What is UX & UI

A short guide to the definitions of User Experience and User Interface Design and the power of their impact.

I am a pioneer of the methodologies and outstanding results of user experience to improve every day people’s experience online but in this article I want to just turn over a few stones as it were and see what we find. If this improvement is matched to business KPI’s then at what point does it start to become less about the user and more about increased sales? Hopefully never, but with any young discipline there are unforeseen consequences and the knock on effects of such smooth digital journey’s are starting to become apparent.

But first things first…. What is UX or User Experience

Also known as UXD or User Experience Design

This is the process of getting users from A to B through digital products such as a website or app in a more streamlined and enjoyable way. Users will already get from A to B, or maybe they won’t — maybe there is a part in the journey that is confusing, not enough info, can’t find the ‘this’ or the ‘that’, which means they don’t fulfil their goal. Their goal in most cases is also the goal of the website owner; buying a product, filling out a form, reading some information, staying on for longer, downloading a document, etc.

Users will always fall by the wayside, the process may be too long and the phone went, or little Jimmy was yelling for his supper. So the process of User Experience or UX is to get more people to fulfil their / your goals in an easier, quicker, smoother, more enjoyable way. Leaving the user with a positive affirmation of the brand, and a desire to come back.

This of course translates to more loyal customers and an increase in sales. What not to like! UX is incredibly powerful — if you have enough traffic then improving this journey just points of a percent increases your bottom line exponentially.

But what is that illusive word ‘enough traffic’. Basically UX will only start to work in a cost effective way with traffic over gosh 5,000 or 10,000 visitors a month. There is an interesting article here. It is impossible to say the actual figure as it is different for every business but for SME’s you need to weigh up the cost of the User Experience Process quoted to you by an agency (usually starting from around £5,000 and going up into the £100ks) against the possibly increased costs of sales. For those with less traffic there are still ways you can benefit have a look at UX Design for Small Business

But, that said, if you have the traffic then the process of user experience design is effective and lucrative, infact your ROI means you would be mad not to do it, and that is what larger businesses have found.

For such a young discipline; if the web is 30 years old then UX is about 15 years old. User Experience is so successful that it has flown the nest of digital projects and is now used across non creative businesses; large corporations looking to modernise, or streamline processes, test products, compete with the more agile startups, and so on. This process is called Design Thinking.

UX is also used outside the virtual word in the real world to improve customer touch points; the flow of people through an airport for example, or the service offered by a healthcare trust, buying tickets from a train. This process is called Service Design and predates User Experience Design.

The UX Team

To carry out the process of UX a team made up of a UX Designer, UX Researcher and depending on the size of a project perhaps a UX Architect, Content Strategist, The Product owner (voice of the product) Product Stakeholder (voice of the business) a Usability Expert and Product Manager (holding everyone and everything together).

The UX Process

The process of UX is to define the problem; this may be by talking to customers, employees, watching user testing,  brainstorm the solution; as a team, going through ideas and methodologies to test to solve the problem(s). Design, build, test, measure, implement and… where the digital product is the business this process is usually carried out on a continuous loop improving the user experience to delight the user and incrementally improve the businesses revenue.

UI or User Interface

Also known as UID or User Interface Design

Where the cross over between UI & UX can seem a little blurry, as the User Interface designer is visually designing the interface to that which the UX dictates. Now more often than not a UX designer will also be a UI designer, but it could be that a UI designer would not be a UX designer as this latter person will take on more of the UX methodologies as well.

Such as designing the experience, being part of the research, strategy, wireframing, prototyping, testing, and continued development of the ux process, more about the intangible ‘experience’ than the ‘tangible’ visual interface.

User Interaction Design

Just to heap confusion on there is also the User Interaction Designer. If the UXD designs the experience and the UID designs the interface, this guy designs the interaction that takes place when a user interacts with the interface. How a button reacts, how content loads, how menus form, promotion boxes transition on hover, banners, moving text, animation and even 3d — all tie in with the UX girl as well to make sure that these interactions are in line what the user is expecting to … you got it … get a smoother more enjoyable journey. And, it goes without saying; all these designers should be well versed in usability and accessibility within their design.

Dark UI

Now that all these disciplines are maturing, it is also as UX & UI designers our responsibility to look at the bigger picture; does perhaps the user need a moment of friction, to just reflect whether they should stay on that social app another hour, whether they do need to buy that, ‘oh my goodness it is about to go’, ‘so many people are looking at it’, ‘it has never been such a good price’, ‘if I don’t get it now I never will’ holiday, item of clothing, digital widget, that really is just a thing and perhaps my bank balance can’t stretch to it right now. Do we as designers really need to add ‘all’ those screaming bells? It is a conversation that needs to be had but how and with whom, we are employed to improve the performance of our client… not the world, although that would be nice!

There is also the term dark UI, this is broken into two aspects, those good ui elements that solves a UX problem but making it easier to load a page, one click shopping, play next movie type elements that are helpful but as a victim of their own success have become addictive so construed as ‘dark patterns’. And then those businesses that hide content in T&Cs, put things in your basket you didn't want, hide the right button and highlight the button they want you to pick and so on.

These practices need to be kept in check, to ultimately keep looking after the user, offering us a great online experience, but in a more holistic, transparent, and ultimately kind way.

And back to those unforeseen consequences

If this process has hypothetically increased the sale of petrol cars, if it gets more bums on airplane seats, if it keeps all of us staring at our phones longer or hooked on games — this is definitely success to the business, but the bigger picture shows more pollution, addiction, and in some cases recently highlight reaffirmation of mental disorders. This has been coined ‘dark matter’ the unseen consequences. As businesses become larger and more global, and if they want to keep getting larger and more global  it is their responsibility to care for the long term happiness of their users not just the short term dopamine effect. I don’t need to name names.

Now I work with many fantastically talented, and morally good UX Designers and teams all who want their work to make the world a better place, and strive to do that in their everyday lives so lets start a dialog with our clients and promote a longer view, a more holistic approach and broaden UX by making sure it is taking care of our customers into the future. Let us have those conversations across designer, agency and client as to how we can better the lives of our customers into the future. Surely this in the end is what will drive longevity.

And why stop there, let us also see the increase of such a powerful discipline be increasingly used across governments (in a positive way, NOT to sway elections), against climate change, in healthcare institutions, charities — where the bottom line is saving lives not increasing sales…. Why not the world.


Abi Fawcus is a freelance UX Consultant, Website Designer, Logo Designer and Graphic Designer based in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Contact me for more information.