What is UI and UX? Is UI/UX the same?

UI and UX Development

What is UI and UX?

Both these concepts have been around for a while now, the UX perhaps as a concept might have existed for centuries even. While both of these work closely together but they are two different roles, ah well, let’s just say it, two very different professions actually. 

The full form of UI is User Interface and the full form of UX is User Experience. Now, with definitions of UI and UX out there let’s dive in a little deeper and explore how and why they are different from each other. 

What is UI?

UI is the human-computer interaction and communication in a device. It involves anything a user may interact with to use a digital product or service screens, keyboards, a mouse, and the appearance of a desktop. To operate a machine in an easy-to-use, efficient manner to achieve desired results is what makes for the user interface. 

Let’s go back in History for a bit, back in the 1970s when computers and humans interacted, the command line interface was used. Humans communicated via a programming language, writing several lines of complex codes for a simple task. 

It was in the 80s when the first GUI or graphic user interface came into existence at Xerox and in a way revolutionized the way humans and machines interacted. Users could now submit commands visually through icons, buttons, menus, and checkboxes. 

You can thank the computer scientists at Xerox for having paved the path for personal computers because now anyone could use computers without having to know how to code. 

In 1984, Apple introduced Macintosh with a point-and-click mouse in-built monitor, and a graphic user interface. While it makes for an interesting story as to why Steve Jobs borrowed the name McIntosh from the national apple of Canada, or not really, those were just his favorite apples. However, there is no denying that the Macintoshes revolutionized the personal computer space. 

With more and more people having access to a personal computer it was imperative that the interface had to be designed while keeping users in mind. The complex interface would result in lesser sales and thus the UI designers came into existence. 

With time this role has evolved and has become much more creative where the UI designers work on websites, mobile applications, wearable technologies, smart devices, virtual reality and even screenless interfaces like voice, gesture, and light. 

However, there are certain characteristics that mark a good UI. 

  • Clarity– Visual metaphors need to be unambiguous for the users
  • Familiarity- Prior experience of the users is considered while designing
  • Consistency with the product
  • Scope for mistakes made by users
  • Optimal- Minimum input required for the desired outcome

And quoting Golden Krishna, “ The Best Interface is No Interface” and the closest we have come to that is voice interface, read Amazon Alexa. 

Let’s come to the next part of the discussion. 

What is UX

With the advent and spread of the user interface another aspect came into play which was the user experience. Now when the users were interacting with the technology they were also creating experiences that could be categorized as good, bad, or neutral. 

‘User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-users interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

– Cognitive scientist Don Norman

While this may appear as an all-encompassing motherhood statement, many UX designers like to refer to their work as designing customer experience. However, there is no denying that Norman’s definition remains true and all UX designing has human interaction and experience at its core. 

The experiences a user has while using the product determine their attitude and usage pattern towards the product. And the design is the element that can help solve a specific user problem by keeping all constraints, expectations, and desired outcomes into consideration. 

It will be worthwhile to stop and take a look at Peter Morville’s User Experience Honeycomb design:

The trick for the UX designer lies in finding that sweet spot that balances all the elements of the honeycomb. 

  • Usable- The systems would be designed thus that they are easy to use without steep learning curves considering the user familiarity while designing
  • Useful- It should address a specific problem or address a need
  • Desirable- The visual aesthetics need to be pleasing with minimal design
  • Findable- Easy to navigate with important information readily available 
  • Accessible – Consideration for specially-abled users 
  • Credible– The product or service needs to be trustworthy

What does a UX designer do?

Let’s look at the bigger picture first and then go into specificity.

The first role that a UX designer will play is understanding who the target audience is, analyzing their needs, and ensuring that the products are created to meet those needs. 

Understanding the users: Extensive research to understand the target audience, their wants, needs, expectations, and feelings and empathy becomes the key skill set for UX designers to be able to unearth the latent emotions of the users. 

Creating a design strategy: Exploring the purpose of a product and navigating a path to achieve the outcomes desired from the product by the users

Analyzing the current UI data to gather better insights to improve design solutions

Creating wireframes and prototypes using UX software 

Conduct user testing create and review metrics and analyze focus group reactions for insights to enhance the product

Collaborating across teams is another highly valuable skill to the UX designers, to ensure the product designing process is smooth. Problem Solving and communication are other functional skills that help UX designers do their job better. 

Are UI and UX the same?

The job descriptions often state UI/UX designer insinuating that these two roles can be performed by a single person, though it might be true in some cases, each of these roles demands a different set of skills and expertise. While the UI designers decide the look and feel of the products it is the UX designer who decides what the product will be and what user needs it will aim to solve. Two different aspects entirely.

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