UX professionals make a big deal about the difference between UI and UX. There are dozens of articles on the web about how UI is not UX, and apparently I have made the mistake of reading most of them—hoping to learn something insightful. Instead, these articles usually rattle off a pile of platitudes that I find meaningless in practice. I have been disappointed every time. Click here if you need help finding these articles.
The practical importance of this distinction escapes me. For example, is designing good performance UI or UX? The best answer: it doesn’t matter! Everybody should be designing for great performance, so why exclude it?
Of course, there is a difference. My definitions are that the UI is what users see and hear on the device and how they interact with it, whereas UX is that plus everything else the product touches—from the purchasing, out of box, configuration, daily usage patterns, and support experiences, to experiences that don’t even involve interaction (such defaults or automatic behaviors). Fortunately, my definitions match Don Norman’s, who is credited with coining the term UX.
Frankly, most “UX” discussions I witness are really UI discussions. They involve sketching what could be on the screen and how users might interact with it. The obvious clue: the process and discussions are centered around sketching features. Technically, that’s UI design, not UX. But since the practical distinction hardly matters, I never bother pointing it out.
I do many onsite workshops to help software development teams learn UX design or improve their design skills. I had one team lead request that I teach UI design to half his team and UX design to the other half. How does that make sense? How do you make the distinction? What is appropriate to exclude from UI design because it is really UX design? This left me baffled. Training wise, UI is UX. The distinction hardly matters.
The reason I’m thinking about this now is that I just had a two-hour design session with a team designing a medical mobile app and it was 100% focused on UX—no features or UI elements discussed or any sketches made. This is unusual—at least for me—as UI design invariable shows up at some point.
So what did we talk about for two hours? Here is an outline of the topics (while keeping the details sufficiently vague):
I tried to give these topics a logical flow above, so they aren’t in order of importance. The heart of the session was to make the product as convenient, trustworthy, encouraging and unobtrusive, and realistic as possible. Fail to achieve these critical goals and users will stop using the app or not believe the results.
If we fail these, nothing else matters.
This app addresses a serious medical condition and the consequences of using the app properly are significant. (Failing to follow the current manual process often leads to hospitalization.) One might assume that such target users would be extremely motivated to follow the process properly and stick with it long term. That assumption is wrong. A better assumption is that users won’t do something awkward, annoying, or seemingly pointless—especially over a long period of time. It needs to have a great user experience. Having beautiful, well laid out screens won’t save an otherwise poor user experience. And the screens themselves are only a very small part of that overall experience.
Being a lean advocate (or more precisely, my own interpretation, which I call “lean-er”), I recommended starting with MVPs to minimize risk. The first MVP would determine if an app can replace the current manual paper process, whereas the second MVP would determine if we can make it trustworthy, practical, and motivating over a long period of time.
Speaking of lean, lean advocates talk about GOOB, or “get out of the building.” The lean claim is that there is no knowledge in the building, so you have to get out and talk to users to understand anything. Frankly, I think that is bullshit. If you have a good team there is a great deal of knowledge in the building, but you have to know what to do with it. It’s far more productive to talk to your users once you have done this type of analysis than to go to them with a blank sheet of paper. You could talk to users for years and still miss many key UX issues that we found in two hours.
People often confuse UX design with sketching stuff. While sometimes is makes sense to start by sketching to explore different design directions, often that leads to putting too much emphasis on features, layout, and basic navigation—in other words, the technology. Instead, starting with users, their goals, the value we are providing, and addressing critical details like building trust gives us a much better direction to sketch. In true UX design, user goals, scenarios, and value drive the process.
I never design with a feature list or a set of user stories—they are just tools to figure out how to implement an experience, not to create one in the first place. This leads to what I call Everett’s Ultimate User Story:
As a user, I don’t give a damn about your feature list or product backlog.
Getting the app to perform the task mechanically would accomplish nothing because nobody would be motivated to use such a mechanical app. The key is to work through and design the human experience for the target users and being realistic about what people will actually do. For this project, sketching screens, working on the task flow, or making the screens pretty are secondary concerns at best.
By popular demand, I will present my first virtual UX design classes this month. They will be on September 10 and 11, and will cover four of my favorite UX design topics: Effective Scenarios, Effective Personas, Intuitive UI, and Effective Design Reviews. If you are new to these topics or want to revitalize your thinking, these classes are for you. I promise that you will think differently about these skills afterwards.
I say by “popular demand” because it’s true—virtual classes have been a top customer request in my Getting started in UX design training questionnaire. BTW: This is my first blog post in quite awhile—I have been very busy. Check what I have been up to at https://www.facebook.com/UxDesignEdge.
More coming soon! For general information about these and future virtual classes, please check http://virtual-ux.com.
I understand what makes a successful virtual class, and learned how not to do it by attending a variety of free webinars. In a typical webinar, the material is superficial, the insights are few, and the participant interaction is non-existent. Frequently, the speakers blast through the material way too quickly, making them hard to follow. In short, I found them boring, ineffective, and not engaging. Their slides are visually beautiful though—which is little compensation.
I have taken several paid UX design courses on Udemy, and remain equally unimpressed.
A virtual class on UX should have a great user experience itself, so here is my approach:
While the virtual class format is new, I have delivered these classes many times in person. Here is what people have been saying:
My plan is to do at least one virtual class per month. If you would like updates on future classes, please join our mailing list or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to suggest new topics.
I will do a special presentation of virtual class on Saturdays at 9 am India Standard Time (IST) especially for the Indian market. These will have a much lower price point, and a bit less gyaan. Of course, anyone can attend these, so feel free to register if this class time suits your needs.
For more information and to register, please check http://virtual-ux.com.
I will be presenting UX Design Essentials in Katowice Poland in November. Looking forward to it!
I will be presenting UX Design Essentials in Dalian, Beijing, and Shenzhen China in July. Looking forward to it!
My blog has been on an unscheduled vacation since November 1st. This is about the time I started working on UI is Communication, and unfortunately I don’t have time to both write a book and blog. Too bad, because I have about one hundred fantastic topics in the queue.
LinkedIn recently added a Poll feature and I’ve tried a few polls on a variety of user experience-related topics. They are fun to make, fun to take, and the results are often insightful. Best of all, I can put together a good poll in a couple minutes, which is about all the free time I have right now.
So, here’s the deal: Every Monday I will post a new UX design-related poll, which you will see in the lower-right corner of the UX Design Edge site. (That’s the weak fallow area for you Gutenberg Diagram aficionados.) Please stop buy, take the poll, and check the results.
To put everything together nicely, I have registered ux-poll.com, which will take you to an archive of the past polls.
Please participate and enjoy!