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A revised guide to UI and UX design for beginners

In this post I attempt to clear up a few misconceptions about UX and UI design I noticed in a post published on a prominent design website.

This is my response and critique of an article published on JustCreative. In my opinion, it can mislead aspiring designers eager to learn about UI and UX Design.

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 I stumbled upon on JustCreative about UI and UX design made me feel uneasy about its contents and their educational value. I feel it’s my duty to guide aspiring designers who just start to learn about the craft and correct a few things before they go down in history 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 and interactions that should help the user complete her tasks in the most effective way. Pleasing visuals are a side effect of the work skilled designers do. Let’s not forget that esthetics are also highly subjective. 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 the audience accomplish efficiently what they intended, so they could get back to doing something more interesting.

If the UI does allow people to complete their tasks in an efficient manner then their user experience can be classified as satisfactory, and they will get back to using the product again in the future. 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.

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.