At some point during your sojourns online, you might have noticed two different abbreviations being bandied about with regards to web and app design: User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX). Perhaps you assumed they were interchangeable terms. While it’s true that both UI and UX relate to user experience, they’re not one and the same thing. They actually denote two connected and equally important functions.
Building and Decorating
Imagine there’s a house being built. UX is all the thought the architect puts into the design so that the experience of living in the house meets and exceeds the expectations of its inhabitants. By the end of the UX stage, you will have a solid building with plumbing and electricity but it’s not quite complete.
The house needs to be painted and the interior design, fixtures and furnishings need to enhance the structure. That’s where UI comes in. It takes a diamond in the rough and makes it shine, a concept familiar to any type of product developer.
More often than not, each of these extensive functions requires work and input from more than one person. The nature of the job necessitates collaboration between teams. Designers tend to specialise in either UX or UI because they’re seen as left-brain and right-brain concepts, but you get some aficionados who can do both.
UI vs UX
When considering UI vs UX, the two functions are not dissimilar. They require a lot of research, creative problem solving, analysing and tweaking. Competitor offerings need to be examined to see what works and what does not.
Both roles analyze the primary target market’s user profiles, habits, goals and current frustrations to underpin the design and streamline elements. When there’s synergy, you get beautiful, exciting and useful digital assets that guarantee customer satisfaction and user retention.
User Interface Design
UI is essentially an aspect of UX that focuses on presentation. When UI is done well, the user is immediately transfixed by the elegance and beauty of a feature or set of features of a product or experience. An example of a great UI is Apple’s iPhone.
In addition to links and interactivity, UI designers have to consider visual elements such as branding, layout and alignment, typography and colours, and buttons, icons and forms. They work on graphics like transitions and animations and figure out shapes and widths, and they do this for every web page. All these elements are employed to grab the attention of users and to hold that attention.
There are established design standards and best practice, and then there are design trends which go in and out of fashion. Just like with a hypothetical house, we want our design to stand the test of time. This also explains UI’s link to responsive design. Because UI is concerned with aesthetics, how a site adapts across devices is a major factor. Consequently, UI designers have to be adept at coding.
The following are some simple, practical factors to keep in mind.
- Reduce the number of alignment lines. The edges of text and other elements should line up to create a clean, seamless visual. Haphazard alignments are not easy on the eye and look less professional, so think of the ruler on design software as your friend.
- Manipulate text to guide users. Make the things you want users to see first big and bold or space out letters to make them stand out.
- Focus only on a few features and do them well.
User Experience Design
UX design addresses the core functionality of a digital property rather than form. Why is a particular app or plugin or site being created? Yes, it’s probably being created to make money, and UX designers can brainstorm ways to generate revenue and build business goals into their designs. But it also has to offer something that users want.
For example, an e-reader app would be built for users to read e-books. Therefore, it needs to be designed to prevent eye strain. It needs to effectively mimic the way normal books are read with bookmarks, page curls etc. Users also appreciate syncing with audiobook apps for convenience. You get the idea. There’s basic ground you’ll have to cover, and you’ll have to do more to stand out in competitive markets and gain a loyal user base.
UX is driven by data and is concerned with information architecture and organization, wireframes and prototypes, scenario planning, and user flow. UX designers focus on keeping things simple and optimized for functionality. This means:
- User-friendly design that’s accessible to the full spectrum of potential users.
- Sensible and easy navigation to help users find information and accomplish tasks.
- Cutting out unnecessary steps to improve efficiency.
- Not going overboard with colours.
- Building pages discerningly so that elements can breathe and users are not confused and overwhelmed.
- Consistency within and without the application. Don’t go against conventions for the sake of being memorable. Doing so can be jarring. For example, if everyone uses pinches to zoom, don’t use a pinch to achieve something else.
- Teach as you go. As a user encounters a new function within an app, give them hints on how to use it. Try to keep app launch tutorials to a minimum. Good UX design results in the user being able to quickly grasp how things work.
- Present popup confirmations only for potentially regrettable actions like purchases and deletes.
To aid decision-making, you need to do some investigating. Polling members of your target market is a great way to determine pain points and needs. Conduct sessions for users to play with works in progress – this is a helpful gauge of whether designs are going in the right direction.
Of course, A/B tests are in the mix. Pit alternative versions of interface interactions against each other and see which ones return better results in terms of business and user goals. This sort of user feedback about preferences is invaluable.
Lastly, keep tabs on your metrics and analyse the data. You can then adjust processes accordingly.