December 4, 2015

What Is User Experience (UX) and Interface (UI) Design?

Design is much more than making pretty things or making things pretty.

Design is a way of thinking, of determining the audiences true, underlying needs and then delivering products and services that meet them. Good design combines an understanding of people, technology, society and business and translates that into something that is not only intrinsically functional and efficient, but beautiful as well.

The digital proliferation of our lives has led to two connected and distinct branches of design; User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI). Both of which are almost wholly concerned with human – computer interaction.

UX and UI design is focused on improving the quality of user interaction and controlling their perception of the brand that is reaching them. Before we look at each let’s briefly review some of the principles of good design.

Good Digital Design

In the digital context good design is attractive, pleasurable and wonderful to use, as well as easily understandable and forgiving. How long would you hang out on a webpage that is not?

A key to success is in the understanding of your user, their persona, goals, preferences etc. Otherwise while your design may be good it will not be relevant and will fail to convert.

There are many considerations in the UX and UI design process including the anticipation of what users might need to do and the importance of a simple, consistent interface and purposeful layout that has clear and easy access to the necessary elements, all while adhering to the principles above. It is not easy but the best design appears effortless.

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User Experience (UX) Design

User Experience designers are responsible for how a product feels – the usability, ease of use and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product. It is not strictly a digital-only practice as evaluating and customizing how someone interacts with your product, no matter what it is, is an important consideration.

Research is a large part of a UX designer’s job, looking at the targeted users and their desires in order to define the content architecture, user-task flows, site map and elements to match. Ensuring the entire experience flows logically and intuitively from one step to the next, and incorporates the brand’s visual identity. It is an important process in order to create a streamlined experience, aligned with the user’s expectations.

UX designers explore many different options to solve a specific problem, as there is no single right answer. It is a complex and multi-faceted role, encompassing the principles of Human-Computer-Interaction (HCI), project management, market research, information architecture, analytics and accessibility. They research market data, interview users and observe customers, conduct investigative studies, identify stumbling blocks, refine and iterate to create the ‘best’ UX.

Some of the methods that go into the UX design process include interaction models, analysis of end-to-end experiences, A/B tests and prototyping. It is a constant process of iteration and improvement but once the UX designer has created an interaction/flow model or wireframes for the project it moves to the UI designer, who does what we traditionally think of when we think ‘designer’.

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User Interface (UI) Design

Compared with the UX designers focus on the overall feel of the interaction a UI designer is particular about the layout and visual elements. They are responsible for designing each screen or page and ensuring it visually communicates the path laid out by the UX designer. Creating the part of the product that faces the user and maintaining a consistent visual. Even smaller issues like ‘how to display an error message’ fall under the responsibilities of the UI designer.

The line between a UX and UI designer is not definite and either cannot operate in isolation.

The UI designer deals with everything related to the ‘look and feel’. So they are involved in interpreting the customer analysis, design research, graphic and branding development and the user guide/storyline. They consider factors such as the responsiveness of a site and its adaption across all screen sizes, interactive elements and animation, and work with the development team to implement their ideas.

The UI designer has a similar role to a graphic designer and pays close attention to the small details but is also concerned with the links between screens and how people will interact. They create consistency and use common elements to facilitate efficiency and patterns in language, layout and design. Producing purposeful layouts where structure is based on importance and with an understanding of spatial relationships. Strategically making use of color, texture and typography to ensure communication clarity and brand resemblance.

UX and UI – An Analogy

This analogy is credited to Dain Miller of the Web Designer Depot where he equates UX and UI design to a surfboard;

A good user experience is the art of a surfboard gliding through water effortlessly; the feeling it gives you is unparalleled because it just works, simple as that. The shape of the board (envisioned through UX research) that helps it make those turns on the wave is actually good UI, and the wax on top so you don’t slip is also good UI. The entire package is what makes it good UX, whereas good UI is always a very important inner-element of that.

Creating Great Experiences

A great product experience starts with UX followed closely by UI. Both are essential for the product’s success. UI can make a beautiful site, but without UX it is emotionless. If your aim is for conversions, for people to be fascinated by your product or blog, to understand or listen to you, to spread your message or to do pretty much anything you need UX and UI design.