What is the difference between User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design?

By Alaina Roberts Posted 16 January 2017Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

UX and UI are terms that often seem to get confused. However, whilst the two disciplines are connected, there is a distinct difference. In this article we share a brief explanation of the two areas and include some examples.

What is UI?

User Interface design focuses on the appearance of a product, the visual elements and the functionality. It is the tangible elements that the user sees and interacts with.

What does a UI Designer do?

A UI designer will determine the surface design of web pages, the buttons and image used. The colour and layout will be important aspects for consideration. UI designers would work on a variety of digital products including websites, apps, portals, wearables etc. If the digital product has an interface for users, then the UI expert will be designing it. Whilst a UI designer may undertake research, it will be mainly focused on the functionality or usability. UI is just one of the elements that contribute to UX design.

What is UX?

User Experience is a broader concept focused on the ‘User’ and their journey rather than focusing purely on the product.

The so-called ‘Godfather’ of User Experience, Don Norman, formally describes the discipline as follows; “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

Lauralee Alben, Founder and CEO of the Sea Change Design Institute, who works with clients such as Apple, IBM, Intel and P&G, defined UX in 1996 as “All the aspects of how people use an interactive product: the way it feels in their hands, how well they understand how it works, how they feel about it while they are using it, how well it serves their purposes, and how well it fits into the entire context in which they are using it”.

These two definitions help to summarise the fact that UX isn’t just about a user interacting with the elements on a screen. It is about the whole journey, both offline and online, that the user takes, combined with their thoughts and feelings about the experience as a whole.

User experience is focused on the processes that the user goes through to get their task done, the sequence of actions they take, their emotional and sensory responses during their journey, and the final and lasting impressions of the interaction.

Factors influencing user experience

There are a number of elements that influences a user’s experience, and it is likely that, as a marketer or business owner, many of them are out of your control. However, identifying and addressing the relevant factors or user concerns will help create a more effective product or service.

Influencing factors might include:
Aesthetics i.e. the look of a product, Comfort, Fun, Safety, Enjoyment, Ease of use, Security, Control, Distractions, Trust, Reliability, Mental or physical stress and/or Confidence.

What does a UX expert do?

It is a UX professional’s job to provide insight and direction in order to create the best overall experience for the user, ensuring that a product or service is enjoyable to use.

In order to understand what makes a great experience for the users, a UX expert will undertake user research. Conducting workshop, interviews and surveys will provide valuable data on the behaviours, expectations and emotional responses of specific user-types.

Company objectives, competitor research, raw usage data combined with UX principles and best practice will also be explored and reviewed to ensure a holistic, targeted approach to solutions.

A UX expert will then analyse this research to turn it into actionable insight. If creating a website, app or online portal, this learning will be used to inform the entire design and development process, from the structure of a site to the creation and iterations of wireframes and prototypes. The creative elements of the UI design and the most relevant and effective types of content will be influenced by this insight. There will also be a strong focus on crafting and optimising important journeys for specific user goals and tasks.

In addition a UX professional will often conduct usability testing, to ensure a product performs how the user expects. Undertaking product testing by users at the prototyping stage means that improvements can be made quickly and cheaply before full development begins.

To illustrate the differences between UX and UI here is an example of a new car:

The user interface will refer to the car’s features, its controls, its top speed, the colour, style and number of seats. The practical, physical elements the driver will touch and use. The user experience is subjective and intangible, it is the feel of the drive, the handling and manoeuvrability. Are the controls in an intuitive position and does the driver know what they all do? How well does the car suit the driver’s needs? What is the context in which the car is being used? These are all elements that will affect the user experience.

UX is also about understanding the context in which your product is being used. Continuing with the car example, you might make the assumption that a mother of four who lives in deep in the countryside, surrounded by dirt track roads wouldn’t be a consumer of your sports car.

Sitting close to the ground, with little room for child seats and small boot space would likely be frustrations. However, this mother might have older children and uses this as second car to travel to work in the city.

A good user experience is defined by the needs and context of the users, and this is why it is vital to understand who your consumers are and what they are trying to achieve. Only then can you to create a truly user-centred experience, which will ultimately deliver better results.

If you would like some assistance understanding the needs and frustrations of your users, a specialist UX and Digital agency like DotLabel can help.

 

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