[Updated on 10/10/2016]
Creating a great mobile User Experience?
If you live and breath the mobile world, you’ll agree with me:
UX should be the number one priority for a company; after all, if your app is confusing or hard to use, the customer will abandon it.
Let’s focus now on User Interface….
How important is it? And what’s the difference between User Interface and User Experience?
Ladies and gents, welcome to the UX vs UI wars.
To begin, it’s frustrating because the two concepts are often used interchangeably.
In addition, it doesn’t help that each of these job roles are often also listed under other names/descriptions. A quick search on Indeed shows that UX designer and UI designer jobs are listed under at least 15 similar titles!
With this article we’ll try to clear the confusion regarding differences between UX and UI roles. Who does what, and why?
In particular, we are going to focus on:
Knowing that UX and UI design are two completely different roles, there’s only one thing left to say:
“Each role deserves a specialist.” (Thanks Craig Morrison)
Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in!
MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN UX AND UI DESIGN
Let’s start, of course, from the beginning:
What are the main differences between the UX and UI design?
The term “UX design” refers to the process of creating and enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided through the interaction between the user and the product. In short, customer satisfaction means everything. If your UX experience doesn’t satisfy all three of these criteria, it will likely fail.
UX work happens “behind the scenes”. You don’t think about it unless it’s done poorly. If you ever ask yourself “ what the heck am I supposed to do now to complete my task?” then you are looking at a bad user experience.
In short, UX, as a discipline, focuses on the scientific method or architecting a user experience in line with findings from industry best practices, user research, focus groups and usability studies.
UI work is a form of art and the UI designer is the person who focuses on all the elements that make a website beautiful and fun to use: colors, button styling, graphics, animation, typography, diagrams, widgets, on click/tap behavior, etc.
The UI elements on any given page all come together to create the overall aesthetic nature of any given app or website.
Some examples of UI work that companies expect their designers to produce on a day to day basis include animations, audio cues, illustrations, app logos, and so much more.
In short, UX work is about how people interact with a website, and UI work is how users feel about that website as they use it.
UX vs UI - KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN JOB DESCRIPTIONS & EXPECTATIONS
Look at the image below. This is a great starting point for defining the high level differences between UX and UI developers.
Unlike other visual representations of the two roles (as we will see next) this one clearly calls out how the two jobs are different.
What do User Experience designers do?
User Experience designers define the end-to-end experience users engage in when using an application or a website. What often goes unnoticed is that UX work is a science. The output – how the information is laid out on the screen and how people interact with it – is the result of working closely with internal stakeholders to define and implement the business goals in a way that makes the most sense for the person who will end up using a specific feature.
A good UX designer is primarily concerned with a user being able to complete a specific task. Through research, user testing, sketching and prototyping, UX designers will make sure that a user can “do a specific thing” based on specific business goals in a seamless and intuitive fashion.
Great User Experience designers do not just sketch a functionality by copying…
It’s not good to just copy Amazon or any other website.
The UXA’s job is to make sure that the product flows logically from one step to another. In other words, the UXA’s responsibility is to create an experience that feels right and is intuitive. Something is intuitive if a user goes through screens, tasks and flows without even thinking about what they’re doing.
Like a scientist, the UXA needs to choose the quickest way to solve a problem out of a known list of paths that lead to the same result. A UXA is like a doctor – he or she can prescribe you five different type of medicine that will cure your cough but based on all they know about you as a user they choose the one that makes the most sense for you.
What do User Interface Designers do?
In contrast, User Interface designers take the output of a User Experience designer and turn it into a form of art. If the UX designer controls what a person does on a page or inside a flow or funnel, then the job of a UI designer is to define how that page/flow/funnel looks and feels.
Google has a standard introduction to all their UI jobs which is worth looking at to really capture the expectations tied to a UI designer role:
“At Google, Visual Designers weave iconography, typography, color, space and texture together to help our users successfully navigate our products.
We believe that all of our products should be beautiful and accessible.
As a Visual Designer, you’ll delight users with designs that inspire, engage and excite them. You’ll rely on user-centered design principles to produce high-quality visuals.” Source
This description is critical because it highlights the core responsibility of a UI designer: make people feel good while using your mobile application. A product is not only functional and intuitive (a UX job) but it also feels darn good using it.
UI designers take prototypes and sketches to the next level by ensuring that customers feel completely in their element when navigating your website. It’s not just pretty pictures, warm backgrounds, and flat or material design. It’s creating a state of mind for the user to feel 100% confident when using your mobile product. To give a simple example, a UX resource may decide that on tapping a button a user is redirected to another page. A designer will visually signal to the user that they are going to another page through animations (spinning wheel) or changing the colors of a button to signal loading the next page.
A great designer thinks through every single interaction and provides small but critical cues to the user to visually signal what’s ultimately a very simple and warm message:
“Buddy, you’re on the right track, you’re doing great, keep going.”
UX & UI DEVELOPERS APPROACH THEIR WORK DIFFERENTLY
As we saw in the introduction to what UX and UI developers are expected to deliver, the UX designer focuses on what a user does on the app while the UI designer zeros in on how users feel about the app as they’re interacting with it. In order to deliver the two complementary experiences, both groups of experts develop very different attitudes towards their work, but also their users.
Source: The Importance of Agile UI/UX Design in Mobile Development, by Francisco Anes
Amber Leigh Turner, writing for The Next Web, makes a very valid point about consumer behavior: the most important action you want a user to take on a specific page should be the focal point on the page.
This is a very good observation because, especially in the digital world, most of us suffer from ADHD.
Very few people, if any, ever take the time to read through all the information on a page. Instead people skim through rather quickly trying to accomplish a task.
UX designers focus on a logical progression that a user will go through to make a decision whereas UI designers focus on the look and feel and the interactive design of the page as the means through which to convince the user to make a decision.
But they do so through the lens specific to their profession and training.
GREAT UI RESOURCES DESIGN FOR EMOTION
Dain Miller, in an article about the differences between UX and UI roles, captures the essence of UI work: great UI resources design for emotion.
The diagram below shows just how much breadth of knowledge is needed to do the job right:
This is equally true for the UX and the UI work done on a digital project.
Great designers understand that customers come to a website or a mobile application with a very clear set of goals, which are usually emotionally charged. The user has a goal and the company needs to be able to achieve that goal swiftly and conveniently so that the customer can feel good about what they just did.
Both UX and UI designers should be at least vaguely familiar with the German Gestalt theory which explains that human beings tend to organize visual stimuli into groups. Our brains interpret reality by organizing everything we see, taste, feel, smell, touch in an orderly fashion. Based on the Gestalt principle our entire interpretation of the world we live in is a collection of small parts which come together in a fraction of a second to create the “sum of parts.”
It is this sum of parts that ultimately produces emotions and reactions to the external world. And that is exactly what both UX and UI designers do on a daily basis. The UX designer literally builds from scratch the ecosystem of parts that make up any given page, providing an easy way for the human mind to interpret the message the business is trying to convey. UI designers bring these elements to life through harmonious colors, animations and other visual cues that constantly try to elicit the desired reaction from a user.
A good UI experience is like going to a good psychologist: no matter how you felt before going in, you get out feeling at peace and content with what you just did.
UX-UI BLENDED ROLE: IS THAT POSSIBLE?
In this article we focused on highlighting the key differences between UX and UI designers and as you can see there are plenty of distinct areas of specialization that employees in either role may choose.
But the natural question is:
Can one person do both roles?
The short answer is – yes, it is possible. But we don’t recommend it.
Jenny Fan is a UI designer who gradually moved towards UX work. As she points out:
The two roles have a lot of overlap and small companies may choose to invest in only one resource who can wear both hats. When you’re trying to get off the ground and the budget is tight, this is certainly the best approach.
However, what you need to understand is that there are very few amazing UI and UX designers out there. Sure, almost all of them can deliver high quality prototypes and compelling visuals.
But a trained eye evaluating the overall solution and knowing the industry best practices for either UX or UI can make all the difference. So finding the right person for either role who has the breadth of knowledge and experience to deliver on a great design or UX prototype is an amazing achievement in and of itself.
But when you try to get people who do both, you will only rarely end up with an amazing product that wows everyone – stakeholders and users alike.
The reality is that a single person could potentially fill both roles, as long as you understand that this is a Band-Aid solution, not a permanent one.
Companies should only do this if no other options are currently available, and as soon as possible transition to having different people in these critical roles for the overall success of your mobile application.
WHERE ARE WE GOING NEXT: THE FUTURE OF UX DESIGN
There will always be a place in this world for UX and UI designers. Of course, the roles will change and adapt to new realities. We are already seeing new industries emerge that pose new questions and challenges from a UX/UI point of view.
The Internet of Things and its myria products and screen sizes is already leading the trend for a “leaner” UX/UI design pattern.
Virtual reality and its fairly recent rise in popularity is also blazing a path for a new breed of design experts – those who need to think in a tri-dimensional fashion in order to create meaningful experiences that preserve the overall look and feel and usability of the virtual world.
Another standard that has yet to reach its overall potential is around “zero UI” and the rise of personal virtual assistance which despite having no physical interaction in place, very clearly poses complex UX issues that need to sorted through.
Wearable technologies are also joining the club forcing UI/UX designers to think creatively around providing enough functionality to users while making sure people can still interact comfortably with mobile apps on nothing more than one square inch of tappable area.
All these trends will continue to develop as they reach maturity and much of the design effort over the next five years will be dedicated to perfecting the overall UX and (when applicable) UI work associated with each of these trends.
Key points to remember about UX and UI
We hope this article shed some light on the main differences between the two roles of UX and UI designers and the differences between the two forms of design.
What we’ve learned:
- UX is a science, UI is a form of art.
- UX designers focus on the overall usability of a digital product, UI designers focus on the overall look and feel.
- UX designers pay attention to the logical progression through a website/application while UI designers work on creating visual cues that put users at ease as they navigate online.
- Both UX and UI resources design for emotion: they try to make users feel at ease, comfortable and relaxed as they use a digital platform.
- It is possible for the same resource to do both UX and UI work but it’s very unlikely that that person can be really good at both.
- The future of design work will be driven by IoT products, virtual reality, wearable technology and “zero UI” innovations, which are becoming more and more popular.
We hope you enjoyed this article – feel free to share it on your favorite social platform and help us spread the word about how important the jobs of UX and UI designers are!