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Developing user experience

What does user experience actually mean?

User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design are two terms that are used together quite frequently, but how closely are they related?

User experience design

UX is an extremely broad subject that incorporates many different aspects of a user’s interaction. The Nielson/Norman Group gives the following definition of UX:

User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services and its products.

UX design is a human-centred design approach that is entirely built around the journey a person takes from first engagement with the company or product, to the point at which they end engagement. It involves intense market research, usability tests and user feedback analysis to try to streamline the user’s journey and make it as easy and pleasant as possible. UX design is not limited to the digital domain. A UX designer could be utilised for any type of company or experience.

User interface design

In contrast to this, user interface (UI) design takes place almost entirely within the digital domain. It deals specifically with the visual aspect of any screen-based action a user might be taking. This could be the pages of a website or an app on your phone. So, whereas UX design is concerned with every single aspect of the user’s experience, UI design only focuses on the visual aspect of that experience. In this sense, UI design could be seen as a subfield of the wider UX domain.

Ben Schneiderman of the University of Maryland is a leading figure in the field and has defined eight golden rules for UI design. These are:

  • Strive for consistency:
    Don’t confuse users. Use identical terminology, consistent colour, layout, capitalisation and fonts.
  • Seek universal usability:
    Recognise the needs of diverse users from novice to expert, people with disabilities, and people of any cultural background.
  • Offer informative feedback:
    For every user action, there should be an interface feedback. The user should know where they are in a process and what is going on at all times.
  • Design dialogues to yield closure:
    Organise sequences of actions into groups with a beginning, middle and end in order to give users a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. More importantly, tell users what their action has led them to.
  • Prevent errors:
    Users should not be able to make serious mistakes and any small mistakes should be isolated and fixable.
  • Permit easy reversal of actions:
    The user should be able to undo any action that they take.
  • Keep users in control:
    Users should be able to rely on the interface to respond to their commands in a predictable way, without any surprises or variations in behaviour.
  • Reduce short term memory load:
    Users should not need to remember information as they traverse displays.

These golden rules are informed by general UX concerns but they are also specific to user interaction with digital services. To Schneiderman, designing digital interfaces with these rules in mind increases the chances of a positive user experience. In fact, the design could be so effective that the user doesn’t even notice or think about the interface: they only think about the task they are trying to complete.

From aesthetics to usage

You may be thinking that UI design has a lot in common with graphic design. This is true to a certain extent, in that both disciplines are primarily concerned with visual aesthetics. However, UI design is also concerned with interactivity and how you actually use the digital service or artefact. A UI designer needs to ensure that the interface is both pleasing to the eye and also intuitive. A great UI design will tell you how to use the interface without the need for a manual of instructions.

What do you think?

How would you describe the relationship between UX and UI design?
Do you think you can focus on one element without the other?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to UX and Accessible Design

UAL Creative Computing Institute