UI design versus UX design
UI stands for user interface, while UX stands for user experience. UI typically refers to all the visual components that create the look and feel of a website or mobile app. In contrast, user experience has more to do with the planning and design of how your product works throughout the user journey.
"The goal of UI is to create clear, aesthetically pleasing designs that allow users to accomplish their goals efficiently," explains Lauren Dahlenburg, Lead UI/UX Designer at Bit-Wizards.
While UI is mostly the look and feel of a website or mobile app, Dahlenburg says it also impacts the perceived user experience.
"The primary goal of UX is to provide users with a positive experience with your products to help solve their needs without barriers or frustrations," she says.
The UI/UX design process
While both UI and UX are integral components of the design process that are closely intertwined, Dahlenburg says UI design technically falls within UX design.
"UX design is more of your total process of establishing the user's interaction with your product," she explains. "So, UI design is a part of that since it impacts the appearance of your product's functions."
Dahlenburg and the rest of the Bit-Wizards' design team follow the Design Thinking methodology, a DesignOps ideology that has become widely accepted as the gold-standard approach to design over the last decade:
- Empathize: Understand users' needs.
- Define: Take findings and come up with a problem definition/hypothesis.
- Ideate: Brainstorm solutions.
- Prototype: Create possible designs.
- Test: Validation of solution.
- Implement: Launch.
By following these steps, UI/UX designers can fully assess an opportunity and determine the best course of action that delivers a solution that looks good and works well. In addition to researching what users want from a product, designers often conduct significant research to determine how competitors create and deliver solutions.
From there, Dahlenburg says UI design can be divided into five subphases: content development, functionality, information architecture, visual design, and interaction design.
"Once you go through the UI design process, you go back and test your product repeatedly," says Dahlenburg. "You have to evaluate to make sure the design you created is effective. Depending on your results, you either continue to iterate or move onto the next phase, which is implementation."
Why effective UI/UX design is important
Solutions and features stay user-focused
"If you're not developing for the user, then your product is dead on arrival," says Dahlenburg. "Your users are what it's all about—they are the people who are going to be using your products on a day-to-day basis, so you need to make sure you're meeting their needs. If your product doesn’t do what it should for your users, they have no use for your product."
If your solution's development and design process is solely focused on producing deliverables and meeting a set of requirements, Dahlenburg says you will miss the full picture.
"If you focus on meeting the users' needs, it'll set the tone for the whole project and identify, from a user's perspective, what you're trying to achieve," explains Dahlenburg. "It's about focusing the project on helping users achieve positive outcomes rather than on producing acceptable outputs from a development perspective."
Unnecessary problems are avoided
"If you're not developing for the user, and you're not performing usability tests or identifying pain points, you may come up with a solution that you think is meeting your users' needs, when in reality, that wasn't even a pain point to begin with," explains Dahlenburg.
She says you could end up adding unnecessary complexity to the product or creating an additional burden for your users.
"Going through the UI/UX design process helps you avoid creating problems where there are none," says Dahlenburg. "Sometimes, you may even solve the wrong problem or create a new one by skipping steps."
Project efficiency increases
"Having good design and good design processes should reduce the need for iteration," explains Dahlenburg.
She says the up-front investment of time and attention to the potential design will increase efficiency and project turnaround.
"If you do your homework, you'll cut out a lot of waste and expedite a successful implementation, and that's a win for the project as a whole," says Dahlenburg.
Besides research and ideation, testing is a critical part of the design process that helps increase efficiency. By working with real users who preview a product and provide feedback, design teams get insightful input on whether a product does what it's supposed to and looks good while doing it.
Why UI/UX design is crucial to custom software development
"UI/UX designers bring the user's voice to a project," Dahlenburg explains. "And it's just good business."
Dahlenburg says good UI/UX is profitable, while bad UI/UX is expensive because users are less likely to accomplish their goals with a cluttered product that does more harm than good. You're less likely to have conversions if your product doesn't fulfill its service promise.
"Good UI/UX increases your brand loyalty, fuels engagement, and increases traffic and return users," says Dahlenburg. "If you have a poorly designed interface that's confusing and frustrating, you'll lose customers. Without customers, you won't achieve the business outcomes you want."
UI/UX is a critical part of front-end design that can turn a program that works into a product that captures your users’ attention, follows industry best practices, and builds trust. With proper planning and attention to detail, you can merge UI/UX with a great product that results in a well-designed, user-focused solution.