Are You Experienced? — UX Design, UI Design, or UX / UI Design?

Hi!  I’m starting a new series of short articles about design, something that I hope I will contribute to one or more times per week. We’ll see how it goes!

Today’s entry starts with an awkward double question: Are You Experienced?  And UX Design, UI Design, or UX / UI Design? There’s a method to this madness. The first question is the name of the series, a take on the song by Jimi Hendrix. Look it up and you’ll find that it has some strange lyrics, but there’s one section in particular that caught my eye:

I think they’re calling our names.
Maybe now you can’t hear them, but you will
If you just take hold of my hand

It’s weird and doesn’t entirely make sense, but it’s a great description of one person helping another person do something.  The one person, for whatever reason, can’t hear their names unless the other person holds their hand. So the second person enables the first person to do something.

Isn’t this our job as designers?

As Jared Spool has said and written, “design is the rendering of intent.” That is, a designer imagines an outcome and puts forth activities to make that outcome real. The is an elegant way to describe what designers do.

So in respect to this, how do UX and UI design differ, and when is it accurate to use UX / UI design together?  (something that I see written often, and it usually bothers me)

UX design, or user experience design, is centered on optimizing a person’s entire experience with an interaction or series of interactions.  UI design, or user interface design, is the design of the particular means of achieving that experience. In software, the UI is a visual interface of text, buttons, or other interactive elements.

And I would argue that every UX designer is also a UI designer, but every UI designer is not a UX designer.  Why?

Because unfortunately, it’s possible to design a UI without focusing enough on the experience of using it.  Such a UI could look great, and even be useful as well as usable.  But if it’s hard to find, or the interaction takes a long time to complete, the resulting experience may not be “5-star” (one of the ways we measure the success of UX design where I work).  A 5-star user experience would take finding the UI, and the time it takes to use it, into account during design and testing to ensure that using the UI is a good overall experience, and that it doesn’t just look good or get the task done.

Which brings us to UX / UI design. While it annoys me (because, again, I would argue that UX is inclusive of UI), it’s still better than UI alone.  Describing your work as UX / UI confirms that your UI design work takes the user’s experience into account — if that’s what you really mean by that construct. But if you are suggesting that UX and UI are the same, that’s not true. They’re certainly related but not the same.

To wrap up, there is a key takeaway that is much more important than the semantics of describing your work as UX, UI, or UX / UI:  the fact is, you’re shaping someone’s experience regardless of how you’re designing. By default, you are designing an experience with your UI design. So the question is, are you aware of the potential experience outcomes and testing for their success? Or are you blindly creating a poor experience and not aware of it because you aren’t using approaches or methodologies that take a user’s overall experience into account?

The rest of this series will explore a number of UX methodologies and approaches. Stay tuned!


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