“And all you touch and all you see, is all your life will ever be” -Pink Floyd
Like the lyrics espouse; the look and feel of a thing create that thing’s essence. For the purposes of this article, we will talk about how look and feel are conceived for digital platforms. Referred to as UX and UI; User Experience and User Interface design comprise the creation of touchpoints, layouts, and aesthetics.
“What’s the difference between UX and UI?” you might ask. In a word: specificity. UI describes the creation of what an end user sees, feels, and interacts with only in the digital space (a digital Interface). However, UX is a much broader concept. Everything you interact with in physical space throughout your day gives a User Experience. From jumping, rolling, or falling out of bed in the morning – to pulling, pushing or twisting the knob on your faucet or shower. Using kitchen utensils to prepare breakfast, or perhaps ordering breakfast on your phone. Starting your car, making your way to transit, or ordering a rideshare. All products, machines and services – their usefulness or lack thereof, their design, their shape, size, and feel – give you, the user, some type of experience.
Considering this, you can see how crucial UX and UI are to the success of any given product or platform. After all – experience is everything, and like we know from learning about Customer Experience and Customer Journeys: it’s fast, simple, stylized experiences that will delight users and customers into brand loyalty, and ultimately promotion, of what you have to offer.
“Intuitive” is a common term for describing good UI design. This means that the designer accounts for the user’s instantaneous, unconscious reactions to interactive elements. So; what is a user thinking, feeling, or needing at each point in their process of interacting with your product? And how can you accommodate these goals to meet the user’s needs? How do color, shape, size, and texture convey what things mean, what things do, or what things are for? Good UI and UX designers should be preoccupied with these questions. Apple products under Steve Jobs in the late aughts were heralded as the pinnacle of intuitive design. Although nondescript and minimalistic, the barely-there design elements across Apple’s machines and interfaces still managed to easily convey their use-purpose. This was reportedly something Jobs strove ardently for, and made central to his philosophy.
UI & UX R&D
In the research and development phase, UX and UI designers gather information about their end users. The person who interacts with the software at the end-point, away from the watchful eye of the creators who can help them navigate it. The end user is made into a prototype; a mock character with varying degrees of specificity depending upon the project. This avatar is profiled; given a name, habits, goals, and preferences. The designer then considers her as a person, and what she’s experiencing while she uses the product. “Show don’t tell,” is something artists, critics, and editors commonly say. It aptly applies to good design – especially User Interface design, where every element’s function should be easily self-explanatory by its appearance. UX and UI designers develop ways of showing users how to navigate, using visual elements.
As many of us are nowadays, I’m an end user of too many digital platforms – streaming and ordering services, social media, and the handful of obligatory portals. Something that still gives me a flash of amusement (despite decades of interaction) is when a button, popup window, or some step in the process describes exactly what I want to do, right when I want to do it. Whether it’s as simple as “Go back” or as stylized as “Get me outta here,” good UI will anticipate the user’s goals at any given point in time; or in the case of UI, any given screen, and steps right in to help users meet those goals with interactive elements.
If you’re curious to learn more about UI and UX, and experience the immeasurable value of good design, please leave your questions and comments below!