Mobile App Design Fundamentals: User Experience vs. User Interface

The terms User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) have become inadvertently misused in the design community. The user interface is not the same thing as the user experience. This confusion most likely stems from the overlap of the skill-sets and tools involved in both disciplines.

It’s nearly impossible to extract the UX from UI and vice versa. While the UX is a combination of tasks focused on optimization of a mobile app for effective and enjoyable use, the user interface design is its complement, the look and feel, the presentation, and overall interactivity of a product.

UX design essentially helps users accomplish functional tasks across platforms and services while the UI design consists of compelling and aesthetically pleasing interfaces in which the user interacts with. UX and UI designers work in the same realm and on the same projects, but apply their own skills at various stages of development.

What is User Experience Design?

User experience, also commonly known as the UX or UXD is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product.

The mobile UX encompasses the user’s perceptions and feelings before, during, and after their interaction with an app. This includes all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, and its services/products.

The term “User Experience” was coined by Don Norman, the first to describe the importance of user-centered design, which is the concept that design decisions should be based solely on the needs and wants of your users.

A UX Designer’s primary concern is how a product feels for the user, so the UX Designer will explore different options to solve user-specific pain points and provide them with a valuable solution. Ultimately, products with good UX are simple and user-friendly.

Why is UX Design Important?

Generally, a mobile app’s UX influences how users perceive it. Users often ask themselves if the app provides them value, if it’s easy to use, and if it will help them fulfill their goal. The answer to these questions should always be “yes”. The UX ultimately determines if a user will return to your app or if they will delete it altogether, and possibly giving it a poor rating.

According to designer Nick Babich, “The best products do two things well: features and details. Features are what draw people to your product. Details are what keep them there.”

What Makes a Great User Experience?

Successful mobile apps all have one thing in common: they benefit users. If a user is going to spend time on your app, it’s going to be useful to them, offering a great deal of value. A useful product meets a need that is not already being met in the market. To create an amazing UX, your research process must include a competitive analysis, developing personas, and then developing a minimum viable product, POC, or prototype to test feature validity or market viability.

Typically, research is the first step when deciding whether to build a mobile app. UX designers conduct a lot of this research that will either validate or invalidate initial product ideas and guide the development of the product.

It’s important to note that the UX encompasses much more than how a user feels about a product or service. It incorporates strategic aspects that involve a deep understanding of the business model and processes that clients use. It also involves understanding the larger context in which users interact and engage.

The ultimate UX incorporates these three things to create solutions that meet the needs of the client, users, and ultimately work within the bounds of the technological platforms.

Researching Your Users

An integral part of developing successful mobile apps is first conducting research on your potential users as well as competitor products and services. Before the development process, you need to get an understanding of how the UI and UX will work together to solve user pain points.

A typical UX process is as follows:

  1. Research and strategy
  2. User personas
  3. User stories, flows, and mapping
  4. Wireframes and prototyping
  5. Coordinate with UI Designers and developers

During the UX process, a pain point or need is identified. Then a rough prototype is created which is later validated (or invalidated) through testing. When both the business model and the unique value proposition have been validated the product is pushed into development.

Next is the design of the user interface, which refines the interactions by adding color and visual design to the original design. This gives the user the clues that they will need to successfully navigate through the app, such as registering as a new user, for example. In most cases, the UX will come before the UI. There are however some exceptions in which this is not the case.

Suggested Tools:

  • Sketch
  • Illustrator
  • InVision, Balsamiq
  • Axzure
  • Pen and Paper

User Experience is Not the Same as Usability

User experience and usability are often confused in the design community although these two fields are very different. As we covered earlier, the UX addresses how a user feels, while usability is about the user-friendliness and efficiency of the interface.

Usability however, plays a big part of the UX as it heavily impacts how a user navigates through the app. A successful mobile app is one where the usability of the app is both efficient and pleasant.

What is User Interface Design?

Contrary to popular belief, interface design isn’t just about buttons and navigation menus but about the interaction between the user and the app. Put simply, the UI design isn’t how a product looks, but how it works. Where will you place the buttons and call-to-actions for your users to easily understand the flow of the app? Does a particular interface even need buttons? If so, what do those buttons need to do? For a good user interface, you should provide your users with the right actions to take to figure out how the app works for the user to accomplish their goal.

“The goal of user interface design is to make the user’s interaction as simple and efficient as possible, in terms of accomplishing user goals (user-centered design).”

Why is UI Design Important?

UI designers are concerned with how the visual elements are laid out and how the product will look, which greatly influences an emotional connection with the user, whether negative or positive. There is still debate as to what sort of UI will translate into a positive UX for the product. While many people think a beautiful interface is needed, many arguments can be made for a simplistic UI.

What Makes a Great User Interface?

While the UX not as visible to the user, the interface design is the first thing they will see, therefore immediately influencing the user’s perception of the app right from the start. It is the responsibility of the UI Designer to enhance the brand within the interface. UI Design ultimately helps guide users through the interface using visual aids. Here are a few elements of a great UI:

  1. Clarity: The interface avoids confusion and ambiguity by making everything clear through language and visuals. Mobile apps with good UI usually don’t need manuals to show the user how the app works.
  2. Familiarity: Many users like to see familiar features, buttons, or call-to-actions. This includes commons symbols, icons, or colours, to convey a message such as red to exit out or delete. Even if someone uses an interface for the first time, certain elements can be familiar.

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