Practice shows that structured data is a great way to work optimization and that is one of the reasons why old good stuff like phone directories, dictionaries, vocabularies and glossaries, databases and sets of formulas are still applicable and convenient for everyday use. Order and organization make it easy and fast to find everything needed. So, today we decided to make a step to this sort of optimization providing the first set of definitions for some basic terms in the field of UI/UX design.
No doubt, today there are many various publications and online resources providing helpful and informative support for designers and explaining the necessary terms. In our previous articles we also get involved in this global process while describing actual cases of design. Today we would like to systematize some of the explanations here concentrating on UI/UX design issues enhancing usability and support the definitions with the links to the articles where we gave more details on the topic.
Ideas and illustrations here are supported with Tubik Studio practical experience on design tasks of different types and complexity, so here we are sharing our own opinions on basics, making no claims on universal nature of the definitions as they can differ in the fast-pace, multinational and diverse design community.
So, let’s move on!
UX (User Experience)
User Experience (UX) is the general attitude and emotional feedback that user has on different stages of using the product. In terms of digital products, such as websites or applications, UX is a comprehensive term involving all the possible stages of user engagement. UX is based on several key factors such as usability, utility, desirability, attractiveness, speed of work etc. If all the logic and possible issues of product implementation into real life are analyzed and designed properly, it forms positive user experience which means that users are able to satisfy their needs in fast, easy and pleasant way. Positive user experience is one of the strongest factor of retaining users.
UX-wireframing is the process of creating general structure of the designed application or website. It’s usually accomplished via the set of schematic screens or pages of low or middle level of fidelity. The aim of this stage is setting clear and orderly structure of all the layout, transitions and interactions on the basis of user’s problems and pains which the product is going to solve.
In one of our previous articles we provided a bit of metaphor on that. When we think about building the house, for example, we usually mean the process of physical appearance of the construction rather than tons of projects, drawings and calculations made on paper. And yes, physically it’s possible to build the house without any project as well as it’s possible to create the interface out of thin air. However, in this case you shouldn’t be surprised if one day the house will crack and collapse without any visible reasons as well as the app looking amazing and stylish won’t bring you any loyal users. If you want to have a reliable house, a durable mechanism, a powerful application or a highly-functional website, the recipe is the same — take your time for thorough planning and projecting. This is not going to waste your time, vise versa, it will save your time you would otherwise have to spend on redesign and attempts to find out why your product doesn’t work properly.
That is the aim of UX part of design process. UX wireframing stage should be heavily based on user research, competition research and analysis of all the data obtained. In the outcome, it creates the clear scheme whose complexity depends on the product functionality and reflects all the system of transitions and interactions as well as placement of all the elements of the interface based on their optimal use flow. In some cases, wireframing done in pencil sketching or rough drafts is enough, although preferably it is accomplished with the special tools and software optimizing design process and increasing performance.
UI (User Interface)
User interface is actually a finalized interactive field in which the user interacts with the product. It includes all the tools of increasing usability and satisfying target users’ needs and wishes. All the features of visual perception as well sound and tactile feelings influencing the product use and interaction with is should be analyzed and optimized here to the purpose of the app or a website is designed. For example, such aspects as color palette, types and fonts, shapes and forms, illustration and animation and so on and so forth are able to affect the performance of the final product greatly in both positive and negative way.
In general terms, the UX research and wireframing stage is about how the website or application works while UI is how it looks. Both these stages include work on successful interactions, but UX deals more with logic, connections and user behavior while UI stage provides visual representation of all the concept. It means that ideally designer should first work on UX part with concentration on layout, making it more powerful, thought-out, clear and easy to use. Without this vital work you highly risk creating pure mess out of the user interface.
After the UX part is tested by prototype, agreed upon and the concept of layout, transitions and features are accepted, the designer starts the UI design part. This is the time when a newborn heart and brain of your product is clothed with its skin and bones. Here the product gets its real color scheme, forms and features of the layout details, styles, animated elements and so on.
All the UI solutions directly influence the positive or negative user experience, so the processes of UX wireframing and UI design should mutually support each other and follow the same strategy otherwise the efficient solutions of one stage will not work on the other.
Here are some of fresh UI design examples for different types of products from Tubik Studio portfolio on Dribbble:
The original concept behind the term ‘prototype’ is the sample model of the product that gives the ability to test it and see if the solutions and decisions made about the product are efficient. Prototypes should not be seen as the analogue of the final product as they aren’t those. Their main aim is to enable a designer, a customer and a user to check the correctness and appropriateness of the design solutions.
The value of prototypes in the sphere of app and webdesign has rocketed for the last few years. Actually, it is easy to explain as even the low-fidelity prototype gets the designer, customer and tester much closer to the looks and functions of the future product than the most elaborate schemes, drawings and wireframes. Certainly, that doesn’t mean that schemes and wireframes could be eliminated from the process as they are essential in the process of creating design solutions. However, when you want to feel their efficiency and check if nothing has been missed in the design process, prototype will be the great help.
Considering the fact that a lot of customers see the prototype as something very close to the final version of product design aka “UI in action”, in practice this approach is not effective. Prototyping is much more efficient and useful as the step between UX design and UI design. So, the workflow should have such a sequence: UX — prototype — UI.
Prototyping with Pixate
The prototypes on UI stage are created more for presentation of application general looks than for testing and improving its functional features. And this is the trap in which it is easier to be confused. Prototyping all the details on the final stage of UI in most cases is not so reasonable as it could seem. It will be too time-consuming and in this perspective, it would be better to spend the same time on coding a demo-version. Moreover, usability should be thoroughly checked first of all at the UX stage, otherwise it would be much harder to change inefficient solution after having accomplished a lot of work on UI. Certainly, it would be amazing to create prototypes both for UX and UI, but by far not all the designers and customers agree to spend so much time on design tasks and want to test and improve the design much faster and cheaper.
Read more on this topic in our previous article
An app or desktop icon is an image which having a kind of symbolic and metaphoric potential becomes the element of navigation in the process of interaction. In deeper explanation, icon is the visual symbol representing some action, thing, person, real or virtual.
In many cases icons are able to stand up for the text, and this ability makes them so popular in the world of modern design. If you replace the stretch of copy with an icon, it saves the place for other elements of interaction on the app screen or webpage therefore making it more functional without being overloaded. Also, it makes the interaction faster as in most cases people need less time to see and understand the icon than to read and understand the piece of text.
Moreover, the icons efficiently move the limits as they enable people who have the problems of copy perception and recognition, such as those who suffer from dyslexia or similar problems, to interact with the product. And finally, icons can successfully combine the functions of navigation and explanation with being the aesthetic element of the visual representation of the product, supporting the general style and having their own character.
Microinteraction is one particular case of user’s interaction with the product completing one particular task. For example, when you press the “like” button (anyhow it looks like) and see that your like has been counted (the number has changed, the button changed the color or became inactive, the copy on the button informed you that you have done the action, the copy under the button or other interactive element informs that you are in the list of those who liked, and so on), that is the case of microinteraction. When you fill in the proper text field with the search request and send it to the system, that is one more case. Microinteractions happen when we follow or unfollow someone in a social network, rate the blog post or set the timer — hundreds of things we do, in most cases not willing to think over those simple steps too much.
Microinteractions in most cases aren’t even consciously fixed by the user — and that is actually one of the important tasks for a designer to make them as natural, clear and fast as possible.