Common UX Terminology Glossary

UX terminology seems to throw people. Like any science, it has a load of terminology specific to it, and given the proclivity of today’s society to crank out buzzwords, it’s hard to be sure, as an outsider or newcomer, what’s a buzzword being tossed about just to sound smart, and what’s actually got some definite meaning to it. This is why I hate buzzwords. Fortunately, UX has less of that nonsense than other fields for the moment, but people outside the UX field may not realize that.

So, just to make this all a bit less of a confusing headache, we’re going to look at a few examples of UX terminology and explain in three sentences or less what the heck they actually mean.


Accessibility: Accessibility is how easy it is for users to use the system. It’s usually pertaining to people with mental or physical disabilities, and helping to make the system easier for them to use.

AJAX: Asynchronous JavaScript and XML is a combination of web languages used to create interactive, media rich web interfaces.

Benchmarking: Benchmarking is testing the speed, power and efficiency of a design under various circumstances by having it perform strenuous but realistic tests reflecting realistic scenarios.

Card Sorting: Card sorting is a design and navigation model which presents various pages, topics or categories of interface as cards users can organize, sort and place to meet their own way of thinking. See Adobe’s common interfaces.

Eyetracking: Eyetracking is the science of laying out the elements of a web or software interface to present aspects in an order appropriate for the order in which the human eye spots things upon first seeing them.

Graphical User Interface (or GUI): GUI is an interface concept which represents processes, tasks and data output as visual items such as buttons and controls. See Windows, Mac OS or any visually-centered operating system, as compared to command line text systems like DOS, CP/M or Unix. for further details about GUI check graphical user interface examples.

Human-Computer Interaction (or HCI): HCI is the study of dynamics involved in clear communication between users and computers, such as how to present data, lay out interfaces, and psychological elements on part of user perception.

Mental Model: This refers to how a user envisions and perceives how something actually works. It’s probably not going to reflect the true scientific mechanics of how the design works, but if their model reflects the same outcomes in a situation, encouraging these also encourages better capacity to use the system at hand.

Paper Prototype: A paper prototype is exactly what it sounds like – a sketch on paper of the layout and various states which an interface may undergo. This is usually one of the first prototype phases interface designers do for obvious reasons.

User-Centered Design (or UCD): UCD is a philosophy of design that calls for meeting the user’s expectations of how a design should present itself and how various steps of a task are ordered and prioritized, rather than complying with standards or trends that work against it. This has its advantages and disadvantages in effectiveness and practicality.

This only reflects about five percent of the UX terminology that you should probably know, but there’s a limit to what can fit in a piece this size. We’ll do more of these in the future, likely, to cover yet more of them, but now that you see that they all have pretty simple meanings (in spite of sounding complex), you shouldn’t be afraid to research more of them yourself either.

Megan Wilson
Megan Wilson is user experience specialist & editor of UX Motel. She is also the Quality Assurance and UX Specialist at WalkMe Megan.w(at)
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