UI is not UX. Remember that!


Barred Window - Old National Art Galley and Common Museum, Wellington NZ

It amazes me suddenly everyone is a UX designer, what next UX postal workers.

I suspect that most UX designers don’t really know what is involved with a real customer centric process.

When discussing User Experience with people that have only partly encountered the term, I unusually first clear up the  myth that User Experience (UX) is just the User Interface (UI).

Often they are surprised at the extent of UX Design and the degree of scientific rigor behind it.

Now it is good that the term UX is starting to mainstream and all sorts of people outside of the IT, marketing and communications industries are realizing its importance.

Still we need to remember why User Experience is not the User Interface:

  • User Experience is Wider in Scope.

    The User Experience covers a lot more than just the visual presentation layer.  It can be sound, information organization, behavioual response, environmental conditions, service presentation and so on.

  • User Interface is usually just Visual.

    The UI is just the visual design and the interface design. With maybe a little interaction design, but that is it.  It’s very easy to forget about the people aspect of this.

  • It’s more than Design Patterns.

    While design patterns help in the building of a UI. Understanding the behaviours around that pattern and the aspects of the micro interactions is important.

  • UI Rules are not critical.

    Often User Interfaces have rules or guidelines for use.  These are often seem as common solutions and are quoted in support of the UI solution.  This is a good starting point; however the UX context and customer behavior may take the final solution in a different direction.  More work that just applying the “rules” will be required.

The Stuff Before and After the UI

Around the development of any User Interface, ideally there should be a fair amount of UX techniques.

Be this from the initial problem verification, customer research and solution proposals, to the final iterative prototype development and validation.  As you can see there are a good deal of processes that can occur before the UI is even considered.

Process from problem validation to visual and interface design in an iterative loop

The UX process around the Interface Design

Sure usually a good UX professional can do the UI if required, however limiting their skill set to this alone would be a complete waste of a resource.

The External Lens View

We know we have a problem as UX design is invisible.

It’s not a thing you can point to and say – that is the UX design.  With UI design however, you can point and say – “see the sexy User Interface”.

From a external view point, outside of the industry, UX is this magical – almost snake oil like role, that is seen as a luxury item.

After all it doesn’t help in the delivery of the product or making people use it? Or does it?

It could be said that all UX people do is confirm issues, and direct others like developers and designers to the right solutions.   In reality does the role exist at all?

Ask most Project Managers, Team Coaches and Project Leads and they will tell you they aren’t really sure what UX people do. But they are sure that an existing team member can fill the role anyway.

Yes all this is all an education and justification issue, you would think after 10 years we would have nailed that one.

Muddying the Roles

There are a good number of Visual Designers and Front End Developers moving into roles as UX Designers, most by simply changing a position title.

I have no problem with this if a complete customer centric empathic UX Design, as detailed above, is being conducted.

However I have found time and time again this change is just a window dressing at best.

The reality is the only empathy that is expressed is in the statement – “I’m a user, therefore I understand user experience”.  Only a marginal consideration is given to the issues of the customer at all.

This leaves people such as myself with a fair degree of UX consulting experience, in a bind.  As now I’m just seen as a UI designer.

Others in the UX industry, have become more specific in defining what they do, morphing into Interaction Designers, Human Behaviour Consultants, Customer Research Analysts or just Experience Consultants.

This doesn’t help anyone in the long term, as now outside the UX industry is watered down and truly a bit muddy.

Supporting Skills of UX Design

You know in a way maybe UX Design doesn’t really exist. It’s just a term afterall to group together all our skills used to produce balanced solution.

When you’re building for a good UX design, you don’t really go out and apply your skills in UX design. You tend to instead use on of the following supporting techniques to bolster up the UX design solution in context of the overall process; of which the User Interface is just a component.

User Experience Supported by interaction design, usability,behavioural design, user research, content strategy, visual design, info architecture and interface design

Proceses supporting User Experience

Whether you are a recruiter, an agency director or a project manager; remember there is a distinct difference between a UX and UI designer. If you advertise for a hybrid I’m going to expect to see some skills cross over not just front-end designer skills.

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