Although these two terms are often used interchangeably when discussing mobile app (or other types of app or website) development, there is an important distinction between the two. UI stands for User Interface. In short, the UI is the system through which the user of your app or website will be able to interact with it’s content. So elements like buttons, forms, etc. all together make up your UI.
A good UI is important as it facilitates this interaction in a user-friendly way. In the old (ancient) days of computers, many tasks (such as deleting, moving, or renaming files) could only be accomplished through a “command prompt”. Modern operating systems (thankfully) allow these (and many other) tasks to be performed instead through a GUI, or Graphical User Interface; allowing you to click, drag and use keyboard shortcuts to perform simple tasks without getting into the messy world of commands, and having to type out long filepaths by hand in order to accomplish anything.
UX, on the other hand, stands for User eXperience (it is sometimes, but not often, abbreviated as UE instead). As mentioned above, too often the term UX is used to also describe an interface (and often, companies will use one person to fill the roles of both a UI designer and a UX architect). However, while a program’s UI is an integral part of the UX (experience), the UX encompasses more than just the interface.
The UX architect (designer, developer) also uses research into your potential users (and competitors products) as part of the process to help design the experience. Testing and prototyping are also part of the UX toolkit.
Designing for UX
There is still a lot of debate about what sort of UI will translate into a positive UX for your product. While many think that a robust, beautiful interface is what is needed (and what modern users expect), many arguments can be made for a cleaner, simpler UI.
As can be seen from this highly recognizable page, there is not a lot to the UI here: a logo, a textbox, and a few simple buttons (barely rounded; and my Chrome startpage doesn’t even have those). Yet this simple page has afforded most of us with what we would call a good UX. Why?
And there’s your answer. As soon as you begin to enter anything the page starts working for you and, more often than not, delivers exactly what you are looking for. Instantly. This time factor is also a big part of the page’s UX, one that goes beyond the UI, as the same interface with a less than instant loading time (even a few seconds) would create a much different UX.
There are other dramatic examples of how a minute difference can drastically alter the UX. Sometimes a simple consideration (one that could easily be overlooked by a UI designer, developer, publisher, or even the client who requested the product in the first place) can be a big factor in creating a positive UX.
Functionality is only one way to create a favourable UX. Aaron Walter, lead UX designer (among other, more prestigious job titles) at MailChimp talks a lot about the concept of Designing for Emotion (so much so, that he had to publish a book with said title). This is evident for those who are familiar with the website.
Don’t get me wrong: this website (with it’s simple, clean UI) is also one of the more functional websites out there. But some simple cartoon chimps (found everywhere on the site; accompanying you on your auto-mailing journey) form a big part of this site’s UX.
Digital Fractal Technologies is an Edmonton, Alberta based mobile app development company that focuses on data-driven mobile applications for enterprise clients. We develop both cross-platform apps as well as native mobile applications. For a free app consultation, please contact us.