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.