User interface design is the connecting point between a user and a product, system, or service. These interfaces can be anything from websites, a credit card payment system, or even a vehicle’s dashboard.
A lot goes on behind the scenes of an interface: the organization of the overall network and the navigation between different screens or experiences, button placements, copywriting, calls to action, and highlighted features. These are tied together by a broader design: the user experience. Then, it makes sense that creating these interactions between a user and the interface is referred to as user experience design.
User experience design, then, is the design of the user’s journey as they interact with an interface to complete their goals.
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The Types of UX Design
There are many different considerations when crafting a comprehensive user experience. These considerations are often broken into four main disciplines of UX design:
1. User experience research
2. User experience information architecture (IA)
3. User experience interaction design
4. User experience strategists
Each of these four disciplines is used heavily when creating a user experience.
Businesses spend a lot of time, money, and other resources when creating and marketing a new product, system, or service. These resources must be well spent for these business ventures to be successful.
User experience research answers questions such as “who is the target audience?” and “what motivates the target audience?” Determining motivations and obstacles between users and the interface greatly affects how users interact with an interface and whether or not they convert.
In other words, user experience research ensures that the product is being aimed at the appropriate target.
User experience architecture (IA) is the organization and flow of the users’ information in a product, system, or service. Using the website example from above, information architecture identifies which pages a website will have, which web pages link to each other, and structures the overall navigation of the interface.
In other words, user experience architecture paves the way for the target audience (identified in the UX research phase) to interact with the interface.
User experience interaction design (IxD) is another subset of user experience design. Interaction design focuses on how users interact with a product, service, or system.
The differences between these disciplines can be understood using the example of driving a vehicle. The user experience research would identify that the target audience is those who drive (and probably a whole host of other relevant information–like users interested in sports cars). The user experience architecture would define that there needs to be an ignition and that the ignition should be within the driver’s reach. The interaction design would ensure that the way to use the ignition is seamless. The user experience research and architecture means nothing if the ignition takes 57 minutes to start by pumping a handle up and down the entire time.
User experience strategy ties these disciplines together by identifying features and interactions to highlight a user’s experience. Businesses with a new product, service, or system can’t market to every user or solve every user’s problem. Following the above vehicle example, a user experience strategy would focus on buying a sports car or those looking for a leather interior. Is this important to everyone? No. Does it have to be? Also no. Companies do not have direction on allocating their resources by trying to solve every user’s problem. UX strategy straddles business and user experience to craft the user’s ultimate journey to conversion.
The company decides what constitutes a user’s conversion. For some companies, a conversion may be email signups. For others, it may be downloading a demo of their latest product. For some, it might be buying their newest vehicle model.
User experience designers (UX designers) are the architects behind users’ journeys when interacting with these products, services, or interfaces.
UX designers create user-centered designs, putting themselves in the position of both the user and the product they are designing. UX Designers ask questions such as:
- What are the company’s goals for users on this website/interface? For example, a company’s main goal for its website may be for users to download a demo of its product.
- What are the users’ motivations for downloading a product demo? What obstacles or challenges exist between the user arriving at the website and downloading the demo?
- What decisions do users need to make to reach the company’s goal? Following the example above, a UX Designer would create a seamless path for the user to download the company’s product demo.
UX Design vs. UI Design
As discussed above, there are four main facets of UX design – and the corresponding careers for each discipline.
Not included in UX design, but certainly as integral, is user interface (UI) design. UI design compliments UX design but is more centered around the usability and aesthetic of an interface, system, or service.
User interface design is the aesthetic and interactive design of an interface. A company’s logo colors brought through the website are UI design examples. UI design is at work when buttons change color or sink in when a user clicks them.
UI design is also the ever-changing or ‘trendy’ design styles in websites or other popular products.
Users expect a seamless journey and a beautiful one that separates information and actions into a clear visual hierarchy.
The History of UX Design
While user experience design has only been a popular career in the last decade, the profession has been around as long as people have been using things and others questioned, “How can this be done better?” As discussed below, one simple invention changed the world of non-digital technology circa 1887!
User experience design can technically be traced back hundreds of years. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that psychologist Don Norman coined the term user experience design. This also corresponded with the increasing use of digital technology by citizens in their everyday lives.
From there, it’s grown quickly. Now, companies compete with one another to rethink, reimagine, and redesign processes, products, services, and systems that users had prior taken for granted.
Groundbreaking UX Design
UX design is an integral part of a company’s marketing plan to reach customers that convert. It makes the user’s journey more familiar and intuitive – users have come to expect high-quality UX design. As discussed by intechnic, 70 percent of customers abandon purchases because of bad user experience.
Companies are beginning to understand just how important user experience is to their company’s success and customers’ satisfaction–especially since more and more companies are operating primarily online.
Some examples of user experience, and the difference it can make, include:
- Patagonia’s precision feedback user experience allows users to pin a specific place on a website when something isn’t working. Not only does this allow Patagonia’s web team to fix particular issues–but it also adds another layer to their user experience.
- Apple’s one-touch payment when iTunes first launched. The concept of one-click payment not only changed the way users interacted with iTunes products–hundreds of companies followed suit to make the payment/checkout process easier for their customers.
- The QWERTY keyboard. It’s hard to imagine a time when typing wasn’t so easy. However, before the invention of this precise design, typing took much longer and was not conducive to the way our hands – or our minds – work. This is an excellent example of a non-digital interface with groundbreaking results.
What Does a UX Designer Do?
A designer creates the overall research, organization, interaction, or strategy of a design.
Some designers encompass all four disciplines in a single career path, especially those that work for small to mid-sized companies. Other UX designers specialize in one of the four disciplines. In very large companies, design teams are often made up of one or several designer(s) specializing in each of the four disciplines.
UX design is an ever-evolving field that produces exciting new ways of doing and thinking about everyday systems, products, and services. In the age of information, companies are constantly competing for a user’s limited attention span amidst a sea of the newest, flashiest–and best designed–interfaces.