize pain points for end users.
A persona is a fictional person who represents a specific segment of users and their goals, motivations, behaviors, and challenges. Similar to an empathy map but less schematic, personas allow teams to think through problems from the point of view of a specific person rather than a nebulous set of statistics.
A preference test is a test that asks users to choose between two design options to help understand what matters to them. Participants are shown several design options and asked to choose which one they prefer. These tests are commonly used to measure aesthetic appeal, but you can also ask participants to judge designs based on their trustworthiness, or how well they communicate a specific message or idea.
Product adoption is the process of introducing your new product to potential customers and helping them become familiar with it, evaluate its value, and begin using it. The product adoption process includes a series of steps users go through as they become familiar with, and begin using, a new software product, including: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption.
Product discovery is the initial stage of product development. It helps you determine what the needs of your users are and whether to build a specific product or feature to meet those needs. It can help you figure out the value of your product or feature, the target market, your customers and their needs, how your product differs from the competition, and your business and product goals.
Product life cycle
The product life cycle is a framework that describes the stages a product goes through from its inception to its retirement. The product life cycle is divided into stages: development, introduction, growth, maturity, decline.
Product management is responsible for defining, developing, and delivering a product to market. It involves the coordination of various teams such as engineering, design, sales, marketing, and support to bring a product to life and ensure its success. The goal of product management is to ensure that the right product is built, that it’s built in the right way, and that it’s delivered to the market at the right time to maximize business value.
A product roadmap is a high-level visual representation of a product's strategy and plan. It provides an overview of what a product team is working on, what their priorities are, and when certain features and updates will be released.
A prototype is an interactive representation of what a product will look like and how it will function. It can be used to visualize a final product, test with users, validate ideas, or gather feedback.
Prototype testing involves creating a prototype and testing it with real users to validate your design decisions. There are a couple of primary goals for prototype testing: 1) To identify any problems or areas for improvement early, and 2) To make sure you’re building a product that meets user needs and expectations.
Qualitative research is human centered – it discovers what people value from their experience with a product or service. This kind of research asks why something is happening, and can help us understand what products to build and why we should build them in a certain way. It’s mainly used to test a theory or hypothesis, but is also used to understand trends.
Quantitative research focuses on numerical data and statistical analysis. It can tell you what’s happening with a product or service and how widespread something is happening at a point in time. Closed-ended questions in short and quick surveys are one of the most well-known methods of quantitative research. The results give measurable information and can help to project results for a larger population.
ResearchOps – also known as Research Operations or ReOps – is a dedicated function for operational tasks related to UX research. A ResearchOps team handles all the logistics of the research process, such as participant management, knowledge management, governance, UX tools, communication and advocacy, training, and project scope.
Responsive design is an approach to web design that reorganizes elements on the page to adapt depending on the size of the browser or device. Column layout, typography, imagery and other design elements may be repositioned, resized or even eliminated as a result of the responsive design.
A sitemap is a diagram displaying all the pages on a website and the way they’re connected to each other. It’s a concrete way of illustrating your approach to information architecture.
A storyboard is a series of images that convey a narrative. A UX storyboard can show a user’s journey and interaction with a website or product, illustrating the way it’s used in a real-world situation.
Tree testing is a usability testing method that assesses the effectiveness and findability of the information architecture (IA) of a website or application. In a tree test, you present participants with a simplified version of your site's IA, often represented as a tree structure, and ask them to find specific pieces of information.
User interface (UI) design is the visual and interactive elements of a website or app, engineered to be user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing. A product’s UI design can incorporate elements like buttons, icons, typography, color schemes, and layouts, as well as the behavior of these elements when manipulated.
Usability testing is a research methodology in which you test a product or service with representative users in order to gauge how user-friendly it is and provide an input for future iterations. This can help determine whether a website, for example, is easy to navigate, logically laid out, and if a variety of users can perform desired actions.
A user journey is a representation of the steps a user takes to achieve a task or goal while interacting with a product. An example of this may be a person needing a new item, going online to shop for one, and taking the requisite steps to navigate the website and get the item they need. Detailing a user journey can help designers better empathize with the end users of their product and design within a more real-world context.
User testing is a methodology that validates the demand for a product or service. This is distinct from usability testing, which helps gauge whether the product or service can be used correctly. Think of it this way: user-testing is user focused (do they want it?), whereas usability testing is product focused (can they use it?).
User-centered design is an approach that places the needs of the end user at the center of the design process. Rooted in empathy, it seeks to understand people by using personas, testing, and iteration, in order to create a product that meets users where they already are. Typical steps include extensive user research, co-creation alongside potential users, empathy maps, and journey mapping.
User experience (UX) design is the process used to create products that provide a positive experience for end users. UX design focuses on how we interact with the product or service, whereas UI design is concerned with the physical and visual design of the end product.
User experience (UX) research
User experience (UX) research (also known as UXR) is a process used to gain an understanding of the needs, motivations, and behaviors of end users. This is typically accomplished through user interviews, testing, surveys, card sorting, A/B testing, and heatmaps. Learn more about UX research and its differences with UX design in our blog post.
User experience (UX) writing is the process of choosing the right words for a digital product. UX writing aims for simplicity, clarity, and ease of use. The focus of UX writing is the copy (often referred to as microcopy) that helps users navigate software, websites, and apps – it’s the text you find on buttons, menu items, notifications, error messages, and more.
A variation set is a group of variations that are used to evaluate and compare different design options. A variation set is often used in A/B testing or usability testing to assess how different variations of a design element impact user behavior or affect the user experience.
Website testing, or web testing, is a critical step in the development of a website or web application. It involves checking your website or web app for bugs and verifying its usability, functionality, security, compatibility, and performance.
A widget is a UI component that allows the user to perform a specific function or task. These are usually small, standalone applications. Examples might be UI elements that display the current weather, date, the latest news, or a device’s battery life.
A wireframe is a low-fidelity visual representation of the layout and structure of a user interface. Think of it as a blueprint that shows the placement of UI elements such as buttons, text boxes, and images. These can convey the proposed information architecture to stakeholders and users.
A word cloud is a visual representation of the frequency and relevance of words. It’s created by analyzing a body of text and displaying the most frequently used words in a cloud-like shape, with the size of each word reflecting its frequency. It’s often used as a way to quickly visualize the most important themes and topics in a research study.
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