When teaching my systems design at Grand Canyon University recently, we got into a conversation about acronyms. There’s a lot in our world, and sometimes we get a little sloppy and liberal with them, using them freely and assuming others know what they mean. A student asked about UI vs. UX; a great question as they are used somewhat interchangeably.
UI is “user interface” and UX is “user experience.” They are sort of the same, but different. Let’s explore how.
Doing what we do – building web and mobile systems for users – means we are building interfaces. Users are going to interact with data and with each other via the interfaces we build. Thus, there is no around this: that interaction is going to be an experience. How positive that experience, well, that’s to be determined.
House vs. Home
When did your house – the physical structure – become your home? Was it after you designed or remodeled? Was it during a great life event you experienced there? Or, was it just after a collection of events that you realized 'Wow, this is home!'
Last time I stopped in Hobby Lobby I didn’t see them selling picture frames with the word “house” on them. They did, however, have a whole lot of “home” decor.
How does this relate?
It takes a lot of time and energy to turn a house into a home. And it’s the same thing for systems. Every time we build a part of a system for our users, we are going to build an interface. And it takes a lot of time and energy to turn any single interface into a positive experience.
It takes a village.
Our product – like most products – is not built, sold, managed, or used by one single person. It takes a team. If the team goes about its job thinking of purely building an interface, there is no guarantee that the end result will be a product through which the end user will have a positive experience.
But, if we set each of us up to think about the experience first, there is a better chance at creating a positive experience. If we start from the outset actually using the word experience vs. an interface, it helps all of us focus on the end goal – a positive experience for the user.
Artists create problems, designers solve them.
While teaching at GCU – and working with the team at Allbound – I constantly stress the viewpoint that designers are problem-solvers. If the end result of their work is really pretty, that’s awesome. But if it doesn’t solve a problem, then what was the point? It's just “lipstick on a pig,” as Grandma used to say.
To avoid winding up with all flash and no substance, we rely on practice and process. With intention, we actively practice using world experience.
Here is how Allbound’s Director of UX, Ryan Sherman, sums up our UX practice: “Good UX is all about planning and execution for what the desired outcome of the software or marketing content is, and how easy it is to figure out, to come to the desired conclusion or end result.”
Ryan and his growing team of UX designers actively practice questioning the experience of each feature, for each type of user who will interact with it. They actively engage our clients in the discussion of experience as well. About that process, Ryan explains “the only way to ensure something makes for a good user experience is it has to be tested in front of similar subjects in your target audience to ensure it has the desired results.”
As we work with our clients, we actively steer them away from the noise created by internal tactical desires, and instead we focus their attention on the experience of their end user. We are all here, after all, for the end user and not for ourselves.
Next time you are in a meeting and discussing your end users, try using the word experience. See how it helps shift the discussion away from internal, tactical noise and focuses the attention on the end users. They are the focus of what we do. Focus on their experience.