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13 Tenets Of User Experience

In my career as a user experience professional, part of my purpose has always been to help push our profession forward. And I’ve had the great privilege of being able to do just that in a myriad of ways — by writing books and articles, speaking at conferences all over the world, delivering in-house training workshops at wonderful companies, and simply doing the work for a great many clients.

If I could be remembered for just one thing, I’d want it to be this, because this is what designers and companies need to know and understand about the nature of user experience as a profession, a goal, an idea. And it’s taken me 13 years to be able to say it in exactly this way.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

Following is my list of 13 beliefs on the value of user experience strategy, design, and designers, one for every year I’d been in the web industry at the time I wrote it in 2012:


Tenet 1: Link

“User experience is the net sum of every interaction a person has with a company, be it marketing collateral, a customer service call, or the product or service itself. It is affected by the company’s vision and the beliefs it holds and its practices, as well as the service or product’s purpose and the value it holds in a person’s life.”

Tenet 2: Link

“User experience is strategic. It begins with an idea to improve the lives of users, and continues through every moment of the customer lifecycle, from attention to abandonment and beyond. It is driven by a vision that guides and justifies every design decision.”

Tenet 3: Link

“Every detail of a company and its product says something about it. User experience strategy and design ensures that these messages are put forth with intention and purpose. Design extends into each and every detail, and each and every detail can indeed be designed.”

Tenet 4: Link

“User experience is a process of discovery, vision definition, strategy, planning, execution, measurement and iteration. It requires flexibility, and a willingness to be wrong until you are right.”

Tenet 5: Link

“Great products and services require bravery. Design puts a shape to your courage.”

Tenet 6: Link

“A great service or product is rarely the mere logical result of research. Most often, it is the result of a courageous belief that what you are doing will change the world, and a determination to do it well.”

Tenet 7: Link

“The solvers of the world’s problems will be those who apply their skill, talent, knowledge and experience to design and redesign the world around us. Whether they call themselves designers or not, the creators of the future will be those who design (as in, on purpose, not by mere fact of being involved).”

Tenet 8: Link

“The goal of a designer is to listen, observe, understand, sympathize, empathize, synthesize and glean insights that enable him or her to “make the invisible visible” (as Hillman Curtis put it) — to pull treasure out of nothing, to pull value out of vapor.”

Tenet 9: Link

“The job of a designer, just like that of a writer, is to twist and stretch and shape a conceptualized piece of work over and over again until it becomes the masterpiece the world needs it to be.”

Tenet 10: Link

“Designers act not on opinion, but on insight. They do not mandate, but educate. While the best decision can often only be based on the best guess, designers inform their instincts every single day so that these guesses may be right.”

Tenet 11: Link

“Designers enable companies to change the world, define the future, create value and make a ton of money, and the evidence of this is endless.”

Tenet 12: Link

“A user’s experience belongs to the user. An experience cannot be designed. It can, however, be influenced. A designer’s job is to be the influencer.”

Tenet 13: Link

“Designers do not manage. They lead.”

(al) (ea)

Footnotes Link

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Robert Hoekman Jr is the author of Designing the Obvious, Designing the Moment, Web Anatomy, Big Deal, and The Tao of User Experience. He has worked with Adobe, MySpace, Dodge, Craftsman, American Heart Association, Seth Godin,, and many others, and has spoken at industry events worldwide.

  1. 1

    I like a lot of these tenets but I think the term “designer” is used in a way too broad definition.

    “Whether they call themselves designers or not, the creators of the future will be those who design.”

    Or maybe those who do research? Scientists maybe? I don’t think you can call them “designers”. I think designers give “shape and vision” to the future, not create it.

    • 2

      Robert Hoekman, Jr

      June 21, 2013 6:18 am

      I certainly don’t mean to exclude scientists and the like. Good point. To clarify: a UX professional is most definitely a designer (“design” is synonym for “plan”), and designers most definitely do research. And regardless of a person’s professional title, if they’re deciding how something will work, what makes it useful, what makes it tick, they are playing the role of a designer. The future will be created by those who do it on purpose.

    • 3

      I think many would assert that everybody on the planet is a designer. ‘Design’ is defined as deliberate organisation and planning to meet a desired outcome. Victor Papanek says it best: “All men are designers. All that we do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity.” (Papanek, Design for the Real World).

  2. 4

    Allan McAvoy

    June 21, 2013 3:01 am

    Great article Robert,

    Tenet #9 is definitely one I can relate to.

    Allan (

  3. 5

    Bob MacNeal

    June 21, 2013 4:27 am

    Dieter Rams articulated ten perfectly good principles of good design back in the 1970s. I’m empathetic to the challenge of trying to improve upon them. Nice try.

    • 6

      Robert Hoekman, Jr

      June 21, 2013 8:53 am

      No one’s stepping on Dieter here! Mr. Rams’ principles are all about the end result – the qualities of a good design. Mine are about UX – as a concept, profession, an act of design, and those who do it.

      That said, no matter how true they are, there are many more principles of good design than ten, and many more opinions than his. There’s value in a range of perspectives.

  4. 7

    Lindsey Stanek

    June 21, 2013 5:04 am

    Excellent! I really like #12.
    Short, sweet & to the point.

  5. 8

    I appreciate the intention, but these tenets don’t succinctly articulate the ultimate value of UX Design.

    In my experience ove the past 15 years as a design professional, other design disciplines often have a hard time seeing beyond their professional bias’ when presented with the same problem. Industrial Designers largely deliver physical artifacts, Graphic Designers deliver 2 dimensional artifacts and Interaction Designers deliver something that is usually experienced by looking at a screen. UX is the first design discipline which, when done well, puts context at the center along with the users needs to frame the problem at hand and lets those two variables decide how the solution to the problem is delivered.

    I also agree that designers are portrayed as the center of the universe here. I will go on record saying my work to date was successful because I was able to be the person to get everyone on the same page so that my design intent was executed with integrity. Engineers, developers and product managers I have worked with deserve just as much credit for the success of design solutions I have worked on.

    • 9

      Robert Hoekman, Jr

      June 21, 2013 8:13 am

      When it comes to a user’s experience, designers are certainly the ones who can most effectively guide the way there. That is not to say, however, that designers are sole entities operating in a vacuum. Read the first part of #8 again:

      “The goal of a designer is to listen, observe, understand, sympathize, empathize, synthesize and glean insights that enable him or her to “make the invisible visible” (as Hillman Curtis put it) — to pull treasure out of nothing, to pull value out of vapor.”

      Getting people on the same page is a big part of why we *document* the strategy (which itself is partially the results of their input). It draws a big red target on the wall that everyone can point to and work towards. I wrote a chapter about this in my book, Designing the Obvious (2nd Edition).

  6. 10

    Jeff Edsell

    June 21, 2013 5:41 am

    Marketer: “tl;dr. So how do we get them to buy more stuff?”

    (Sorry. Was that bitter? That felt a little bitter.)

    • 11

      Robert Hoekman, Jr

      June 21, 2013 6:20 am


      Marketers indeed need to stop discounting the vital role UX has in helping them do what they do (conversion funnel expertise, good product design in the first place, long-term product strategy, and much more).

      (Yeah, clearly I’m not bitter either. )

      • 12

        Part of our role as designers is also to educate marketers about the value of UX, and that getting customers to “buy more stuff”, while nice for the bottom line, is a short-sighted goal, and that there’s more value in creating better user experiences for the long-term. Getting one customer to buy more stuff is good. Getting one customer to buy more stuff AND come back later to buy even more stuff is better. Getting them to do that AND tell their friends how great their experience with a product and/or a company is even better. I like to hold Zappos up as a shining example. They strive for a great user/customer experience whether you’re actually a customer or not, and because of that, they turn even non-customers into evangelists.

        • 13

          Robert Hoekman, Jr

          June 21, 2013 8:14 am

          Well said!

        • 14

          Amazon has also done a great job. They’re not “pushing” you to buy more stuff, but by suggesting things you might like (based on other users with similar product purchases), allowing you to adjust the suggestions, having easily accessible reviews, and showing easy-to-purchase bundles with “buy with one click”, they’ve truly enabled more buying in context in a positive, non-intrusive way.

          Facebook and Yahoo, on the other hand…

    • 15

      I don’t know about you, but how UX fits with marketing and more specifically brand is something that I’ve been struggling with for quite some time. It seems easier to determine the boundaries in an environment of product development, as opposed to an agency.

      • 16

        Robert Hoekman, Jr

        June 21, 2013 9:48 am

        Interesting! Curiously, I’ve found the opposite. In agencies, marketing tends to be a microcosm off somewhere in their own corner that no one can touch, whereas in a product shop, UX can work much more collaboratively with them because they’re all there long-term on the same product. I’ll keep a lookout and think about this more.

        • 17

          Yes, that is my point exactly – I have worked very easily and collaboratively with both product teams and marketing teams when I was “client side.”

          The relationship with UX and brand seems murkier especially in an agency setting. UX is often relegated to information architecture activities.

          I’d be interested to hear any thoughts from any of the commenters here…

          • 18

            Could it be that on the agency side projects are more likely to be driven to meet the clients needs, internal stakeholders or the desire of the agency to win awards for doing something new, exciting and cool. Often in a short space of time and of course with a limited budget.

    • 19

      Rohan Gaikwad

      June 21, 2013 8:02 am

      by delivering a great user experience.

  7. 20

    Hienadz Drahun

    June 21, 2013 7:08 am

    Great article, Robert. Printed and placed your 13 tenets on our team board.

    Your Tenet #1 sounds much like a definition of Customer Experience. How do you see relation and differences between UX and CX?

    ISO definition of UX: “a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service”.

    Wikipedia definition of CX: “the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier.”

    It looks like UX works on product level and CX on company level. UX is more related to R&D and CX is more related to Sales and Marketing.

    • 21

      Robert Hoekman, Jr

      June 21, 2013 8:20 am

      Great question. I can’t honestly say I know enough about the specifics of what a CX’er does to say where the differences are in their eyes, but: Frankly, I’m not sure there *is* a difference. When you “do UX” (ha!) well, it’s strategic nature has an effect all the way through marketing and other external touch points, and UX skill sets can be applied to and affect sales and customer support just as much as anything digital. (I’ve personally worked on projects where part of the strategy was to revise how the customer support call center folks handled their interactions.) In reality, there’s probably so much overlap between the two fields that the line is blurry at best, and only clear when the two are pigeonholed into much narrower definitions than either deserves.

    • 22

      UX + Customer Persona = CX, no?

  8. 23

    Robert, this is a very good read with a lot of helpful insight. Although there’s a little controversy concerning the ‘Designer’ (UX or other), the information presented here within these 13 Tenets are very valuable, to say the least.

    After reading this, I am able to hold on to several takeaways from this post. But the most valuable one for me, can be summed up in ‘Tenet 8’.

    Again, good read!

  9. 24

    Paul Thompson

    June 21, 2013 9:29 am

    Well said!!

  10. 25

    Darrell Teague

    June 21, 2013 9:42 am

    Interesting tenants but I daresay positioning the UX designer as some kind of digital messiah.
    While in 20 years I have never seen a UX designer pull something out of nothing (Tenant #8), the value is in finding the common, defining vision and substance in all of the “noise” and opinions.
    A great designer always seems to find the “less is more” to a widget, screen or interface – much as great artists can portray a universally discernible image from just a few abstract brush strokes.
    Finally, this is not all about marketing and selling, unless in the abstract to sell an idea or concept.
    To me it is more about reducing the most important concepts in what is trying to be done or portrayed to its simplest terms whilst providing perfect minimal function.
    Thus alas, I am no UX designer but like fine wine, while I may not know how to make it, I know when its great.

  11. 26

    TENET 14: Who cares ?

  12. 27

    All the tenets sound logical, excellent and are very inspiring. I am a graphics/web designer, so most of the time websites created by me for my clients serve as a starting point for the prospective clients to interact with the business.

    I always try to keep the website simple, to the point and devoid of any unnecessary wizardry because otherwise a visitor might find it complicated and found leave it as soon it has entered.

    I strongly believe that a nicely designed website ultimately becomes an important part of the user experience.

    Look at some of my important work here,

  13. 28

    #12 is right on.

  14. 29

    13, now that is a lucky number. Thanks for the article. Simple and easy to read!

  15. 30

    Garth Moore

    June 23, 2013 7:27 am

    I like these, especially #2-6. If you can get those, the rest should come easily. Well done.

  16. 31

    quin quilitz

    June 23, 2013 8:56 am

    A user experience can’t be designed (#12)? Sounds deep for about three seconds, but then it contradicts 1, 2, and 3 and 13. It’s a nice assembly of random, beautifully reworded preexisting quotes, but feels too “first drafty” to be labeled “it took me 13 years to get to this point”. Maybe it took 13 years, but you still gotta do the drafts.

  17. 32

    NoMore FunkyFonts

    June 23, 2013 6:51 pm

    The ‘funky’ fonts used in the tenets are hard to read.
    I have noticed an increased use of these hard-to-read fonts on Der Internets.

    User Experience Tenet #14: Don’t try to be funny/fancy/etc through choice of font(s). Just use what you know works and people have become accustomed to. If you feel that you ‘need’ a funky font, take a deeper look at your content.

    Times New Roman 1931, Courier 1955, Arial 1982, etc. They’re good, they work.

    • 33

      Nah those new-fangled fonts are too fancy to get any REAL work done – give me MS-DOS and Terminal any day! It’s good, it works. :)

  18. 34

    Swati Verma

    June 24, 2013 8:53 am

    The 13 Tenet…Wish everyone could understand that in my office m/

  19. 35

    Leigh Jeffery

    June 24, 2013 9:24 am

    wow! these are wonderful:)

  20. 36

    I like them all, and consider all of them to be true, however, I only think #1, #2 and #3 are practical and usable. The others are too vague to use with anybody except other designers.

  21. 37

    Siddhartha Sinha

    June 24, 2013 6:49 pm

    Hi Robert,

    This blog post has very provided very good information of tenets user experience on design, designers and strategy.

    Siddhartha Sinha

  22. 38

    Tenet 10: Excellent explanation for design intuition … instincts accumulated / built upon from experiences.

  23. 39

    I think there is something we all can take away from each tenet. There user experience is a virtual version of a live customer service representative. Some are very good and most are very bad. Tenet #10 is one that particularly stands out to me. Opinion is very important and should not be discounted. Obviously we all are opinionated and that’s what even drives these conversations. If we look at design as what do u think? I believe this gives a broader view of design to a degree. One tenet read…” A user experience can’t be designed” I believe this to be true. The experience can’t be designed because it will always vary and change according to mood, view, opinion, outlook and time of day! Just like these tenants will mean something different to each of us if we read them in a certain mood, or looking to get something from them or on a different day . Design is to be useful, meaningful and visionary. Experience is in the “opinion”of the beholder or user. How many times have u heard replies of a bad experience of people no matter how good something was thought to be. That’s my two cents! Hope didn’t bore all of you!

    • 40

      Well, if you just read ‘designed’ as ‘manipulated’, ‘guided’, or ‘influenced’ there’s not much wrong with the description of the tenets imho. Perhaps I can not design the way individuals experience a checkout process, I sure have a lot of tools and tricks to increase the chance that they think it is awesome.

      • 41

        Robert Hoekman, Jr

        July 7, 2013 5:14 pm

        A design, by definition, is a plan or an artifact of that plan. To read it as manipulation, influence, or guidance would be to misuse the word itself. Those things can all be *part* of a design, for sure, but they are not design itself.

  24. 42

    “It is affected by the company’s vision and the beliefs it holds and its practices”

    Nah. I know plenty of people that will buy products from companies despite knowing how they dishonestly they operate.

  25. 43

    Very good article ,,,, you give me another hope and let me proud of my job ican say “I’m Designer & Proud”

  26. 44

    I love the “13 Commandments”. Spot on


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