Since I do both experience design and interaction design, explaining the difference may seem moot, but I find people have a really hard time distinguishing between the terms of usability, interaction design and UX (or user experience design). Really understanding how Experience Design fits into the big picture is one step closer to creating awesome products and services.

This is an answer I wrote for the User Experience group on LinkedIn:

It’s perfectly feasible for a product to be usable (people CAN use it) without it being used. It is also possible for it to be USEFUL without it actually being used – consider people not finding the service or not being able to access a service within the context of where they work.

Experience design

Experience design delves into if people WILL use a product and hence encompasses behavioral sciences and studies in motivational factors. Generally, experience design takes into account a much broader scope than traditional usability, looking at what attracts a person to the service, what helps them understand it and use it, how it integrates into the context of their lives, how they are encouraged to keep using it and how they communicate with others around the product/service. UX Designers deliver customer insights, personas, customer journey maps and the like. This is before interaction design happens.

Interaction design

Interaction design is in essence a methodology for producing visual representations of an online service that is to be used for early testing/proof-of-concept and later as specifications for designers and developers. An interaction designer delivers mockups, blueprints and prototypes. But an interaction designer can of course use insights from customer research, field studies and service design to create this interaction design (they are then involved in thinking along the lines of persuasive design). Sometimes the interaction designer is also the experience designer, and sometimes the roles are separate. Sometimes the interaction designer thinks about the big picture, sometimes they just play it by ear and sometimes they just focus on the online interaction.

The Building Analogy

  1. The UX Designer thinks about the the garden/tress, the roads in and out to access the building, distance to shops and public transport and schools, the demographics of the residents, what the rush hours for the building are and how the mail is delivered.
  2. The interaction designer takes this data (how much data they actually take depends on the mode of work) and designs the blueprint for the building – sometimes using it to role-play scenarios delivered by the UX Designer


Sometimes people take on both roles (like myself) but only label themselves as one or the other, but there is a distinct difference in what the roles deliver and where they fit in a project.

What’s your take on this?

Also read: Slaying 5 UX myths for the good of mankind

6 responses to “The difference between an interaction designer and a user experience designer”

  1. Love your analogy of the building. What do you say about a person having the role of the experience designer + interaction designer who also does the actual design and development of the pages via html + CSS? Is it uncommon?

    • Hi Hana! I would not say that is completely uncommon. The smaller a business is, the more combinations like this you tend to find. I myself do a lot of HTML prototyping, but I prefer handing over to a front-end designer for the final product.

  2. I like the explanation given by Per. In my opinion, Interaction Design is a subset of User Experience Design. Interaction Design is governed by human factors design principles and ultimately leads to a better customer experience.