The perennial topic of User Experience (UX) Design versus User Interface Design (UI) and what is the most accurate definition of each, has been rumbling on for many years now amidst the tech world. Some say there is no commonly accepted definition of UX design while others suggest UX Design is the more analytical and technical field and that UI Design is closer to brand, visual and graphic design with perhaps more grown-up responsibilities.
What we can agree on, generally, is that each is as crucial to a successful digital end product and service as the other. Yet despite their ongoing professional relationship, the roles themselves are quite different, referring to very distinctive parts of the process and design disciplines, perhaps simply illustrated using the end product as a paradigm:
“Something that looks great but is difficult to use is exemplary of great UI and poor UX. While something very usable that looks terrible is exemplary of great UX and poor UI.” Helga Moreno tech designer.
Following a recent UXSG Meetup #21, a number of UX designers, product managers and UI developers were even then deliberating what the core differences were between the two principles and deemed that as universally recognised as usability testing, content and technicality are to the ultimate success of digital products and services, it was suggested that UI was a subset of UX. This does not seem to be an unusual theory, as others still imply that a more appropriate question to ask than “what the differences are between UX and UI”, is actually “what is UX and how does UI fit into that overall picture?"
So which is more important, UX or UI?
Actually, overall design appears to be of the most significant consequence, a bi-product of both principles (if the numbers are anything to go by). Over the last decade, companies including Apple, Coca Cola, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Walt Disney have deployed a design-centric ethos to gain competitive advantage. The DMI Design Index was able to show the impact of effective, innovative design on the bottom-line to the extent that these firms who invested in great design outperformed the S&P 500 by 228%.
You also have to look at the impact design has on the global, booming industry, wearable technology. CCS Insight is reporting that 411 million smart wearable devices, worth $34 billion, will be sold in 2020 and that this year the industry will hit a value of $14 billion with wrist-band devices such as smartwatches and fitness trackers dominating. Tech heavy-weights including Apple, Accenture, Adidas, Nike, SAP and Roche are already investing substantial amounts of money to produce and design future-gen, disruptive innovations designed around the medical, fitness and well-being needs of users.
So we appear to be on the verge of a seismic shift in how we all view and interact with technology. A shift where technology and usability is king: if people don’t like it, then no one will buy it.
Enter the psychology and physiology of technology. The neuroscientific approach is where UX and UI experts work together as virtuosos in identifying ‘mental images’ produced by users and by doing so, moulding wearable products accordingly. Wearable techs are, by their very nature, multi-sensory, physical experiences where we interact through touch, vision, cognitively and vocally (through Voice User Interfaces for example) all of which have to be finely tuned in functionality and user experiences, for each of us.
“An effective wearable is one that adequately addresses all aspects of human-device interactions by fusing the best product, UI / UX, and industrial design principles.” IEEE Standards Association
You simply can’t have a mind-blowing wearable piece of tech produced without the analytics, wire-framing and content of UX doctrines and the design, user guidance and testing of UI principles applied. Talk about working in hand in hand.
So where does design go from here with UX and UI clasped tightly? The 2016 and beyond tech trend predictions around virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and robotics, mean even more demand on the UX and UI community to produce award winning design and seamless digital experiences that both people and businesses will buy into. It doesn’t matter that the UX and UI professional wear so many hats to get there: from marketer, part project manager to visual and interactive designer, for that we salute you.
As it also doesn’t matter that with the majority of cool and innovative apps and techs there are likely to be carefully analysed and convoluted inner workings covered by a handsome, functional façade we all want to use. For that don’t blame you: design is the new competitive advantage.