UX vs UI vs Web Design – what’s the difference
Choosing an agency for your organisation's next web project has never been harder. Countless “Agencies” exist, from one-man consultants to creative Ark style “Full Service” agencies. Each will have a unique set of phraseology to describe themselves and their specialisations. A few will claim to be experts at slightly familiar acronyms and descriptors like UX, UI, Web design and web development. This post will briefly outline the differences between UX design and UI design and why each has a role to play depending on the project a client is hiring for.
Web designers today are usually modern graphic designers trained in visual design and a set of limitations imposed by the online medium. They tend to be experts in:
- Corporate and product brand visual styling
- colour theory
- picture usage
- icon development
UX is the acronym for “User Experience.” A UX designer works around the methodology of the
- Why and
- How a person uses a website or app.
They bring a more left-brain approach to a digital experience. While a good web designer will focus on the end user’s experience, a UX designer takes it to the next level and applies a specific “User Centric Methodology” to the process. The UX process usually begins with a strong research component resulting in an articulation of a specific, desired end state and the customer journey(s) needed to get there.
This involves the development of User Personas (demographic, psychographic portraits of various types of users, how they use the internet and what motivates them) and an approach to defining the functionality required that is both collaborative (often with a web designer) and iterative (back and forth on itself as assumptions are tested. Before final web design is started, the UX designer will create clickable prototypes or simple static wireframes.
A good UX designer will then observe the client navigating through this prototype in an informal or formal usability testing process.
A strong focus on UX is essential for websites of some complexity due to: Multiple or specifically challenged user types; Multiple products or services catering to different audiences; Complex interactions within the site such as long iterant forms, sheer size of the website or a specific previous user set experience (e.g. how a large number of customers have previously used a previous version of a site)
UI stands for "User Interface", which comes out of the software world in which the User Interface of a product IS the product e.g. many modern day Apps. UI designers typically are experts in designing machine to human interfaces.
With regard to websites, UI Design is more closely linked with front-end development, i.e. managing complex information, tasks and workflows and distilling it into screens and flows make something complex appear simple. In essence, UI Design represents the intersection of programming and design. A Good UX designer will make a computerised data set collection function feel natural to a human.
Web Design, UX Design and UI Design are not necessarily mutually exclusive and many website experiences feature all three. As a client looking at different agencies to work with, if you can define which emphasis is most important to you, it will make your agency selection and briefing easier. A quick but NOT failsafe way to find the right agency may be to ask each to explain in detail their briefing and scoping methodologies. In doing so, their strengths will become clear.
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