There’s a new term surfacing in the digital media and design world: user experience and user interface, also known as UX/UI design.

The terminology gained traction in the 2000’s with the widespread use of mobile devices, apps, and websites. Nielsen Norman Group is credited with coining the term UX in the late 1990’s, saying, “‘User experience’ encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” See source.

UX and UI disciplines are intertwined and interdependent, though distinctly separate.

People often use the terms UX and UI interchangeably because of their similarities in the tech and design world, so let’s explore a few analogies that will help clear up the confusion.

Controlling the air conditioning in your car

UX Design

Asks where the controls should be located on the dashboard and explores whether it should function as a dial, switch, or button.

UI Design

Creates any icons that may be on the control and incorporates color—red indicates heat and blue indicates air conditioning.

Building a house

UX Design

UX is the architect that conceptualizes and maps out the structure for the building, organizing the rooms in a way that makes sense.

UI Design

UI is the interior designer that makes the house visually appealing and adds paint, furniture, and decor.

Using a washing machine

UX Design

Considers your problem (dirty clothes) and works to solve it (creating a machine that uses electricity and water to wash the clothes). The UX encompasses the experience as a whole—how will you open/close the machine, where do you put the detergent in, and how will the machine alert you that it is finished?

UI Design

Determines the way the buttons or dials should look, displays the timer on the screen, and adds labels so you know which cycle to select.

UX is how it works, UI is how it looks.

A UX/UI designer is crucial to a successful website design because they ensure that it works (UX) and looks (UI) good. A UX/UI designer will:
1

Research your target audience.

Once you understand your user, you can then cater the design and content for them. Are your customers white collar executives or teenagers? Are they tech-savvy users or do they just want the basics? Your website must speak to your audience's needs.
2

Organize your content.

Information architecture is like the blueprint of your website. Your UX/UI designer will add hierarchy to categorize your content so users can find what they’re looking for in the fastest and easiest way possible.
3

Create a user journey map.

What are your users coming to your website for? Are you a restaurant that needs to have the menu in a prominent place? Or a business that offers free quotes for your services? Are they looking to purchase a product from the website? The UX/UI designer will think through the users’ path through your website and will organize it in a way that is intuitive and engaging.
4

Understand what the user wants and curate the experience to it.

Your website should take shape in a way that meets your users’ needs. The research (#1), content (#2), and journey map (#3) come together to shape the website experience. When you understand the goal of the website, you’ll be better equipped to meet those needs. You don’t want a website that simply talks about your business, you want a website that converts users to active leads.
5

Design the content in a way that is visually appealing.

This is probably what you think of when the website design process comes to mind: colors, graphics, branding, photos, and typography that are carefully considered to create a cohesive look.
6

Test usability and responsiveness.

A website can be beautiful and still have issues with usability. If it looks good, but doesn’t work well, your users will be frustrated. A UX/UI designer will make sure the site works across all device sizes and browsers.

Do you need a UX/UI designer to help you with your website?

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