UX and UI design are the type of industry terms that get thrown around loosely, mixed up or just violently mashed together (U-something-mumble-mumble). It probably doesn’t help clear up the picture that these two disciplines are very intertwined in both process and results. However, make no mistake - they’re two very different things. You can’t draw a clear line, but it’s still crucial to understand the difference between these two.
So what exactly are UX and UI design? How do they work together? And how to execute them to make the magic happen in web and app design?
UX & UI: Know the Difference
When you go to a web page or an app, what you see is the user interface (UI). But what you FEEL, is the user experience (UX). A UX designer decides how the user interface works while the UI designer decides how the user interface looks. Since the UX is the entire feel of the product, UI is a large part of it!
- UI, i.e. the “user interface” is the graphical layout of a page or an application. Every element you can see (and fiddle around with) has to be designed. UI focuses on a product’s aesthetics — color palettes, graphics, typography, diagrams, etc. This includes all the texts, images, animations, sliders, buttons and other items or fields the user looks and/or interacts with.
- UX, i.e. the “user experience” is the inner logic of those ways the user interacts with a page or an app. The experience should be smooth and intuitive. The user should be able to navigate logically and accomplish whatever they came there to do (e.g. find some information, finish a task, use some tool, etc).
Why UX and UI need balance?
UX with good emphasis on UI is crucial for the user to be able to use and enjoy the product. A product might look fantastic but not work properly, resulting in an overall bad experience. At the same time, good UI design makes sure the visual language is comprehensible for the user. Good UI can compensate for a clunky UX to some extent and vice versa but for the best results, they should work together in harmony - that’s when the magic starts happening.
P.S. You should also bear in mind that the user and their ability to use and navigate the product always comes first. UX/UI doesn’t happen in a vacuum - people have contextual expectations for certain environments and don’t bother reinventing the wheel in your super-original setting. It’s like expecting certain visual cues in airports all around the world. You’re not looking for adventure in a web page or an app unless it’s something that makes it inherently better or more intuitive. At the end of the day, a button should be recognizable as a button - and work like, well, a button.
Looking at it this way, it’s no wonder that UX/UI design is often used as an inseparable term since this should be a very collaborative process. The two roles should work closely together, with constant feedback and common goals. Only this way you can make sure that the final product looks as good as possible, while also working efficiently and intuitively.
Agile or lean UX? Why not both!
While we’re talking about industry jargon that gets thrown around, together and mixed up - lean and agile are also a pair that everyone uses and not many understand. What does it mean if UX (and UI) design processes are agile or lean? Can they be both? Well, we say they can and they should!
- Lean UX means applying Lean Startup methodology through constant measurement and short learning loops. This helps rapidly discover if a proposed model is viable.
- Agile UX means applying Agile Software methodology with close collaboration of cross-functional teams and their customer/end-user.
So yet again, they’re not the same thing but work closely together - most lean development teams also follow agile principles. This means a highly responsive collaborative environment with experimentation based learning.
Before you can claim to know anything and furthermore be able to make it better, you need to know that you know what you know. And you know what that means - research!
Research is essential for both UX and UI designers. Both roles should be relentless in their pursuit of good information. If a UI designer doesn’t know how to fit the class of application they are writing, or the UX design can’t take the market needs into account, it can turn into a disaster.
What is Thorgate doing right?
There's a reason why Thorgate has won 20 awards and worked on 150+ great projects in the last 9 years. When it comes to design, we think the most important aspects are the user convenience of a product, combining business and design, and visual aesthetics.
As a lean development company, Thorgate believes that both UX and UI - but especially UX - design should be an agile process. We use a lean requirements workshop methodology to initially gather and define user cases and challenges. As an end result, a prototype and product strategy are created.
The focus of the workshop is on the real value the product can bring. We like to have all stakeholders equally involved in the discovery and experimentation process, but on the other hand, don’t let their initial vision interfere with understanding the end-users’ needs and problems. The process aims to give and receive feedback as early as possible and sticks to a couple of main features and interactions at a time. No matter what, changes to the product vision do happen along the way and the road map should be flexible enough to incorporate necessary changes.
This has resulted in award-winning designs like an app for Like A Local Guide where we paid a lot of attention to the micro-interactions and small details, aiming for simplicity and the necessity to use it offline. Its UI/UX won a golden prize in the Estonian Golden Egg Awards and has been featured by Mashable.
The Final Note
Be it product or service, what matters is the experience of the user. What an end-user experiences is a mix of UI and UX. 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. The only solution to have the perfect balance, is following an agile and lean process like we do at Thorgate.
Visual design is one of the most important parts of our product development process. Our project managers and design teams focus on creating an optimised user interface design while being UX focused at the same time. We create the information architecture through our lean and agile processes that help us create a superior product design with all the information and lean requirements we have access to.
Get in touch with us if you need consultation on UI or UX or want us to create a user-centered product design for you!
"Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating" - Don Norman