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Defining UX: An Evolution From UI

August 6, 2016


User interfaces (UIs) have been around as long as people have been using computer technology. Without an interface, users can’t interact well with software. UI design elements include buttons, screens, displays, icons, and all other features with which a user interacts. Deciding upon the details of these elements—their timing, controls, fonts, colors, positions, etc.—is what UI design is all about.

UI design isn’t just for software programs; websites need them too. When the interface is functional and articulate, a website appears professional and encourages customers to interact with it. A good UI allows customers to understand your brand immediately. When poorly designed, they can discourage customer interaction and drive customers away from the site.

Defining UX 

UX contains all the traditional UI elements but adds other features that affect a user’s experiences with a webpage or software. Don Norman, then vice president of Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, coined the acronym in the early 1990s. He defined it as encompassing “all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

This definition might be interpreted as vague, and although the idea intrigues many people, others find it too difficult to understand. By Norman’s definition, UX gathers aspects from a range of disciplines and puts them under this one umbrella. Though this may seem elusive, it’s an incredibly accurate explanation—anything and everything that a customer associates with a brand is part of UX. That includes the font size on a webpage, how easy it is to find a phone number or email address, and the overall quality of the product or service.

Differences Between UI and UX 

The main difference between UI and UX is the scope of what they cover. UI design strictly concerns itself with creating a workable, easily understood interface. UX design considers not only the ease of use of a UI, but also usage as part of the customer’s journey through a website or software. Its design aspects include:

  • The user’s discovery of the company’s site or product.
  • The actions a customer uses to interact with the interface.
  • Users’ thoughts and emotions as they use the interface to attempt to complete a task.
  • Final impressions users have about the process as a whole

Elements of UX Beyond UI

While UI plays an important role in UX, the elements of UX design reach far past the interface. Remember that the focus of creating an experience isn’t solely about interaction, but on the journey as a whole. This means designers must consider the customer’s mood, goals, desires, and more when designing UX. Four areas that commonly affect this type of design are value, usability, adoptability, and desirability.

Value is where the products a company offers intersect with the customers’ requirements. Elements pertaining to the area of value in UX design include researching customer demographics, knowing why people visit a webpage, and where traffic flows into a webpage. The most important part of this area is guaranteeing that a website’s value is exactly what the majority of customers seek. Websites that are designed poorly for usability will find themselves losing customers to competitors that offer better experiences. A page can also influence customers through design, driving visitors to interact with it in a particular way the company desires.

Adoptability refers to the website’s ability to be accessed and viewed successfully by people using a variety of web browsers, screen sizes, and devices. Other aspects of a website’s UX that affect its adoptability include search engine optimization, bandwidth usage restrictions, and streamlining coding for maximum efficiency.

Desirability is hard to define exactly, but it’s the magical area of design that makes a visitor want to purchase from a company. A UI that has a modern, relevant feeling is part of this, as is a storefront that feels secure and trustworthy.

Because UI is a relatively new idea to the tech world, different designers have different thoughts on how to look at it. Some elements (besides the four mentioned above) that designers will also consider include:

  • Information architecture. This area of UX design blends usability and find-ability elements. The information gathered and used herein is object information; objects can be anything from webpages to images, documents, and applications. Once the information is pooled, it’s structured to easily relate one part to another and be findable.
  • Interaction design. UX designers who specialize in interaction ensure that users can manipulate websites or programs in the ways that they expect and achieve the results they desire. They work on:

    • Creating an interface layout.
    • Researching patterns of customer interaction with the interface.
    • Using information about those customer interactions to improve the experience.
    • Ensuring that features and information essential to the users are in place.
    • Developing advanced interface actions (mouse-over actions and drag and drop functions, for example).
    • Researching and communicating the UX’s strengths and weaknesses.
    • Finding ways to increase an interface’s intuitiveness.
    • Performing maintenance with proper maintenance services to ensure system performance and consistency

UI Evolved for the Modern World

The birth of UX design hasn’t completely replaced UI design; the interface still has an important role to play in the design and functionality of all websites and software programs. However, UX is an evolutionary step for UI. The overall experience takes the basics of UI into a world where concepts such as big data and the Internet of Things are driving a movement toward increased connectivity and wider perspectives.

Bringing UI into the thought process of creating and improving a customer’s journey through a company’s website is a logical step. UIs have direct influence on customer satisfaction. Putting UI design under the wider umbrella of UX allows for the creation of interfaces that are in tune with the company’s and user’s desires.

Knowing the differences between UI and UX is increasingly important in the digital world. Remember that UI is a part of UX, but the experience incorporates far more information and implements changes in areas that extend beyond interface systems.

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