User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design are two terms that are used together quite frequently in digital marketing and web design, but how closely are they related?
User experience design explained
User experience (UX) is an extremely broad subject that incorporates many different aspects of a user’s interaction. We love this definition from Nielson/Norman Group
: “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services and its products.”
UX design is about designing for humans first. This human-centred design approach is entirely built around the journey a person (user) takes from first engagement with the company or product, to the point at which they end engagement. It involves intense market research, usability tests and user feedback analysis to try to streamline the user’s journey and make it as easy and pleasant as possible.
User interface design explained
In contrast to this, user interface (UI) design takes place almost entirely within the digital domain. It deals specifically with the visual aspect of any screen-based action a user might be taking. This could be the pages of a website or an app on your phone.
So, whereas UX design is concerned with every single aspect of the user’s experience, UI design only focuses on the visual aspect of that experience. In this sense, UI design could be seen as a subfield of the wider UX domain.
What do we mean by good or bad interfaces?
User interfaces connect people to technologies, by finding ways to allow users to control often complex processes.
We have all experienced good interfaces and bad interfaces. We’ve all struggled to fill in an online form, such as a Visa application or an online accounts system, incorrectly completing a process by clicking on the wrong box. The extent to which these things are difficult for us to do is precisely linked to the ways these systems have been designed - or not - to allow us to use them coherently. Less accessible interface design leads to more user errors, more frustrated users, and more time required to get things right.
Ben Schneiderman of the University of Maryland is a leading figure in the field and has defined eight golden rules for UI design. These are:
· Strive for consistency:
Don’t confuse users. Use identical terminology, consistent colour, layout, capitalisation and fonts.
· Seek universal usability:
Recognise the needs of diverse users from novice to expert, people with disabilities, and people of any cultural background.
· Offer informative feedback:
For every user action, there should be an interface feedback. The user should know where they are in a process and what is going on at all times.
· Design dialogues to yield closure:
Organise sequences of actions into groups with a beginning, middle and end in order to give users a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. More importantly, tell users what their action has led them to.
· Prevent errors:
Users should not be able to make serious mistakes and any small mistakes should be isolated and fixable.
· Permit easy reversal of actions:
The user should be able to undo any action that they take.
· Keep users in control:
Users should be able to rely on the interface to respond to their commands in a predictable way, without any surprises or variations in behaviour.
· Reduce short term memory load:
Users should not need to remember information as they traverse displays.
These golden rules are informed by general UX concerns but they are also specific to user interaction with digital services. To Schneiderman, designing digital interfaces with these rules in mind increases the chances of a positive user experience.
In fact, the design could be so effective that the user doesn’t even notice or think about the interface; they only think about the task they are trying to complete.