Understanding User Interface and User Experience in Web Design

Posted on June 12, 2012 by

In many creative environments, such as the web design industry, the terms “user interface” (UI) and “user experience” (UX) are frequently used. They refer to ideas and specialties that have been around for years. However, you should be aware that these abbreviations are more than just nomenclatures. In some cases, they can become dangerous buzzwords, if used imprecisely; they can pose constant problems to professionals in the industry. It is important to put a separation between them, which helps web designers to determine the relationship between both and use them into proper contexts.

In job listings, workplace and client meeting, people often interchange these terms. It is a simple fact that user interface isn’t user experience. People believe that because user interface is in direct contact with website visitors; it will significantly affect user experience. The confusion may also arise because both terms start with the word “user” and skill sets needed to achieve them often overlap. Despite the overlap, both terms are significantly different in their overall scope and objective. True, they are closely related, but no designers can be called as competent or knowledgeable without understanding the difference.

User interface refers to a set of elements and approaches that allow users to interact with and within a system. User interfaces focuses on any website element that interact with users. It doesn’t address details like how users behave and reuse the elements. This brings us to the user experience (UX) factor of web design. You shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that user experience is just end results of user interface. Instead you should consider UX as a sum of experiences that people get from a website. UX is not just a goal of UI; it is also related to interaction with UI. In a website with good UX, it has every positive and desirable thing that you can think of. UX defines the success of a website. In web development perspective, a website is not a sum of its elements; the experience is.

At the end of the day, web designers want to leave visitors with memory. Human memory is amazing, but it is imperfect. Every detail in your website contributes to the overall user experience. However, even when everything works smoothly, visitors may remember your website in a somewhat skewed way. UX brings a much bigger picture than UI and it relies on even the smallest detail. In web development, visitors’ understanding is often the most powerful asset.

In the quest for excellent user experience, user interface is essential but it’s only one of the tools. Nevertheless, user interface is the most visible, visceral and tactile method to achieve proper user experience. An unthinkable amount of money and time have been spent due to incorrect focus in web development projects. UI and UX are the most basic concepts of web design. Their improper implementation in a major web development project can prove to be disastrous and put a web design firm out of business. Some firms are forced to pay a substantial amount of penalty fee due to mistakes during conceptual stage.

Improper use of UI and UX terms doesn’t happen only in workplace and during a project, but also in job listings. It’s already difficult to find someone who understands interface and user experience design; and it’s even more difficult to locate the right people when a web design company uses wrong interpretation in job listings. Hiring a professional is an expensive process and it is even more costly to hire someone that you don’t actually need. Often job listings are skewed toward skill set of UI designers but come loaded with the job description and responsibility of UX designers.

For UI and UX designers, design is always a solution to problems. When rules are universally understood and clearly defined, it’s far easier to deal with an issue, work on solutions and execute them. However, in many web development companies, the responsibility for both interface and experience design is assigned to an individual who have less than ideal understanding on both UI and UX. Correcting a problem is difficult when you don’t have the ability to solve it.

An UI designer is expected to create interactive design and assign proper text, color, icons and other elements that have direct interaction with users. These elements are essential to influence user experience but there are also other important factors to consider, A UX designer is often occupied with things like visualization, approaches, set expectation, color scheme, functional performance and marketing copy. It’s not that one designer shouldn’t handle both areas, but rarely do they have the necessary skills and tools. There are more UI designers than UX designer in the industry and it isn’t fair to tell UI designers that they’re responsible for so many things. In order for UI designers to tackle UX issue, they should know how to properly recommend changes on workflow and implementations of the website

To sum up, understanding the differences of user interface and user experience often have staggering ramifications. From hiring the right professionals to defining basic concepts in a web development project; proper implementation of UI and UX is important for facilitating better communication and achieving the success of a website.

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