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What Is UX? A Useful Venn Diagram

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

I've been mentoring with Springboard, an online UX certification course, for two years now, and the one thing that consistently provides an "aha" moment for my students is this diagram:

A teal circle labeled "User Needs" overlaps a gray circle labeled "Business Goals." The space where they overlap is labeled "UX."

As UX practitioners, we sit in balance between user needs and business goals. There may be some lucky exceptions who get to work fully for user needs, but most of us need to consider or meet specific business goals while also advocating for our audience's needs.

I'm sure you've felt this tension.

Maybe it's the designer who relentlessly creates wonderful experiences for humans and preaches about the purity of ease-of-use, but can't get their head around data collection or required fields or pay-to-play features.

Maybe it's the VP of product who sees user research as a waste of time and is only ever persuaded by how many dollars can be saved or earned through each UI change proposed.

Maybe it's the freelance client who has grand ideas about how the app should work, but can't understand why the user research doesn't agree with their vision.

It would feel so good to only think about what's best for the people at the end of the design chain who have to grapple with the thing we're creating. But in our current reality, if we want to receive our paychecks each month, we also have to consider what design decisions might play towards business goals.

This mindset of balancing two (often opposing) needs takes practice to develop, but can also help us be great at coming up with solutions. To get to this balanced mind, a couple soft skills are helpful:

1. Empathy Can I feel the urgency behind each side? Can I relate to their concerns and pressures? Can I understand and articulate the desired outcome, the why, each is working towards?

2. Active Listening

Can I ask questions that draw out the true desires each side holds? Can I create a space where they will speak freely? Can I hear the true pain points they're working around each day?

3. Lateral Thinking

What does this situation feel like? Can I find an analogy in another industry or setting that will help me reframe it? Can I identify solutions in other fields that might work here? Can I build in time to play and diverge a bit before I arrive at my solution?

4. Networking

Recognizing that I have only one perspective on a problem, can I connect with others who may see it differently? How does dev see it? Design? Product? Financing? What about new users and experienced users? What about outliers? Who might use this that I haven't talked to yet?

5. Breathing

This may be the most important skill. We are so rushed -- externally, internally, budgeted, calendared, clocked, and tasked -- that we don't often take a moment to get still, take a deep breath, and shake off all that pressure for just a second. Clearing our minds and returning to the balanced state in the diagram is often the key to seeing the best solution.

The diagram is not new; I don't own it. It's just a tool to help us return to balance, to step back and glimpse the bigger picture again.

If I show up in a conference room advocating only for users and design, I lose the respect and interest of my business-minded colleagues. If I show up with a rigid interface that makes users jump through all the hoops the business needs to extract data, I lose the respect and collaboration of my design and dev colleagues.

My place as a UX specialist is in the middle - building my network, listening to needs, holding the larger picture in mind, and trying to devise a solution that will work.


We'll talk about that next time: nothing is ever perfectly balanced. So how do you handle the swings in power? The decisions you had no say in?

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