Were you caught off guard when some of your closest business partners started uttering expressions like, “This product has great UX…” or “Platform Y has extremely poor UI…”? Rest assured, you weren’t the only one. Additionally, the somewhat recentparadigmchange, which has placed UX design on a tranche slightly above UI design —relevance, revenue-earning capacity, conversation starter— begs the question: What exactly is UI/UX?
Properly defined, UI stands for User Interface design, while UX is termed as User Experience design. While they are often quite distinct in scope and reach, even the skills needed for proper application, both design capacities are more often than not joined at the hip.
User Experience is a “humanist” approach to design, placing people at the pinnacle… first always. It depicts any and all potential human interactions —defined as leads, prospects or right-out customers— with a company, its products and its services. Now, this is all regardless of location or medium. Another caveat is that, although UX is poignantly data-driven, expressed in the terms herein it has no clear or outright link to anything remotely digital sounding… alas, it is linked to everything that may be experienced and, therefore, user experience design is the attempt to bring all the different elements of the equation together to shape this experience, streamlining it moving forward.
UI shares a kinship with graphic design, to the point that it has often been equated, translated or right out used in its stead. It is, precisely, the famed look & feel of a product or service; how one or the other is presented and what kind of interactivity it enables. However, unlike its complement above, User Interface Design is a purely digital term that offers up visual cues for the user to navigate a certain product or service interface.
There is a cornucopia of metaphors used to express the different facets of each complementary design skill. Most of them are controversial, even within and among industry players. Taken to an extreme to illustrate a point, Search Engine Experience Evangelist François Chastel has likened the duo to a visual tug-of-war by isolating their individual contributions: “You have an airplane cockpit and you have, I dunno, the fashion behind bags and accessories, really fashion in general. The cockpit is incomprehensible to most, truly not very appealing to the eye, but it’s pure UX, meaning everything is there for a reason, everything has applied function. Now, if you look at some of the mini bags or bulky accessories that make the front pages of fashion magazines, it would be pure UI, all beautiful design, no apparent function.” As a visual cue, this example has force, but he’s continuously criticized by fellow colleagues for oversimplifying, a fact that he accepts and handles with humor.
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MVP Expert Timothy Keynes take a different angle, that ties closely with the paradigm shift mentioned above.
“Although media, society, thinkers, even ourselves, keep pushing the story of today’s shallowness, a term that is often used to adjectivize design or UI, the truth is if you look around, practically every platform or product marketed today has the strongest of UX rearing,” to which he adds, “It is one of, if not the definitive yardstick of business success right now… My field of expertise does not prioritize it at first, but that is why I can talk about it so freely.”