Especially young product designers! How are you guys doing? What’s happening?
Let me guess, you were working on a mockup, putting things together for a meeting, and you were using some software or prototyping tool. Right? If I got it right then, this is for you.
I am a product designer, just like you. I have been designing digital products for around a decade. I have designed communication apps, finance tools and media websites, pretty wide range of products. For many years, my focus was on how can I solve a problem and less on what the real problem is? Or even less on defining the problem.
This article tries to highlight the difference between UI and UX. Unknowingly we start with UI first, which in my opinion is short-sighted and incomplete.
UX is about what, why and UI is about how
Let me explain why, UX usually deals with intent, motivation and UI make it possible.
Here is an example, you are running low on gas on your way back home at midnight. So your intent is to fill the gas and to do so you’ll find the nearest gas station. Once you reach, you’ll put all necessary details and fill the tank.
In gas station example, UI can be identified as a low gas indicator on dashboard, map on your phone, and number pad at the gas station and UX as circumstances like driving back home at midnight, finding the nearest gas station while driving and time it takes to complete the process.
For effective UI, we need to understand UX first. Focusing on map, gas indicator and number pad individually may not capture the important details of circumstances.
UI has a form associated with it and UX is formless.
Interfaces reflect the devices we use, like a smartphone, watch, and desktop. By starting first with user interface usually limits our thinking around the form of these devices.
Interface reflects the solution and does not define the problem.
Starting with defining UX helps to identify the problem ultimately design a better solution.
Tools for UX and UI
Current UI tools are advanced and may help us to achieve the best results and communicate our design solution. For UX, the best tool in my opinion is customer journey. Customer journey highlights various steps in user experience. It highlights what customers are thinking, feeling and doing in a particular situation.
This data helps us to design a better solution. Let’s take gas station example.
If you were driving back home after midnight and the low gas indicator appears on the dashboard, most likely you’ll feel frustrated. It is an important detail to understand before designing map UI or even the sound of gas indicator (if any).
Depending on where you are driving and what speed, opening the map application on a smartphone could be challenging. So your initial reaction would be to pull over or to slow down to use a phone.
Once you find the next gas station within reach, you might feel a bit relaxed. UI should highlight the time and distance to reach the gas station and not just route. We can find endless details in this hypothetical example. What I want to highlight is start with user journey to understand what your users are thinking, doing and feeling in a particular situation.
We all want to design elegant solutions. Focusing on UI alone will result in a gap between our thinking and end result.
There are many tools for better UX design, user journey is just one of many and is a starting point. User research is another effective method to learn about end users, their emotional state, motivation, triggers that help us designing elegant solutions.
Data, on the other hand, shows what users are doing and not their intent. So relying only on data is not enough. Customer intent, emotions, and triggers must be paired with data to better understanding the situation we are solving.