What is UX/UI Design and Why Is It Important?
Learn the difference between UX and UI design, and the key ways each can help your business.
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Learn what the terms UX/UI design mean, and how this type of design figures in the success of your business.
If you’ve considered getting a website designed, or perhaps a mobile application, then you must have at least heard about the terms UI and UX design.
UI stands for user interface, and UI designers create the look and feel of a website or an app.
User experience, UX, is concerned with determining how a product is to be used. User experience is actually not strictly connected to web design (although in more recent years the term is mostly used in this context).
So, without further ado, let’s dive right into the topic and see how user interface and experience design work, and why they are an essential part of your business.
User interface design
So, user interface design is concerned with the aesthetic side of things. From photos you place on your website, to simple icons you might want to include in the customer onboarding process.
Apart from basic graphic design knowledge, UI designers must have a firm grasp of the users’ end goal. In other words, it’s not enough for a UI design to look good, it also has to provide a positive experience to the user.
Although most of us will think of UI design as something we perceive visually, there are actually 3 types of interface design:
- Graphical user interfaces (GUIs): users interact with visuals, for example, computer desktops, most websites and apps.
- Voice-controlled interfaces (VUIs): users interact through the use of voice, for example Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant.
- Gesture-based interfaces: users engage through bodily motion, for example in VR devices.
What does a UI designer do?
So, while UI design is essentially graphic design, creating this type of design is often a lot more complex and layered.
Here are some of the things a UI designer does on a daily basis.
- Wireframing: this is the name given to creating the basic layout of a website or app. This is where the UI designer shows how a user is supposed to interact with the product.
- Graphic design: Naturally, UI design doesn’t exist outside of company branding. Therefore, a UI designer has to follow all the same rules and principles of graphic design and good branding, to make sure that UI designs fit with the overall business strategy of the company or organization.
- Branding: Creating a brand’s visual identity is a huge task, which requires graphic design specialists. In the realm of UI design, however, creating a coherent visual identity is just as important, but it comes with one set of design challenges (e.g. creating different versions of a logo that can fit your website, and an alternative version for a mobile app logo).
Why is UI design important?
User interface design is much more than the sum of visual elements that make it. It provides customers with a first impression of your business and later helps to lead them from point A to point B in order to complete their customer journey. Here are a few key reasons why you need good user interface design.
1. It helps you make a strong first impression
People take just 5 milliseconds to judge a website. Before they even read a word of copy, they will get an overall impression of your website. And before they can take any actions and explore the user experience side of things, it’s the job of the user interface designer to deliver that “wow” effect.
2. It provides cues for users
As we’ve previously mentioned (and will elaborate on later), it’s all about the user. It’s about striking that perfect balance between keeping users in control and providing enough guidance to ensure they can “tailor” a positive experience for themselves.
While user experience determines the overall experience of a product, good UI design can help users navigate through steps or information with ease.
3. It saves money
Without user interface design, the only way to market your business would be through cold calls and print collateral such as brochures and flyers.
While there is definitely still a demand for these traditional types of advertising, digital advertising costs less, and allows you to target specific audiences through different tactics like content marketing and SEO, lead generation and ad placement.
User experience design
Despite the name, user experience designers are more behavior scientists than actual designers, as their job is to solve a certain problem through design.
For example, an instance of good UX design is placing a knob on the side of the door you’re supposed to pull, and leaving a flat surface on the push side (how many times have you done one when you were supposed to do the other?). Or, a ketchup bottle that you can squeeze to get the last bit out rather than incessantly hitting that annoying glass bottle?
User experience design goes beyond visual design (although of course, it’s concerned with that too), and creates designs for a specific purpose. Although it’s not strictly related to digital products and services, in recent years, we mostly come across this term in that context (which is also the reason UI and UX design sometimes get confused for the same thing).
What does a UX designer do?
So UX designers are less concerned with traditional aspects of design, and more about the purpose that designs are required to fulfill. Here’s what a UX designer does.
- Research: A systematic and even scientific approach to creating something requires a lot of research and preparation. From more conventional things like competitor analysis to conducting actual research and surveys, in order to properly identify users’ needs.
- Creating user flows: We’ve already mentioned wireframes, which are a sort of “blueprint” for a product. Well, UX design concerns itself with creating user flows, or a map of how users can or should achieve their goals. For example, mapping out the process of someone landing on a website to subscribing for a service, all the way to making a product referral.
- Information architecture: Designers don’t write the copy, but UX designers have to make sure that the way information is grouped and organized makes sense for the user.
- Interaction design: This is the part that really highlights the difference between UI/UX and every other type of graphic design. The best user interface design is interactive and provides users with the opportunity to (you guessed it) use the product. Whether it’s customizing their experience, giving feedback or learning how to use the product through onboarding, these are all steps where users can interact with, rather than just look at a piece of design.
- Testing: Since UI/UX design doesn’t exist without users, it makes sense that the work is constantly reiterated to fit specific users’ needs. The area of UX also includes testing different solutions and possible improvements to make products perform better.
What is the importance of UX design?
A UI designer can create a beautiful product that is user-friendly, easy to navigate and delights users.
But without user experience, this product might fail to address the users’ core needs.
It’s been said that building a company (or brand) needs to start with a why. In the digital world, UX design is what allows you to realize your business purpose. It allows users to solve their problems with your product/service.
But aside from that, good UX has a long-term impact on your business. Here are some of the reasons why UX design is important:
1. It can reduce costs
At first, user experience is an investment. However, this upfront investment (if done right), can reduce the cost down the road. It’s not uncommon that you have to make changes to UI/UX design after initial tests, but hiring a qualified UX designer can mean that the time and money spent on subsequent revisions can be minimized.
2. It increases conversions
Ok, so this is true of both UX and UI design, however it’s really the usability part that turns leads into customers. If you provide a positive experience and solve your target audience’s problems, then you're very likely going to see a rise in profits.
3. It increases customer loyalty
It’s well-known that acquiring new customers is more expensive than keeping existing ones. So, this is an area where good UX design plays another critical role. While it’s also necessary to attract customers in the first place, a positive UX experience will encourage people to come back. Naturally, this also leads to more word-of-mouth referrals.
Basic principles of good UI/UX design
So, now that we know what UI and UX design are, and how they help your business, it’s time to see how to tell whether UI/UX design are in fact created well. These are some of the basic principles UI/UX design.
The 4 golden rules of user interface design
If you’re unsure about a piece of UI design, a simple way to check its quality is to see if these 4 golden rules of UI design are being followed.
Keep users in control of the interface
We already mentioned that good UI design is interactive—it invites users to engage with the product. But the next step is to allow users to create their own interaction.
This can mean several different things, from creating options for users with different skill levels, the possibility to reverse (or undo) your actions to providing feedback on an action—users must always know what result their actions will give.
Make it comfortable to use
Apart from being in control of their actions, users should feel content using a product. This might mean eliminating unnecessary steps to avoid frustration, explaining things in simpler terms rather than using jargon, and providing solutions for errors.
Reduce cognitive load
Have you ever abandoned an online shopping cart because the checkout process was complicated? Or decided not to sign up for a service because too many steps were required?
People want services and products to be as simple as possible. Allow for visual communication as much as possible and break complex processes into chunks.
Keep design consistent
You might know that visual consistency is critical for good branding. But it’s also a key component of successful UI design.
Using the same patterns will allow users to learn more quickly, and will alleviate insecurity or tension about using the product. Remember, the point is for users to “learn” how to use your product, and this is much easier with repetitive patterns.
The best practices in UX design
Good UX/UI design is based on similar things, however, here are a few tips that are absolutely critical for a positive user experience.
Focus on the user
The purpose of many types of designs is to impress the client. This is of course also true for UI/UX design, but it comes with one important caveat: design should always be in the interest of user-friendliness.
No matter how beautiful or impressive it might look, if the product fails to help users achieve their goal, it will ultimately fail.
Another important thing to remember is that you can’t be everything to everyone. Identify the key problem you wish to solve and focus on providing a solution for it. As your business grows and develops, you might find other areas you can expand to. But start small and make sure you’re giving the users what they really want.
Consistency and simplicity
From a UI point of view, it’s important to stay consistent across the board of your own website/app. But from a UX perspective, it’s also important to be consistent with the users’ previous experience.
For example, most users will have come across a “Submit” button. If you decide to change the text to something completely different, or for example have multiple buttons for the same form, this might confuse users who are accustomed to certain conventions in UX design.
While user interfaces should also impress and delight users when it comes to user experience, quick and efficient always trumps intricate and beautiful. People want to achieve their goals quickly, and sometimes even the simplest designs can have a powerful impact. Just think about Apple, and how this entire brand is built around the idea that less is indeed more.
Unlike the previous two points which are very closely connected to UI, accessibility is really the main concern of the UX development team. Accessibility is probably an area where a huge number of companies are still failing to meet appropriate standards, yet there’s no doubt this is a UX trend that’s only going to become bigger.
Accessible design in the first place means designing for people with disabilities. But at the core, it means allowing everyone to use your products: whether it’s older people with limited digital experience, speakers of a different language or, simply users that have a limited understanding of your industry/service.
Design for different contexts
One of the core questions to ask in UX design isn’t just how people are going to use your product, but also when and where.
There’s no doubt that a mobile version of a website is a must these days, but do you really need to design a mobile application? Make sure you take into account on which devices and in what contexts are people going to use your product? For example, are they going to be feeling agitated trying to drown the noise of a busy office; relaxed at home, or tired and a bit drunk at a nightclub? And yes, I’m talking about Spotify, Netflix and Uber.
Ultimately, if you can’t cater to everyone, make sure you focus on the contexts that are most likely to happen.
What is more important: UI or UX design?
Finally, it’s time to address the question, which is more important: design or functionality?
Well, it’s kind of like the egg and chicken question. Design and functionality are intrinsically linked and depend on one another. If a user interface fails to attract users to even try to interact with the product, great functionality won’t even get the chance to matter. However, if the design looks great but fails to help users solve a problem or achieve their goal, it’s safe to say the UI/UX design as a whole is unsuccessful.
That said, if we had to choose one or the other, it would have to be functionality. In web design, the user really is king. Without users that will visit your website or use your app, the design is as good as nonexistent.
Whether you do business completely online, or simply use a website to attract customers and inform them about your company, UI and UX designs are definitely relevant to you.
The key takeaway from this is that good UX/UI design focuses on functionality, or helping the user achieve their goal.
Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.