Full Course: Ul/UX Design

What is UX?

How can I get into UX?

What does the day-to-day involve?

I get asked these questions a lot.

What is UX?

How can I get into UX?

What does the day-to-day involve?

I get asked these questions a lot.

Many people, even designers, don’t really have a clue what UX actually means. They think it’s some kind of handy-wavy fu that consultants palm people off with. Meanwhile, real UX design is in high demand. What’s all the fuss about? 

U Friggin’ X

UX is such an annoying buzzword (UX = ‘User Experience’). It’s a tiny acronym for a huge area, but many companies only use it in a very narrow way. It’s often used to mean something like an “Interaction Designer”, who works on the details of how people interact with an interface.

But this diminishes User Experience Design. UX design proper should include the bigger picture:

How does this particular app or feature fit into the bigger picture of what you’re trying to achieve with your project?

UX design has been around for a while now, and it has predecessors in industrial design, user-centered design, and human-computer interface design. 

For instance: many of the lessons learned in designing and testing a physical ticketing machine might apply well to designing a touch-screen version. Similarly, if you had previously designed layouts for a library card system, you’d have very useful insights into designing a digital equivalent.

However, though it does have precedents in a variety of disciplines, UX design is not just the ‘function’ behind the visual ‘form’. It’s thinking through the entire experience a user might have — every encounter they might have with your product or service, and finding ways to improve the entire structure. Depending on what you’re working on, it may well go beyond the screen, into physical goods, services, interactions, and products — even relationships between people.

What is User Interface Design?

User interface (UI) design is the process designers use to build interfaces in software or computerized devices, focusing on looks or style. Designers aim to create interfaces that users find easy to use and pleasurable. UI design refers to graphical user interfaces and other forms—e.g., voice-controlled interfaces. 

Designing User Interfaces for Users

User interfaces are the access points where users interact with designs. They come in three formats:

  1. Graphical user interfaces (GUIs)—Users interact with visual representations on digital control panels. A computer’s desktop is a GUI.
  2. Voice-controlled interfaces (VUIs)—Users interact with these through their voices. Most smart assistants—e.g., Siri on iPhone and Alexa on Amazon devices—are VUIs.
  3. Gesture-based interfaces—Users engage with 3D design spaces through bodily motions: e.g., in virtual reality (VR) games.

To design UIs best, you should consider:

  • Users judge designs quickly and care about usability and likeability.
    • They don’t care about your design, but about getting their tasks done easily and with minimum effort.
    • Your design should therefore be “invisible”: Users shouldn’t focus on it but on completing tasks: e.g., ordering pizza on Domino’s Zero Click app.
    • So, understand your users’ contexts and task flows (which you can find from, e.g., customer journey maps), to fine-tune the best, most intuitive UIs that deliver seamless experiences.
  • UIs should also be enjoyable (or at least satisfying and frustration-free).
    • When your design predicts users’ needs, they can enjoy more personalized and immersive experiences. Delight them, and they’ll keep returning.
    • Where appropriate, elements of gamification can make your design more fun.
  • UIs should communicate brand values and reinforce users’ trust.
    • Good design is emotional design. Users associate good feelings with brands that speak to them at all levels and keep the magic of pleasurable, seamless experiences alive.

UI vs User Experience (UX) Design

Often confused with UX design, UI design is more concerned with the surface and overall feel of a design. UI design is a craft where you the designer build an essential part of the user experience. UX design covers the entire spectrum of the user experience. One analogy is to picture UX design as a car with UI design as the driving console.

Interfaces get in the way. I don’t want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job.”

How to make Great UIs

To deliver impressive GUIs, remember—users are humans, with needs such as comfort and a limit on their mental capacities. You should follow these guidelines:

  1. Make buttons and other common elements perform predictably (including responses such as pinch-to-zoom) so users can unconsciously use them everywhere. The form should follow the function.
  2. Maintain high discoverability. Clearly label icons and include well-indicated affordances: e.g., shadows for buttons.
  3. Keep interfaces simple (with only elements that help serve users’ purposes) and create an “invisible” feel.
  4. Respect the user’s eye and attention regarding layout. Focus on hierarchy and readability:
    1. Use proper alignment. Typically choose edge (over center) alignment.
    2. Draw attention to key features using:
      • Color, brightness, and contrast. Avoid including colors or buttons excessively.
      • Text via font sizes, bold type/weighting, italics, capitals, and distance between letters. Users should pick up meanings just by scanning.
  5. Minimize the number of actions for performing tasks but focus on one chief function per page. Guide users by indicating preferred actions. Ease complex tasks by using progressive disclosure.
  6. Put controls near objects that users want to control. For example, a button to submit a form should be near the form.
  7. Keep users informed regarding system responses/actions with feedback.
  8. Use appropriate UI design patterns to help guide users and reduce burdens (e.g., pre-fill forms). Beware of using dark patterns, which include hard-to-see prefilled opt-in/opt-out checkboxes and sneaking items into users’ carts.
  9. Maintain brand consistency.
  10. Always provide next steps which users can deduce naturally, whatever their context.