Jargon is constantly evolving. In the world of app design more recent terms being used are “UX” and “UI” both in terms of the overall usage and design but also regarding the people who write the code.
User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) designers are each critical to the ultimate design of an application. These two positions need to work collaboratively to result in the best looking and best performing app that will keep users coming back to your site time and time again.
The UX designer finds the connection between the company’s product or service and the needs of the user. Think of a shopping app where you want to purchase a pair of slacks. Not only do you get an array of pants in the design and size specified, but an assortment of shirts that will be the perfect accompaniment. Or when you get a message that other people who bought what you did also purchased these products and displays a group of related items.
For a UI designer it is a little more complicated. This person is involved in how things work. From a vending machine that slurps up your paper money and then allows you to punch buttons to release the product you want, to a gaming app that lets you move from one level to another, each operation needs to work seamlessly and still reflects the identity of the company and be a cohesive process.
In short, both UX and UI designers are critical to a good and profitable application. What follows is some more detail on each occupation.
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What is an UX Designer?
First, “UX” is short for User Experience. A UX Designer is part of a team that makes a product work for the end user. In other words, it makes it practical for the individual to get use or enjoyment out of a particular product.
While this term has usually been connected with digital technology (computer programs), it can be used for hard products like furniture, or an experience like shopping at the grocery store. Sometimes it is thought of as how something looks and operates. The UX Designer is an intermediary between the idea and how the purchaser will use it to their best advantage.
The concept is to make things easy to operate, pertinent to your daily activities, and to have a satisfying experience. They work on making it a pleasant experience on a company’s website to find what you want (and perhaps a couple of items you weren’t exactly after), to place it in your cart, access your payment options like bank account or money transfer company, and to have a pleasant time. It should remove obstacles and make the encounter fun.
Think of it from more of a psychological perspective. The UX designer uses coding skills but focuses on the user’s experience. They develop and enhance or upgrade existing sites of a company so that the user will come back to the company again and again. It is more about how it makes the individual feel rather than how it operates.
The duties usually revolve around the research necessary to make the product usable. The designer will test how it works and possibly even ask individuals to test it for them. They are the representatives of the end user before the product even hits the screens. Designers need to be multi talented because they have to understand what the goal is, implement it, make sure it works, and then sell it to the company as an improvement over what they are currently using.
What is an UI Designer?
User Interface (UI) is the mechanics of making the software or devices nice to look at and easy to use. This involves working with the graphics (GUIs) and voiceovers that make the program work. Some of it is making things work smoothly every time, like zoom. While it needs to work well, it also needs to look good.
The main job for a UI designer is to make sure things run efficiently. All of the buttons are easy to understand and operate. When the buttons are pushed that the programming “gears” all mesh in sync and provides a good response time. They also make sure that the company’s brand is clearly understood. That includes colours, logos, icons, etc. Everything needs to be consistent including type face and aesthetics.
Within all of this, the movement between screens, placement, and directions need to be intuitive. The user shouldn’t need to think too hard to place an order. Everything should be easily understood and seem logical.
To deliver these items effectively, the UI designer needs to know how to get the most out of the programming. Make sure that the user has the fewest number of buttons or icons to click on in order to get to where they want to be, and reverse if necessary. The user should be able to navigate backwards to review previous material without the necessity of starting the process all over.
All of this needs to be consistent. The designer needs to know what to emphasize and how to create a layout that is plausible for the ordinary person to comprehend and operate, all with the fewest key strokes possible.
Would there be benefits of having both an UX and an UI working together side by side?
So, UX and UI are incredibly similar but each still has a different focus.
The UX designer plays on emotions and entices the user to feel good about what is shown on the screen. It is a psychological ploy to keep the buyer engaged and want to purchase more. Whether the site is for gaming or shopping, the idea is to let the user have fun. The more enjoyable it is, the more they will want to stay and to return at a later time.
The UI designer is more of the mechanic. They want things to function efficiently and effortlessly. They have to be sure that the programming is matched without overlap. All of the icons and buttons need to work and tie into one another. Moving back and forth through the screens, zooming, and feeling secure enough to pay for something are all part of the process to make things work. The only aesthetic he or she is concerned with is that all the colours, fonts, icons, and logos are consistent.
A company wants a new app. The UX person will help with the research and develop just the right features and how the flow of the app should work in order to engage and retain the user’s interest. No matter how good this idea is or how absorbing the content, if the font is too small or the buttons are placed incorrectly, the customers will quickly discard the app because it is too cumbersome or unfriendly.
Now imagine an app with amazing animations and all the pieces are in the right place, but you need to keep searching to find the item or service you originally wanted from this company. This is an example of good UI but without the benefit of UX.
Obviously you will need both sides of the design team and they need to be compatible with each other.
Can I have 1 Designer doing both UX and UI?
Since both of these designers are focused on the user and his or her experience, it would seem that you could have a single person performing both tasks. From an employer’s standpoint that is the most economical choice. If that is your goal, you need to interview and select personnel with the appropriate skill sets for each side of the equation.
A UX designer is the connection between the business product or service and the user’s needs. This individual is part marketer so he or she looks at the competitors, customers and design. It can also involve planning, testing and analysis.
The UI designer is concerned with the look and feel of the final product so the research on this end is geared toward design and how the customer will work with it, keeping the company’s branding consistent and prominent, and user guides. Plus, this person needs to know animation techniques and screen interactivity, in addition to how the adapt the overall program to work on a wide range of devices and screen sizes.
UX is empathetic. The individual should be good at problem solving and exceptional communication skills. They should have a solid understanding of business operations in general and specifically your business and its goals and products. So, they are a combination of creativity and analysis. Quite frankly a bit of psychology wouldn’t hurt.
UI is creative. It takes a good eye to know what colours are compatible and which will turn the potential customer off. They are probably very visual people. At the same time they need to be adept at the coding to make sure the application works seamlessly and still be user friendly.
So, can the two jobs be combined? Yes, but it will take just the right person to fill the bill and most probably that individual will be better at one side than the other.
UX and UI positions are incredibly similar but vastly different. No wonder they are confusing and often misunderstood especially outside the design and tech worlds. Part of the reason is that these are still considered relatively new fields.
If you are targeting a job in either of these arenas, look beyond the job title. Look at the skills and education that the employer is trying for. Initial interviews are frequently with an HR representative. This person probably doesn’t understand the differences between UI and UX or the qualities needed for either or both, let alone a combination. Hang in until you get the chance to speak with the department head. Develop your questions to understand the scope of the job and not just the prepared speech the interviewer uses for each candidate. See if it is possible to chat with the coworkers as well.
As an employer you understand that turnover is expensive. You need to find the person with the mix of abilities you need for the position at hand. For that you need to be sure you thoroughly understand the skill sets and personalities of UI, UX, and combination designers. You may need to inquire beyond previous jobs and education and look at how they spend their leisure time. You also need to distinguish candidates from someone who wants “a” job and someone who wants “this” job.
So, if you are in the market for a new job, including a career change, or are needing to hire for a position, it is important that you understand the difference between a UX designer and UI designer to get the best fit.