User Experience (UX) design and User Interface (UI) design are two terms people sometimes mistakenly use interchangeably. While aspects of each are interconnected, there are distinct differences between UI/UX design.
According to Internet Live Stats, there are over 1.9 billion websites, but not all are active at the same time. No matter how you slice it, there’s a lot of competition to grab and keep user attention. Good UX is just part of the equation. For a genuinely stellar site, you must also offer an excellent interface.
Learning the ins and outs of good UI and UX requires a bit of knowledge of how the two differ and what works. Although they weave in and out of the same design, they are different.
What is the biggest difference between good UX and UI?
UI is the functionality of the design and what users see. How do they interact with various elements? UX is more the way things come together — both visual and interactive features — to create a feel for the user. You can certainly see why people confuse the two as they both apply to interacting with a website or app.
Top design firms often have team members specializing in each discipline. However, UX designers are also aware of UI, and UI designers are also mindful of UX. How can you ensure you’re offering excellent UI/UX design while covering the full spectrum of requirements for each?
Ensuring effective UX design
1. Create a good structure
What is the hierarchy of your site? What is the first thing the user sees when they pull it up? How do they navigate from one page to the next? A well-designed website classifies different aspects of the page, and new content naturally falls into the appropriate category as it grows.
When creating a structure for your site, think about how it might expand in the next five years. You want the hierarchy to work from day one, but you also want to think through significant shifts in the content you might see down the road.
Even your navigational hierarchy should accommodate new areas easily. Plan for the unexpected, so you know how to work it into the overall design when you must.
2. Choose beautiful aesthetics
You have a few seconds to make an excellent impression on your site visitors. Take the time to make sure your design functions and is visually appealing. Your color palette should work, images should be crisp and relevant, and typography should be readable and engaging.
Step back from your computer and look at your design from a distance. Does anything stand out that isn’t pleasing to the eye? Get feedback from visitors about what they like and dislike. Since the focus is on user experience, your best source of constructive criticism is from your target audience. Listen to their concerns and ideas.
3. Communicate with site visitors
Most experts agree that users want an element of interactivity on sites and apps. People want to know you hear them and get a response. Some ideas include adding a live chat option to your site or engaging in SMS customer support.
Put yourself in their shoes. A customer may visit your site for the first time, having never heard of your brand. They have no reason to trust you or that you’ll follow through on your promises. Potential leads may have a few questions before parting with their hard-earned dollars.
Adding various ways to communicate shows them you’ll be there should they have a problem. It’s much easier to trust a company when you know you can phone, engage in live chat or shoot off an email and get an almost immediate response.
4. Add clear direction
Excellent UX is intuitive. You should add calls to action (CTAs) and images pointing the user where they should go next. You can use graphics of arrows, people looking or pointing toward the next step, words, or CTA buttons.
Get feedback on how clear the directions are and tweak them as needed. The user should never have to stop and ponder what to do next. Everything on the page should guide them toward the ultimate goal.
5. Break down complex data
Every industry has complicated data that is difficult for non-experts to understand. Part of good UX is breaking down complex information and sharing it in a simplified way.
One example might be the registration process. Instead of just showing text, a good UX designer would number the steps. Visualizations help add to understanding.
Embracing effective UI design
User Interface impacts UX and involves how the design works. The UI designer thinks through visitor expectations and then creates an interface that isn’t frustrating. UI works within the framework of a website to develop functional features. User experience isn’t the complete focus of UI, but it does tie into the planning phases. What are some elements of good UI design?
1. Set standards
For a design to have good UI, it must perform as expected. Have you ever clicked on a button, and nothing happened? Determine how you want things to work and the minimum acceptable standards for your site.
For example, what happens when someone clicks on a link or button? How does the user know their action created the expected result? Consistency is crucial to how a site performs.
2. Choose the right colors
While UX designers look at the emotional impact of various colors, UI designers look at whether the shades match branding and how well the different ones contrast for readability and usability. UI/UX design often bridges a single designer’s work, so the employee ensures everything works as intended, both emotionally and functionally.
You may work with another designer to make the site aesthetically pleasing while also tapping into the emotions driving users. For example, some people love blue, so a blue button can have positive results.
UX and UI designers utilize split testing to see which users respond best to. Then, make adjustments as indicated by how site visitors respond.
3. Focus on cognitive matters
According to the Interaction Design Foundation, people can only retain around five things in their short-term memory. Designers should work with recognition instead, as users tend to rely on cues to find what they need.
UI designers may develop an intuitive navigation system and then use the same cues on every page, such as placement, color, and language. Users can then recognize the system without having to memorize it.
4. Prevent errors
Your job is to ensure errors are kept to a minimum when designing a website or app. One of the most significant parts of a designer’s job is testing and retesting.
Think about all the potential problems a user might run into, such as broken links, images not showing, or incomplete actions. How can you keep those problems from occurring in the first place?
Error prevention is particularly vital when designing software as a service (SaaS) or apps. Users grow frustrated quickly and will find another solution rather than troubleshooting an issue. You’re much better off avoiding the error in the first place.
How do UX and UI work together?
You’ve likely already figured out how closely UX and UI entwine to create a usable experience. The UX designer pays attention to function and interactivity, and the UI designer thinks through how the interface looks.
UX pays attention to the flow of the website and where users start, go next and end up. On the other end, UI figures out how the elements look to the viewer and where everything is placed.
The UX team may decide to add an extra button to the page. The UI team must determine where to place it, if any sizing needs must occur, and how it impacts usability on desktop and mobile devices.
Although each has a different function, user experience and user interface must work together to create a usable site the target audience responds to. You can’t have excellent UX without excellent UI, and vice versa. The best designers consider both and implement them to their fullest potential.