User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design are two key components of creating a website that is easy and enjoyable for users to navigate.
While they may seem similar, they actually serve different purposes and require different skill sets.
We will explore:
- The differences between UX and UI design
- Guiding principles of UX/UI design to make your website or app more user-friendly.
- The value of UX/UI design and its challenges
What is UX Design?
UX design, or user experience design, is the process of designing products or services that are intuitive, simple and easy for users to interact with and, well, use.
It is an all-encompassing approach that considers every aspect of a user’s interaction with a product or service, including their emotions, behaviors, and expectations.
From elevators to gym bags, to websites and applications. Every thing has an associated user experience.
If you have a blunt kitchen knife, you might have a negative user experience. If you have superfast internet, your internet service provider has created a positive user experience for you.
And that’s the primary goal of UX design: to create a positive user experience by making a product or service that is efficient, intuitive, and pleasant to use.
How can you achieve a positive UX design?
Sounds straightforward enough so far. But how do you actually measure or achieve this?
UX design relies on user research to understand the needs, goals, and behaviors of their target audience.
This is achieved through surveys, focus groups and looking at product reviews.
Using this information, you can create user personas and user journeys, which help guide the design process by putting the intended audience at the center of your project. This is a key principle known as user-centricity.
You can also create wireframes (which is a skeleton design of an online product like a website), prototypes, and mockups to test and improve on your designs.
As your product is being built you can try to get user feedback as it’s being built.
What is UI Design?
UI design, or user interface design, is the process of designing the visual elements of a product, service, or digital interface.
This includes elements such as the layout, colour scheme, typography, and overall aesthetic.
It is the way how the product or service looks and feels and how users interact with it.
Using the humble elevator as our example here. The overall experience of riding that elevator (the space, smell, speed) is the UX, but the layout of the buttons would be UI.
The goal of UI design is to create an instinctive and visually pleasing interface that makes the task users want to complete extremely easy to do.
UI designers should work closely with UX designers to ensure that the visual design supports the overall intended user experience.
UI designers use design software such as:
- Adobe Photoshop,
These softwares allow you to create high-fidelity mockups and prototypes of the product.
UI designers also need to conduct usability testing to ensure that the visual design supports the overall user experience and that it’s easy to use.
What are the key differences between UX and UI design?
The main differences between UX and UI design are:
UX design is focused on creating an overall positive and efficient user experience by understanding and addressing the needs, goals, and behaviors of users.
UI design, on the other hand, is focused on creating a visually pleasing and easy-to-use interface that guides users through their tasks.
UX designers need to have a combination of analytical and creative skills, including prototyping, user research, and usability testing.
UI designers need to have strong visual design skills and be proficient in design softwares.
UX designers typically produce deliverables such as
- user research,
- user personas,
- user journeys,
UI designers produce:
- visual design elements,
- style guides,
- high-fidelity mockups.
UX design is done before UI design, as it is focused on solving the problems and understanding user needs and behaviours, while UI design comes after to bring life and colour to that research.
In digital projects, this is where the UX design becomes something more tangible.
What are the top principles of UX and UI design?
UX and UI are disciplines of design. And as such, they have some guiding principles or golden rules. There is no one size fits all approach to creating a fantastic UI. But these principles will help you to that goal.
Simplicity & Efficiency:
The design should be simple and efficient, allowing users to complete their tasks quickly and easily.
This means that the interface should be minimalistic, with fewer clicks and less clutter.
For example, if your website is intended to generate email form conversions, you want that process to be seamless from start to finish.
If you’re an e-commerce website, you want the buyer journey to be so quick and seamless that people are able to buy from you without even realising it. The longer you make your checkout journey, the longer people have to change their mind.
The UI should be visually pleasing and consistent. When users find themselves facing something unexpected or visually unappealing, then they begin to question what they’re doing there.
A hugely important principle is that any product, service, website, app, whatever it is, should be easy to use and understand.
This means that the interface should be intuitive and navigation should be clear and logical.
Hierarchy is an important principle in UX/UI design, it helps users navigate the product and find what they need easily.
Hierarchy relates to the organisation of the website/app, with more important elements being more prominent and easier to find.
For example, most websites have a logo button back to the homepage on all pages at all times so someone can always go back to step one of the user journey.
Information architecture refers to the overall structure of the website/app and how users navigate it, while visual hierarchy refers to how elements are laid out on a page or screen.
By using hierarchy, it guides users to find the information or function they need.
Context in UX/UI design is about understanding the environment in which the product will be used, and how that impacts the user’s experience.
This includes factors such as:
- Device used
- Emotional state of the user
Let’s say you are designing an app that may be used on the move, like Uber, you would want to ensure that you are still able to use it outside in the daylight.
If your project deals with sensitive subject matters, like medical issues, you would want a design that reflects that and instils trust in your user.
If your project is intended to be seen by a broad audience, you need to be flexible enough to accommodate all their different needs and preferences.
This means that the interface should be customisable where possible and should support different languages, cultures, and devices.
Consistency & Learnability:
Consistency is an important principle in UX/UI design. It means keeping common design themes across all pages and products within the same brand or website, and meeting the user’s expectations for the product every time.
For example, if designing a comparison website, the design should be consistent with what users expect from similar websites.
This creates a product that is familiar to the user, resulting in a good user experience.
Your UI should be easy for users to learn. You don’t want to see that people are searching how to use your product, or that you are getting hit in the pockets by having to provide a lot of customer support.
Strong consistency helps with your learnability.
Feedback & Error Prevention:
The design should provide users with clear and timely feedback, so they know what is happening and can act accordingly.
This helps to prevent errors from happening by providing clear instructions and validation, and allowing the user to undo or correct their actions.
Accessibility is an important principle in UX/UI design, it ensures that the product is accessible to as many people as possible, including those with disabilities.
This means that the interface should be usable by keyboard and screen reader users and take factors such as colour contrast, font size, and other elements that may impact the user experience for different people into account.
If you are not sure how to make your project accessible, check out websites that have applied it successfully and head to WAVE for some useful tools.
Disability charity Purple reports that the online spending power of disabled people in the UK is 16 billion pounds.
You should want to make your online product accessible, because it’s the right thing to do. But there is also potentially enormous value in doing so, by making it possible for everyone to get in touch or buy from you.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of UX and UI design?
We’ve discussed what these disciplines are, what their key differences are and your golden rules to consider.
So why should you care?
What are the benefits of adhering to these rules, and putting the extra effort into perfecting your UX/UI design?
The value of UX/UI design:
- It helps to improve conversion rates and increase sales. The money spent on professional UX help can pay itself back in spades.
- It helps to increase user satisfaction and loyalty.
- It helps to create a consistent and recognisable brand identity.
- Increases referrals and reach. People want to share positive experiences with people they like.
- It helps to identify and solve problems that could end up costing you a lot of time and money in the long run.
Things to consider:
- It can be time-consuming and costly to conduct user research and testing.
- Balancing the often competing goals of usability and aesthetics can be challenging and could draw out a project.
- Measuring the success of a design is more of a challenge too, as user experience is subjective, but it is not impossible.
- Achieving cross-platform and device functionality can also be difficult and will require further testing and research.
What will benefit you the most is trying to strike a balance between UX design, UI design, and especially on website projects there are further considerations like conversion rate optimisation, and SEO.
There will need to be compromise between all those factors, and a willingness to change course and tweak your design if results aren’t what was expected.
The complexity of your project will directly influence the cost as well.
Creating an app just for iPhone users for example, that performs one single function would require much less investment than a huge multinational e-commerce brand, like Nike, creating an app that caters to their global customers and all the different ways they shop, from languages spoken, to devices used, and the different connection speeds people will access the app with.
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