I kid you not, when I first heard and saw the acronym “UI/UX”, my brain immediately visualized Star Wars. It just sounded so robotic and George Lucas:
“UI/UX, try and increase the power! Hang on back there!”
When I inquired about it, I obviously learned that UI/UX meant “User Interface/User Experience” but that started sounding like something out of the movie Tron (another one of my faves). When I got my head out of the clouds and dug a lot deeper, it started making more sense. Hopefully this quick article will give you an idea of what all this techy stuff is about.
First things first, let’s start with UI.
UI stands for User Interface.
Wait, let’s backup a sec… users… What is a user? A user is you. A user is me. A user is anyone using and interacting with a product or interface.
Ok cool, so what’s an interface?
An interface is the physical (or digital) product, machine, display, website, web app (what-have-you) that a user uses. In this article, keep in mind that I’m mainly referring to the digital world of UI/UX.
In the digital tech world, a user interface usually refers to a website, a login form, a mobile app and all those cool, hip webby things that you need to maneuver through with your hands and fingers – on your computer, on your smart phone or on a tablet. Take out your smart phone and look at the design of the home screen. That is an interface. Go to Facebook on your computer, look at the main page login screen. That’s an interface.
As human beings/users, we interact with objects/products on a daily basis. The alarm clock, the car stereo, a microwave, a metro ticket machine, and your TV remote control are all objects with interfaces that we need to operate to get them to do the things that we want them to do… and were designed to do.
The same goes for digital products. All the iPhone apps, android apps, websites (all the things I mentioned above) in the digital world, that we interact with and use, need to be designed. Hence the term User Interface Designer.
User Interface Designers spend their time designing interfaces that are pleasing to the eye and (if designed well) are easy to navigate & use. They spend most of their time working in design programs creating buttons, choosing appropriate typography, experimenting with spacing of typography and instruction text, choosing appropriate colors, crafting shadows of buttons, enhancing images, and more.
Take the movie industry as an example. The director may have a vision for the way he wants his movie to look, but it’s up to set designers or costume designers to work in tandem with the director and other studio techs to get the visual message of all the individual scenes on point. They will study the script, do internet historical research, design digital mock ups, and basically reinforce the visual look to the script’s and director’s expectations.
A User Interface designer goes about the same journey. He/She designs the digital interfaces by studying the wireframes (the script) of a product, doing research, designing mock ups (the sets) and prototypes and eventually giving the product, app or website the finished look that we all see.
Ok, let’s move on to UX.
UX stands for User Experience.
User Experience refers to the entire process of interaction (from beginning to end) with the user interface. It relates to the overall feeling and opinions we form of a particular app, digital product, website and what it was like to actually use it.
A long-winded analogy would be something like going on a Disneyland ride. (Hang with me here…) Let’s say you went to Disney, and you decide to go on The Haunted Mansion ride. Your experience starts right at the entrance in front of the big sign that says “The Haunted Mansion” (this must be it) … you get through the winding foot traffic line maze, you walk through the front door… you’re ushered into the elevator room, you take the elevator down: “This room has no windows and no doors” blah-blah-blah, the door opens, you follow the crowd down a hallway because that’s where everyone is headed and there’s only one direction to physically walk (so that’s where you go), you round the corner because it’s pretty self-explanatory, you see the doom buggies, you think “this must be where we get on!”, another host ushers you onto the moving floor to get on the ride, “watch your step”, you sit down in a “buggie”, the pre-recorded creepy voice in the buggie says ‘I will lower the safety bar for you’, you ride through various rooms, you get creeped, you hopefully have fun, you get off the buggie onto another moving floor with arrows on the floor telling you which direction you should be going to get to the exit, you take an escalator up, you see/hear a little lady projection telling you to “Hurry baaaaack…”, you see the light of the outside world (you know you’re getting closer to the exit), and you exit the ride…
How was the experience?
That’s pretty much, in my own fun, lengthy, descriptive way, how I understand user experience. It’s the adventure you set off on when you interact with something (in this case, digitally) that entertains you, calculates your math problems, shows you what Netflix shows are available, orders airline tickets, books a hotel room for you, tracks your jogging route, orders your food online, etc etc.
In the above example, how was the ride? Was it easy to find where to get on? It was designed to be creepy and fun, did it do the trick? Was it easy to get off of the ride? Were there directions telling you where to go? Were there directions telling you where to look?
Let’s take that into a hypothetical digital example. How was the app you just used? was it easy to navigate through? Was it easy to find what you were looking for? Was it easy to log in? Was it hard to find where to log off? Was it easy to book a room? Was it suited to age and taste? Was the hamburger navigation too confusing to the 97 year olds who visit your assisted living app, because they aren’t that mobile-friendly? (no pun intended, you know what I mean)
That’s what user experience is. It’s the “Well, how was the ride?” of design. It’s all the little feelings you felt, all the opinions you formed of the app, what you loved, what you hated, and all the thoughts you had (or didn’t need to think because it was super explanatory) when engaging with an app, website or product… and it’s up to the designers to know what you want, how to get you what you want, and to design accordingly.
User Experience Designers spend their time tackling web/app/product design projects, looking at demographics, creating user stories, crafting wireframes, analyzing analytics, conducting user tests, and at times designing mock ups of an app or website to hand off to the User Interface Designers to improve upon with more visually appealing detail.
Make more sense? Hopefully it does.
I’ll stop here for now. My plan is too distribute more information about this industry of design in helpful bursts. But you can see how it’s a fun and adventurous realm of creation. At least for me, it is. For myself, it blends my favorite types of design with my favorite parts of development… and, with a little smidge of psychology thrown in for good measure (I’m partial to reading psychology books in my spare time). It’s problem solving and helping make things enjoyable & entertaining for the user.
Again, hopefully this little post gives you a good idea about the difference between UI and UX and how they work together. If you’re at all interested in this realm, I encourage to explore the scene a lot more and seek out books like “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman and “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. These books are both top notch.