Why is there so much confusion between UX and UI?
This post will define the two fields and explain the different areas of the design process each cover. I will give a brief the history of the origins of UX design and explain why UX and UI are mistakenly confused as being one and the same. I will conclude by illustrating how UX design can influence the bottom line in the long run.
- User experience design (UXD or UED) is the process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product.
- User interface design (UI) is the creation of the user interface based on a functional requirement and planned user experience using design standards and aesthetics to craft a certain experience.
Both terms are used across many industries to describe the same thing. Both are involved in the design of websites, apps or any digital products that require human involvement or interaction.
Don Norman coined the phrase ‘User experience’ in 1993 while working with Apple.
“I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design graphics, the interface, the physical interaction and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose its meaning.”
This process of user experience design proliferated throughout the software design world for companies who now understood that putting the user at the heart of business was good for the bottom line. It was what made Apple, the user experience design-oriented organisation, the largest company in the world.
Back in the 1990’s the typical software development project took 2 years to complete. This methodology used was known as Waterfall and is still used today. Waterfall is defined in wiki as less iterative and flexible approach to software development where progress flows in largely one direction (“downwards” like a waterfall) through the phases of conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, deployment and maintenance. The product wasn’t put in front of users until it was complete. This cycle was dictated by Moore’s Law which states that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.
The UX process neatly fitted this cycle. Multi-core chip architecture came on the market in the early 2000s which were the stacking of 8 microprocessors on a single wafer. Now computer speeds accelerated exponentially and Moore’s Law no longer applied leading the way to a new method of development called Agile. Agile allowed for rapid iteration where shippable products could be pushed out the door every 2-4 weeks. The UX process couldn’t keep pace so, according to Ian Armstrong (Principal UX Designer at EMC Dell), visual designers, who had enough of an understanding of UX not to make big mistakes, were lumped with the task of including the UX process with their UI job. And that was the origin of the UI/UX designer moniker.
Both UI and UX are design disciplines but often the business world associates the term UX/UI design purely with aesthetics. It is understandable that businesses would like one person to do both two jobs so as to save on payroll. UI designers recognise the fact that adding UX to their title makes them more marketable as businesses don’t fully understand the UX concept.
The field of UX is very broad as the above image illustrates. Both UI and UX disciplines are not mutually exclusive but intertwine in the product development. One needs the other and to neglect the UX process completely will not do justice to the finished project. It will deny the business of the best opportunity to achieve a successful outcome. In a recent study from Forrester Research, a well-designed user interface could raise your website’s conversion rate by up to a 200%, and a better UX design could yield conversion rates up to 400%. Put simply, the metrics speak for themselves.
In Robert Pressman’s book Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach, an early business justification for UX is made that’s hard to argue: “For every dollar spent to resolve a problem during product design, $10 would be spent on the same problem during development, and multiply to $100 or more if the problem had to be solved after the product’s release.” This is to say that every dollar invested in UX returns $10 to $100, and correcting the problem from the start is most cost-effective. Not only that, according to Experiencedynamics.com, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.
Understanding the difference between UI and UX is important. Ignoring the difference is negligent.