User Experience (UX) design and User Interface (UI) design are often confused but it is necessary to get both right to ensure your product has the “wow” factor and delivers results for users. UX is primarily about understanding and designing a user’s experience of a product or service so that the user can find solutions to their problems or needs. UI is just one aspect, though often a major aspect, of the overall user experience.
Great UX results from taking the time and effort to deeply understand users and the context within which they will interact with your product or service. This will involve researching the problem and the relevant aspects of the user’s life. It may extend to testing and validating behaviours. The user’s life is relevant even for business applications because, for example, if a typical user is likely to be a heavy user of Facebook then an experience that is designed in a similar way will be easy for them to use.
UX will also require a comprehensive understanding of related products and services in the market as well as ways to structure the information required to solve the user’s problem. This all feeds into the actual design – whether it is an information architecture, interaction design, user journey, or UI design.
UI design itself is broken into two areas: the design of the interface itself (the elements required on a screen like the buttons, text and clickable elements) and the graphic design of that interface (essentially making the interface elements look appealing). The design of an interface looks specifically at how interface elements can be used and linked to solve the user’s problem at that point in the user’s experience. It must take into account the user’s context and technological possibilities amongst other things. The result of interface design is usually wireframes or rough mockups. Graphic design turns the wireframes into beautiful interfaces. Graphic design can often be the driver of a great UX but more often it is just one of many contributing factors.
A great UI without the support of great UX will look appealing but user’s will not be able to do what they need. Great UX without great UI will deliver a functional product but, in today’s environment where people are assume beautiful interfaces, it may not deliver a popular product. Combine the two and you’re in the best possible position to achieve the “wow” factor: a beautiful and functional product.