You may have seen the terms “UX Design” and “UI Design” pop up in an occasional web design article or post. They may feel like modern buzzwords coined by a tech blogger, but they’ve actually been around since the 90’s. Even so, there’s a lot of misinformation about what they mean. Many people assume that they are terms that only web designers need to understand. But if you are a business owner or manager trying to drum up business online, it is worth having a thorough understanding of these terms. They represent some of the most essential principles that govern the modern web.
Let’s Start Off with Some Basic Definitions
UX Design, or User Experience Design, refers to the tailored emotional experience that a customer has when interacting with all aspects of a company or organization. UX doesn’t just cover digital design; it covers everything from in-store experiences to customer service phone calls.
UI Design, or User Interface Design, refers to the aesthetic appeal and usability of an interface or website. Unlike UX design, UI design is a purely digital term and is under the umbrella of UX design’s larger scope. It covers everything from colors, fonts and imagery to structural design and navigation.
Since UX design is broader and focuses on people and emotional response, it can be difficult to see how it pairs with UI design. Here is another way to look at it: User Experience Design creates a blueprint for a positive user experience, and User Interface Design follows that blueprint to design an experience-driven interface. As web developer Dain Miller puts it, “UI is the saddle, the stirrups, and the reins. UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse.”
So, What’s the Big Deal with UX Design?
Picture going to a shoe store. The store’s interior is well-lit, decorated tastefully with brand colors and photos of happy, active people wearing shoes. The store clerks are pleasant, helpful and well-versed in the store’s current inventory. You find the pair of shoes you’re interested in within five minutes, you try them on, and they fit perfectly. You pay for your shoes and leave the store, contended and relaxed. You got what you came for, and you’re likely to go back again.
None of that experience happened by chance.
Modern design and marketing never relies on chance or creative aesthetics. It is based around the psychology of positive experience. UX and UI Design both rely on a simple rule: know the intended user. Before anything is sketched out, designed or constructed, it is essential to know a lot about who will be using the product and what they want out of it. For example:
- How many different types of users will be using your product (customer, distributor, manager, etc.)
- What is the age range of your target users?
- What are their primary goals in using your product?
- How often will they be using your product?
- What kinds of resources, services or solutions will they be most interested in?
Answering these questions and more will ensure that every design decision is made with an accurate user experience in mind.
Consider the shoe store example. The colors were chosen to ensure brand recognition. The images were chosen because they best represented the average customer’s vision of a healthy, happy lifestyle. The clerks were trained to know the customer, anticipate their needs and direct them effectively. The product categories were arranged based on the order of importance to the average customer. The layout of the store was structured to anticipate customer movement and ensure the optimal flow of foot traffic. All of these qualities took careful planning and research before they could be developed.
UX and Web Design
When it comes to web design, it is very tempting to ignore the user and to focus entirely on an aesthetic approach. If it looks good, it must be good. Right?
I remember one of my favorite episodes of the show Arrested Development involved the blundering Bluth brothers attempting to build a model home within the span of two weeks. From all outside appearances, they were successful. Unfortunately, the house completely collapsed during the ribbon-cutting ceremony because of an utterly undeveloped interior. There were no inner walls, no appliances, and no furniture. The house was merely an aesthetically pleasing façade with no functional integrity.
Many websites and applications suffer the same fate because they were designed purely as showpieces without thought to user experience and function. As NYC designer Frank Chimero says, “People ignore design that ignores people.” If your website is supposed to provide more than screen décor, then function is key. Get that right, and you will ensure your website’s longevity and effectiveness.
Applying UX principles to web design has everything to do with following a user-focused process. Before you explore what colors, images and content to use, it is important to determine who your users will be and what they are looking to get out of their experience. Identify the primary actions, resources and information your users will be pursuing once they land on your homepage. Outline the priorities your users have so you can map out the order of your website’s content. The easiest way to gather this information is through user surveys and focus groups. Understanding your user will provide a good foundation upon which to build the design.
A Brave New World
We’re all familiar with the age-old mantra “The customer is always right.” Applying that philosophy to business is essential when building a thriving customer base, whether in a store or on a website. If a shoe fits you, you’re more likely to buy it. If your website fits your customers, they will likely keep coming back for more.
It’s worth allying your company or organization with UX/UI experts who can help you take the first steps into this brave new world of purposeful, functional web design. The investment is worth the return, and the results will revolutionize your web presence.