I am available for projects starting August 2017. If you want to work with me, get in touch.

rowsBack to the list
starSave for later

A Revised Guide To UI And UX Design For Beginners

This is my response to an article on JustCreative. In my opinion it can mislead young aspiring designers eager to learn about User Interface and User Experience. All citations below are from the linked article. Other thoughts are all mine. I recommend reading the original article before this one, to get the whole picture. Feel free to correct me, if you think I'm wrong, just be nice!

A recent article on JustCreative about UI and UX design, has caused in me a chain reaction. It started with a sudden jaw drop, just to end with the following response. Let’s try to straighten up a few things, before someone will take its contents as a given and start passing it around as facts.

“Basically, the job of the User Interface is to give the users an aesthetically-appealing yet user-friendly interface so that they can interact with the system the way they prefer."

User Interface is not about providing eye-candy to the user. It’s rather a system of components that should help the user complete his/her tasks in an effective way. Pleasing visuals are a side effect of the work skilled designers do. They also belong to the UX category, because aesthetics are subjective to some extent. Getting this wrong is the first step to producing beautiful, yet unusable UI designs.

“(…) [users] can interact with the system in the way they prefer.”

Users prefer as seamless interactions as possible, that’s why an ideal UI is no UI at all. Most people have no idea of how they could use something without an interface, otherwise we’d already be out of our jobs.

“The secret of user retention lies in the consistency of the layout of interface.”

First of all, people hate interfacing with things. Ideal situation for a user is when they spend as little time using interfaces, as it’s possible. People have better things to do, than to fiddle with a bunch of toggles and dials. A good UI stays out of the way and let’s them quickly do what they intend, so they could get back to doing something more interesting.

If it does so, and their user experience was satisfactory, they will get back to using it when the need arises. So, the secret to user retention is: satisfactory user experience.

»I bet you might be wondering, “What does he mean by ‘natural layout’”? Well, natural means intuitive. Duh! That you already knew. Ok, what I want to say here is don’t leave your user with a “figure-out-yourself” interface but present him something he can easily use, interact with or navigate.«

What is a “natural layout”? Maybe it was meant to be a “familiar layout”? Good UI is obvious. At least in some ways. Some UIs are designed well enough so that users know just after a few seconds how to use them. Take a big volume dial on home HI-FI systems. It distinctive (big), labeled in an easy to understand way, and just after one try, you are already familiar with how to use it (turn clockwise or counterclockwise to adjust volume).

That said, most digital interfaces need something designers call user onboarding. It’s a process of familiarising users with how a given UI functions. It makes them feel welcome and helps them start using the UI straight away. This is important, especially for complex and sophisticated systems.

“Ah, yes! Nothing can beat the beauty that lies in simplicity.”

What is simplicity exactly? Is it just “less is more”, or maybe something deeper? This advice is definitely too ambiguous to be considered useful.

I’ve only gotten to half of the article which tries to be a guide to UI and UX, and I’ve already written almost 600 words to correct it. Now, to the fun part: the User Experience itself.

“UX is not a tangible design but an intangible framework of the idea or strategy regarding how you can enhance user engagement.”

I would not be able to confuse my readers more than the above quote. Though, a stab at defining user experience is at least commendable.

So, what is user experience? In short, UX is a satisfaction level of a person, which comes from using your interface. UX can be either good or bad. It is not tangible, but we can observe it when performing user testing. Some people argue, that you can tell good UX from bad one via well implemented analytics. In my opinion it depends.

UX is the holy grail of designers dealing with various interfaces. It’s what makes or breaks a given design for the user. It is not about influencing users (that’s called persuasive design). It's more about designing with their interests in mind.

Conclusion

If all that quoted article was trying to achieve was the awareness of UI and UX not being the same thing, then maybe the end result wasn’t far from the truth. But the number of factual errors made along the way made me think about a few things.

Seeking knowledge around the Internet is easy. What we need to make sure of, is to get it from trusted places, from talking to other designers and to confirm your findings. Debate stuff. Otherwise, we may unintentionally mislead someone eager to learn and the consequences of this could be severe.

I only hope my “reply” will serve as a warning to other designers in the field, who post their thoughts online. We should research the essential values of our posts before publishing.

I’m looking forward to your responses. As stated at the beginning, feel free to correct me if you think I'm wrong. We all learn from past mistakes.

Published by , on .

Professional digital designer, specialising in UI/UX for web & apps. Opinionated gamer (@_skepticalgamer), avid petrolhead, and a proud full-time dad.