Chances are you’ve come across the terms UI, UX or the combined UI/UX. Depending on where you first experienced UI/UX, these may have been used interchangeably, mixed-up, or used incorrectly. Let’s set it all straight.
What is UI?
UI stands for User Interface and simply stated, is the delivery system for a product to your customer or audience. This can take on many forms, from consumer packaged goods (CPG) packaging and advertising to websites and applications.
If you have a product that needs to be delivered to your audience through retail, the first UI question is whether you will deliver your product through a traditional retail location or a digital, internet-based store. If you go the digital route, will you sell your product on the internet or through a custom built app? If you sell on the internet, will you sell through an established retailer like Amazon or Etsy, or will you create your own webstore? These questions determine how you will interact with your target audience.
What is UX?
UX stands for User Experience. User Experience is not one specific thing, but the combined interactions between the audience and your product. These interactions can begin long before the audience actually consumes your product.
The UX of the webstore starts early, usually long before they ever use your product. First, how did they find your webstore? Was it a friendly recommendation, advertising, or an organic Google search? What content does your Google search result display? Are you ranking high among the results? Are you running Adwords to list at the top of the searches? What are they searching for when they find you? All of these factors affect your customer’s user experience before they even visit your site.
Great UX takes UI into consideration every time because a bad delivery system will ruin the interaction. Website design is one of the best illustrations of this, particularly ones heavily loaded with rich, beautiful graphics. It looks amazing on your plugged in 100+ Mbps, desktop computer, but over half of internet users are now browsing on mobile devices. If UI was not considered in the design of a website that is using high-resolution, large file-size graphics, these users will become frustrated with the inability to render the site, and leave after 3 seconds.
However, good and effective UI is not dependent on UX. In fact, we see and even use these items every day, that deliver a fully functioning product without considering UX. A perfect example comes from the accredited father of User Experience, Don Norman and his famous Norman Door. (Go ahead and Google Norman Doors for a good laugh, I’ll wait.) These are doors that aren’t self-evident whether they swing in or out and require instructions on the door. The instructions are simply push or pull, but the point is that a door has a very limited function, open and close. This should be easy to convey how to use but is often not the case. We all have walked into a pull-style door, or tried to push open an out-swing door, usually with hard to read signage conveying their intent. The UI – to allow and passage in or out – still works fine when operated properly. The UX, however, feels like a door in your face.
On the surface, user experience and user interface seem similar because of the strong correlation and overlap between the two. A great product cannot exist without both aspects considered carefully, though. How is your product being delivered? Is it being experienced the way it deserves? Without proper knowledge and a fusion of both UI and UX, it’ll be harder to facilitate better communication, problem-solving, design and ultimately, user experience.