Mobile App Design Fundamentals: User Experience vs. User Interface
The terms user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) have become inadvertently misused in the mobile app development community. The user experience, however, is not the same thing as the user interface. This confusion most likely stems from the overlap of the skill-sets and tools involved in both disciplines.
It’s nearly impossible to extract one discipline from the other. While the UX is a combination of tasks focused on the optimization of a mobile app for effective and enjoyable use, the user interface design is its counterpart – the look and feel, the presentation, and overall interactivity of a product.
UX design essentially helps users accomplish functional tasks across platforms and services, while the UI design consists of compelling and aesthetically pleasing interfaces for user interaction. UX and UI designers work in the same realm and on the same projects, but apply separate skills at various stages of development.
What is User Experience Design?
The term “user experience” was coined by Don Norman, the first to describe the importance of user-centered design: the concept that design decisions should be based solely on the needs and wants of users.
User experience, also commonly known as UX or UXD involves everything that affects a user’s perception and interaction with a product. In technical terms, UX is the practical, experiential, meaningful, affective, and valuable characteristics of human-machine interaction. Mobile UX encompasses the user’s perceptions and feelings before, during, and after their interaction with an app. UX also includes all aspects of the end user’s interaction with a company and its products/services.
A UX Designer’s primary concern is to address the feel of a product for a set of users. So, the UX Designer will explore different options to solve user-specific pain points and provide them with a valuable solution. Ultimately, products with good UX are user-friendly and straightforward.
Why is UX Design Important?
Overall, a mobile app’s UX influences how users perceive the product. Users search for apps that provide value, are easy to use and will help them fulfill a goal. The UX ultimately determines if a user will return to your app or if they will delete it altogether, possibly giving it a poor review.
According to UX Designer Nick Babich, “The best products do two things well: features and details. Features are what draw people to your product. Details are what keep them there.”
What Makes a Great User Experience?
Successful mobile apps all have one thing in common: they benefit users. If a user is going to use an app repeatedly, the product needs to be useful and offer a great deal of value. Creating an amazing UX involves practicing design thinking and establishing an extensive understanding of the target users’ lives and unmet needs.
Design thinking is at the core of successful mobile app development. Throughout the design thinking process, UX designers conduct a lot of research to either validate or invalidate initial product ideas to guide the development of the product.
It’s important to note that the UX encompasses much more than how a user feels about a product or service. It incorporates a strategic understanding of the product’s business model and the processes clients use. It also consists of understanding the broader context in which users interact and engage. A successful UX design creates solutions that meet the needs of the client, users and ultimately works within the bounds of the technological platforms.
The Importance of Design Thinking
Design thinking supports innovation by observing and considering multiple solutions to a single problem. The core principle of design thinking asserts that a user-centric approach to product development encourages innovation, which leads to market differentiation and competitive advantage.
An integral part of developing successful mobile apps is conducting user research. Before the development process, it’s important to understand how the UX and UI will work together to solve user pain points. Design thinking is a formalized framework for processing user data and creating appropriate design solutions to address real user needs.
What is the Design Thinking Process?
Design and Discovery is the first stage of the mobile app development process and it is constructed to cover the five core phases of design thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. The design framework is iterative, flexible, and involves the collaboration of designers and users to create mobile products inspired by how real users think and feel.
Source: Neilsen Norman Group
At a high level, the UX and design thinking process identifies the purpose of the mobile product, business objectives, customer needs and pain points, as well as how the product will resolve those challenges. A design and discovery engagement will prioritize product features and create the user journeys necessary to create a prototype, which is validated (or invalidated) through testing. After both the business model and unique value proposition have been validated by real users, the product moves into development.
Next is the design of the user interface, which defines the interactions by adding color and visuals to the UX design. This gives the user the clues that they will need to successfully navigate through the app, such as registering as a new user, for example. In most cases, the UX will come before the UI. There are however some exceptions in which this is not the case.
User Experience is Not the Same as Usability
User experience and usability are often confused in mobile app development, although these two fields are very different. As mentioned earlier, the UX addresses how a user feels, while usability is about the user-friendliness and efficiency of the interface.
Usability, however, plays a big part in the UX as it profoundly impacts how a user navigates through the app. A successful mobile app is one where the usability is both efficient and pleasant.
What is User Interface Design?
Contrary to popular belief, interface design isn’t just about buttons and navigation menus, but about the interaction between the user and the app. The UI design isn’t just how a product looks, but how it works. Where will you place the buttons and call-to-action for your users to quickly understand the flow of the app? Does a particular interface even need buttons? If so, what is the purpose of those buttons? For an excellent user interface, you should provide users with the actions required to figure out how the app will help them accomplish a goal.
“The goal of user interface design is to make the user’s interaction as simple and efficient as possible, in terms of accomplishing user goals (user-centered design).”
Why is UI Design Important?
UI designers are concerned with how the visual elements are laid out and how the product will look, which significantly influences an emotional connection with the user. There is still debate as to what sort of UI will establish a positive UX for a product. While many people think a beautiful interface is needed, many arguments can be made for a simple UI.
What Makes a Great User Interface?
While the UX is not as visible to the user, the interface design is the first thing they will see, immediately influencing their perception of the app. It is the responsibility of the UI Designer to enhance the brand within the interface. UI Design ultimately helps guide users through the interface using visual aids. Here are a few elements of a great UI:
1. Clarity: The interface avoids confusion and ambiguity by making everything clear through language and visuals. Mobile apps with good UI usually don’t need extensive onboarding to show the user how the app works.
2. Familiarity: Many users like to see familiar features, buttons, or call-to-action. Familiarity includes commons symbols, icons, or colors, to convey a message such as red to exit or delete. Even if someone uses an interface for the first time, certain elements can be familiar.
3. Responsiveness: This includes speed as an excellent user interface should not lag or feel slow. Providing feedback when a screen is loading will also enhance the UI by keeping the user informed on what’s happening, for example, informing them of purchase confirmation or data processing.
4. Consistency: Keeping your interface consistent across your application is important because it allows users to recognize usage patterns. Once your users learn how certain parts of the interface work, they can apply this knowledge to new areas and features.
5. Aesthetics: While it’s not necessary to make a user interface attractive for it to function correctly, making something look attractive will make the app more enjoyable.
According to Aarron Walter, the VP of Design Education at InVision, once you have usability right, it’s the personality of your interface that will elicit loyalty in your users. People may be drawn to a product because of its striking design, but they are likely to stick around for a while if it allows them to fulfill their ultimate goal.
Although UX and UI Designers have different responsibilities, they work together to build a great product in which the user forms a connection. A mobile app that thrives in the market is one that solves user pain points, is clear and concise, making the product pleasurable for the user.