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Discussing the similarities and differences between User Experience and User Interface design with our resident experts here at Justinmind.

When it comes to web design, the differences between User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) Design are often disputed and left unclear. What is UX design, and what does it have to do with UI design? What exactly is the difference? With increasing importance being attributed to the user nowadays, let’s get down to the heart of the matter. Today, we’re chatting with our Design duo, Sergi and Susana, about their experiences in UI/UX. Let’s go!

Tell us about your relationship with UI and UX

Sergi: I define myself as an Experience designer, having come from a Communication & Graphic Design background, and with a strong passion for technology. I’ve always been interested in observing how people interact, how they like to work, and how they feel when they use a product. Without realizing it, I began to apply myself to the concept of usability, way before I realized what UX even was. And when I started to read more and more about UX, I realized that my UX journey was just starting.

“I’m not a UXer. I am an Experience designer on a path towards UX.”

I’ll admit that I’m not “fully UX”, but it definitely forms part of my day to day. The mere curiosity, the want to improve and make better products for the user: it’s these things that do end up converting to the UXside. For me, usability is everything.

Susana: I consider myself a UI/UX designer. For me, UX is a life style, it’s a big part of me. UX looks to find solutions for the needs of the user, taking into consideration the specifications needed to guide the user along the correct path. UI, is more how things function visually. It’s not just about making looks beautiful but also helping people down the visual path, through usability. For sure, going from UI to UX is a natural evolution, and the relation between the functions of both depends on the needs of the product or service.

Trends of today

Sergi: In terms of usability, the concept of UX is pretty new, compared with UI. There are studies that are only starting up now for Usability & UX, but the structure is still being ironed out. For a long time, we were hearing things like “UI is not UX” and vice versa, things that are technically true, but massively misguided. There is so much that overlaps…

Another myth is that a UXer’s job consists of a series of tasks, whereas UI is only about making things aesthetically pleasing. In reality, it’s so much more.

UXers can come from very different worlds, therefore their focus is likely to vary as well. There are UXers that are really technical, collecting data and performing user testing, and others that veer more towards the visual side, observing the path of the user. A UXer with a journalism or psychology background, will apply different steps to their work in usability than a UXer with a graphics, communication, or marketing profile. Their focus on campaigns will be different – not better or worse – just with a different approach, a distinct way of working.

Susana: We’re moving toward a trend of specialization. Nowadays, we’re seeing more psychologists, architects, sociologists who are dedicated to research and planning through different techniques such as workshops, user testing, surveys, and studies. An interactive designer with a marketing profile, or someone who is passionate about technology and innovation, or who is constantly looking for solutions for the user, will naturally end up on a path towards user experience.

Are UI and UX separate concepts?

Sergi: UI and UX are separate ideas, but they form part of the same team in the design process. Separate or not, each team needs to work closely with the other, to ensure that UI and UX remain interrelated.  If you make a wireframe and the UI is not well executed, the user experience will be diminished.

“UI does not exist physically, but it is everywhere.”

Susana:  I agree with Sergi here. In my opinion, they are separate concepts, but they need to be treated as a unit. UX involves an array of techniques and methodologies, as well as a space to prepare and observe the user. Whether UI and UX should be joined depends on the structure and the necessities of each company. However, the more interrelated the two are, the better the product will be, and the more enhanced the user’s experience will be.

“I think that the joining of UI and UX is a very natural evolution.”

The UI/UX stereotype?

Sergi: I get asked if companies are justified in wanting individuals to fit the profile of both UI and UX, and I think it depends. A person can do lots of things, but they are likely not going to do everything perfectly. In any team, there is a need for cooperation, and when it comes to UI and UX, in my opinion, the two must go hand in hand.

 “Why exclude when you can combine the best of both worlds?”

Only now, companies are realizing that people can be both UI/UX, or be one or the other. We’re living in an age of a multitude of UX profiles.

Susana: I think that some of the big players still don’t quite know what their usability requirements are. When you look at job profiles now, and they say “experienced UXer”, and then all the requirements are related to UI, I think many of us feel disillusioned.

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Do you have any advice for someone starting their UI/UX career?

Susana: You can specialize in either, or in both. Either way, you need to be passionate, and be motivated by the desire to innovate. It’s a lot to do with your method. In my opinion, you’re not just “UX”, you will eventually specialize. If you are motivated by technology and want to learn how the user interacts and adapts their behavior, and if you have the capacity to observe and improve, that’s always a good start.

Sergi: Be curious and be willing to learn more every day, because the learning never stops. UX is something that you will learn, be exposed to as well as experience yourself—it’s not something that you learn from just turning up to class. You have to want to improve on your own time, analyzing and recognizing your limitations and trying to break through them. Being able to take advice is very important to better yourself. In fact, recognizing errors and finding solutions is one of the most important approaches to usability in the trade!

“You have to go that extra mile every day to must master your craft.”

And remember, UX is so new, and we are still learning how to define it and understand what it means to us. It’s important to be able to break out of our comfort zone. The user needs to feel comfortable, so in order to get into their shoes, you have to start from square one.

How does Justinmind treat UI and UX?

Susana: Compared with a lot of the other tools out there, Justinmind feels more Pro and, I think that the company treats UI and UX as interdisciplinary concepts, as a unit. Justinmind is such a complete service that it applies to many user profiles: such as UX, UI, Business Analysis, and Developers etc.

Sergi: We have a very complete product with a wide-range market. The objective is to mold the product to the interests of all of those profiles. It’s definitely a challenge, but then again, we are in the business of usability, this it’s a workable challenge.

What comes first: content or design?

Susana: Similarly to prototyping in the design process, it’s a cycle. There is constant research, structuring, sketching, branding, and it’s a case of fitting it all in. I like to think that I am on a similar journey outside of the office.

Sergi: The most important thing is the structure: you have to go step by step. The fact is that usability plays a massive role in the design process, even before the user gets involved, just to ensure that the steps have been carried out and completed properly. In theory, the structure should be linear, but that’s not always the way it pans out. The content and visual design should serve as the final act. But even then, you will probably find yourself retracing your steps to tweak a thing or too!

How is UX evolving?

Susana: The curious thing is that, now, the user always has a say in the development of the design. They are involved in the development of any project, from the very beginning. Before, there was a strong designer: client relationship, with the client having the last word. Now the user has the final say, and it’s part of the UXer’s responsibility to know how to identify the user’s needs and then improve the design with this in mind.

Sergi: Currently for me, the most interesting evolution of UI/UX is Experience Design. I think it has a lot do to with the way we treat UX. We’re taught that the customer is always right, but I don’t know if it can necessarily be like that anymore. The user knows what they want, but they don’t always know what is right for them. The best way to improve and sustain usability is by listening, observing and trying to understand the user—ultimately, to give them what they need as well as what they want. I think we must compel the user to think ahead, to innovate and not hold back.

Does UX feature in your everyday life?

Sergi: Yes! Whether I’m preparing a get-together with friends, going out for a meal, or deciding on the structure and style of my home, it all counts. Just like when designing something, you experience a ton of things and interact with loads of people, and it keeps you growing.

Susana: I think UX is so much more than just what happens in the office. It’s the way you think, the way you see the world and how you adapt to it. You need to see the world with the willingness and desire to experiment.

Who in the industry do you follow?

Sergi: I follow a few web design blogs, including UX Magazine, Boxes and Arrows and LukeW.

Susana: My favorite blogs to follow are UX Movement and Usability Geek!

So there you have it, straight from the horses’ mouths! Want to join the UI/UX debate? We’d love to hear from you!

Emily is Marketing Content Editor at Justinmind

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