One important UX job title is User Experience Designer. Sounds like UI Designer but it isn’t.
So, what is the difference between designing a user interface and a user experience? Answer is, “Almost Everything.”
Designing a user interface is actually pretty straight-forward. It’s all about where you put the buttons and controls to match the work flow or user story, plus maybe the colors, labels, error messages, and like that. It takes knowledge, experience, training, and more. It can be quite convoluted, for sure, but still reasonably simple.
Designing a user “experience” is a completely different idea; an experience has less to do with the UI design itself than about how the user feels while using it. Experience is something that happens between the ears of your user, after all, so how are you going to design that?
Like UI design, you’ve got to start with a plan. However, trying to design a user experience requires defining and understanding exactly what kind of experience you want your users to have while interacting with your system, and knowing how to evoke the experience you want the user to have. That is the difficult part. In my experience a good user experience comes from giving users freedom while encouraging the correct path or direction subtly and sensitively. Jack-booted thugs never create good a good user experience!
For example, designing a meal might be deciding on a theme, then assembling recipes, inviting friends, buying the food, and preparing and staging the meal.
But, what will your guests experience while attending your dinner? This is where you start in designing a user experience… how do you want your guests to feel? Welcome? Entertained? Safe? Comfortable? Appreciated?
Too often our users experience frustration and feelings of inadequacy when interacting with software that is poorly designed. Fancy buttons and garish colors distract, heavy graphic design obfuscates the system’s purpose, error messages offend and berate rather than help the user. Inconsistent labels confuse and mislead.
Focusing on the experience first can help us design what the user sees and interacts with to create the experience we want them to have.
Experience: delight, ease of use, satisfaction, accomplishment, understanding. Plus some of the feelings from the “dinner party” above; welcome, entertained, safe, comfortable, and appreciated.
Just how will you create the experience of delight in your users? Not an easy thing to facilitate, believe me. However, careful design can indeed create a delightful experience in your users.
Think about the user interface designs that make you feel smart and competent; just what was it that made that happen? They are logical, light and simple. You know instantly what you need to do to reach your goal(s). Along the way the colors and shapes are not intrusive — you really don’t notice colors or shapes, they simply support your understanding of the system and lead you from step to step to your goal. Perhaps a simple animation makes the state of a switch perfectly clear, for instance. You sweep through and quickly accomplish everything you need to, and the result is delight.
The delightful system has no ego. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It always makes its intentions known through subtle clues. It doesn’t overload the user’s cognitive capacity with useless bric-a-brac. The scent of its different offerings is clear and unmistakeable. It is accessible, and its controls have “roles” so that where the user’s device can support it, the user sees a keyboard that facilitates the task at hand like entering an email address or a telephone number.
Perhaps it’s not possible to make every design “delightful” to the degree you’d like — the very nature of some systems just won’t allow that to happen. But, a clear understanding of what your users should “experience” along with keeping focus on that will help you shape and form your experience design to facilitate your users loving the system.
I was once asked to analyze an app with the purpose of telling the owners why everyone in the company hated it so much — not an unusual request by the way.
Reason number one was the app was as ugly as any app I have ever seen, and that fact had to figure into the intense dislike expressed by its users. It was developed on an ugly gray background with thoughtless and spurious colors, and to multiply its woes, when the window was resized, all the text and all the fields expanded or contracted to fill the new space, often resulting in extremely ugly, blocky text and text fields.
The second reason was only a little harder to find; inconsistent everything! I found about 40 UI objects in the app, and there were over 70 different names for those 40 objects — a real user-turn-off in my opinion. Sometimes the differences were minor, like inconsistent capitalization, and in other cases the differences were stark as in a button labeled “DELETE” in one location where in another location, with the very same action, the button was labeled “REMOVE.” There were also semantic issues with control placement and other glaring errors.
This was an app used only by the company and not exposed to thousands or even hundreds of users. But what about ubiquitous apps used by millions of people? It’s amazing but there are glaring inconsistencies in some, especially between web and app versions.
A prime example is Gmail! The web version provides a good user experience as does the mobile version. Requirements of screens types dictate some differences like separating of emails into tabs, “Primary,” “Social,” and “Promotions” and allow the user to add more tabs if we want; sweet! The mobile version just doesn’t have the space for this luxury, but does include all the user-created folders, another great feature.
The inconsistency? Different names for spam emails! In the web version spam emails are dumped into the “Spam” folder, while in the app version they end up in the “Junk” folder. It seems to be a trivial difference, but it is annoying as I find myself doing a double-take when switching from one to the other.
There is also another inconsistency, probably the domain of Apple Mail for iOS, that is much more annoying and that is how deletions are handled between the desktop and app versions — deletions are allowed in any tab or folder in the browser version, which is appropriate and useful. In the app version, though, there is no “Delete” in the Inbox folder, Drafts folder, Sent folder Junk folder, Trash folder, or user-defined folder, and to trash an email requires a (careful!) swipe, a touch to expose the “More” menu, then a “Move Message…” then a touch on “Trash” — did you count the steps required? …four steps to do one of the most common actions! Pathetic! Only the “All Mail” folder has a “Delete” control. It is also the only folder that allows “Delete” with a left swipe, where the other folders left-swipe action provide provide only “More,” “Flag,” and “Archive.”
Another problem here is that there is no “Archive” folder! Where the hell do “archived” emails go? And, how can I get them back to the inbox when they are “archived” by mistake?
What more can you expect from a free app? Sorry, I want consistency!Read More