UX vs. UI
We, as designers (and as human beings), are obsessed with how things look. We know that it’s “what’s on the inside that counts,” but we still parade ourselves in front of the mirror every morning, trying to look nice for the random strangers we’ll never see again.
UI design is no different. We want our user interfaces to be aesthetically pleasing, and whether we admit it or not, we like our work to be admired and validated. Since things that are visually appealing turn more heads, this can lead some designers to dedicate more time to how an interface looks, rather than how it works. The key difference between UI and UX is that the UI is how it looks, and the UX is how it works.
By definition from the Nielsen Norman Group, “‘User experience’ encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
Calling yourself a UI designer is pretty much the same as saying, “I’m more focused on how it looks.” In reality, the user interface is only one contribution to the user experience. There are many other factors beyond the UI that contribute to the overall user experience.
To name a few:
Does the user flow help the user achieve their objective quickly?
Can any user, regardless of age or physical capability, access the UI?
Is the usability good enough that the user can use the website easily?
Are design decisions being driven by solid data and user research?
Is the application intuitive enough to guess what the user wants?
Visual design still matters. Colors still matter, branding still matters, and how the UI animates when the user interacts with it still matters, but when we begin making design decisions based on how something looks, we’re no longer designing for users.
In fact, we’re not even designing. We’re making art.
As a rule, the UI is how you interact with a product (e.g., clicks, taps, and voice interactions) and the UX is the resulting opinion/emotion felt by the user (e.g., it’s fast/slow, intuitive/confusing, and/or makes the user feel happy/frustrated).
Why You Shouldn’t “Design for Likes”
Social media is addictive. Why it’s addictive is a whole other story—bottom line, it is. People share things on social media for “likes” because, in short, it activates the reward system in our brain. We seek validation from others in the form of likes and followers much as we seek sex or food—it feels nice, and as the feeling starts to fade, we quickly seek it again to fulfil our desires. The average person spends almost 2 hours per day on social media.
Enter Dribbble, or rather, what’s known as “the Dribbble effect.”
Dribbble started off as a “show and tell” website for designers, but it quickly became known as a way to show off design work for likes rather than constructive feedback. This led to designers uploading work specifically for likes, and this fad didn’t end there.
As with all addictions, designers started to find more ways to feed it, including making up fake clients and app concepts just to have something that Dribbblers could “like.”
What’s Wrong with That?
Design is about solving problems that users face. If we’re not designing with a user in mind, then there is no problem to be solved. If there is no problem, then we’re just visualizing UIs for the sake of it. Not only will we end up with something impractical, but designing for imaginary ideals won’t help us improve as a designer.
Let’s take a look at some design disasters on Dribbble.
Even though this first example doesn’t form a real design brief/client, and the over-the-top background somewhat takes away from the design itself, what makes this even more unrealistic is that the visual elements extend beyond the viewport, like a kind of “breaking the fourth” wall effect. While the design aims to be “pretty,” it’s not a design that works.