As humankind continues to shape digital technologies to behave as an extension of their own almost instinctual thought processes, designing user interfaces has morphed from being perceived as a scientific process filled with linear pathways, to a more creative and perhaps even intuitive, multi-dimensional art form in its own right.
Admittedly, not all UX designers will readily refer to UI or UX design as an ‘art form’, particularly because there is a fair amount of behavioral psychology that goes into producing intuitive user interfaces.
Even so, there’s no denying that this branch of technological design requires just as much imagination and ‘outside-the-box’ thinking as it does require critical thought.
But how does UX differ from UI, and is it right to label either avenue as more technical or artistic as the other? We’ll be taking a closer look at these two interlinking disciplines in order to help Aussie students learn how best to hit the ground running when starting a career in either UX or UI design.
The role of the UX designer
While user interface design is isolated to creating two-dimensional or purely digital products, UX (or ‘user experience’) can involve developing both physical and digital creations.
Regardless of whether you’re building a physical product or digital interface, UX design projects are naturally concerned with maintaining a user-centric or ‘human-first approach’ to the design process.
This user-oriented process is what enables UX designers to produce structural design solutions that actively cater to user needs and address common user pain points that were observed in past implementations.
Simply put, it is the responsibility of the UX designer to use design theories in accordance with historical data and findings from user testing and prototyping to create the best possible technological solution to fulfill a set of defined user needs.
The preliminary stages of any UX design project will always involve the process of UX mapping. The nature of UX mapping generally requires user experience designers to also be good spatial thinkers, with an ability to map out and follow a wide selection of ‘pathways’.
As UX design also often involves connecting pre-existing pathways up to sections of an interface that’s still being developed, UX designers are also expected to think in the abstract on a regular basis.
If you possess the skills we’ve outlined above and hold a passion for the technical side of the design process, chances are you may just have what it takes to be a talented UX designer.
Dabbling in UI design & development
But what if you’re more passionate about the aesthetics of interactive elements over the formatting and functionality of those elements? Well then you’re likely to be more aligned with UI design over the highly technical process of UX design.
UI (or ‘user interface’) design is the yin to UX’s yang. The two processes work together in order for user interfaces to be highly user-friendly, both with regards to their structure and their presentation.
That being said, UI design does entail so much more than just fine-tuning color palettes. There are also elements of strategy behind good user interface design, with UI designers also tasked with pinpointing where best to include visual elements to enhance or draw user attention to specific functions.
For instance, mobile apps with swiping mechanics are likely to include a small animation to denote to users that they can swipe between pages. But what happens when a user swipes to the ‘end’ of a swipe side menu?
And what about what happens when users interact incorrectly with other navigational styles? UI designers are actually the ones who decide here. All the animations or small responsive actions created by your interactions with an app are likely to have been created by UI designers.
As UI designers are concerned with designing a user interface’s intuitive responses, typography, button design, imagery, and all other visual elements, UI design is generally considered to be a more ‘right-brained’ approach to digital design.
And whilst UI design is arguably less technical than UX, this design discipline still possesses its fair share of theory, including explorations within the realm of behavioral psychology.
The art of problem solving in UX/UI design
Believe it or not, but the way we interact with our digital interfaces says more about the human brain than it does our collective design thinking capabilities.
UX and UI design principles were actually developed to revolve around user behavior over user expectations, which is precisely why some user interfaces can feel like an extension of your mind and thought processes.
The whole mechanism of swiping down to move down a screen and vice versa is in itself, a natural response that the majority of human brains are likely to have.
Alongside this, designing in accordance with behavioral theories can also inspire users to perform certain actions both within and surrounding a user interface. A great example here is an app using emotive language or imagery to elicit a sympathetic response from users, or sending notifications with rhetorical questions or calls to action to inspire user engagement.
This is precisely the reason why many UX and UI designers believe that the process of interface design is far more scientific than it is artistic. And to be fair, they aren’t wrong here either.
Even so, there is a level of undeniable artistry in the way that both UX and UI designers go about solving user problems. Finding the most novel and still intuitive pathways in order to fulfill a user need or inspire a desired user interaction requires creative thinking just as much as it does critical thinking, which is why UX and UI design still fall under the umbrella of digital design rather than ‘development’.
How to get started in UX & UI
If human-first approaches to design sounds like a fascinating area of study for you, then we highly encourage you to enroll in a UX or UI design course. There are an abundance of UI/UX courses available to students who are eager to learn, including both on-campus and online programs.
Alongside enrolling in tertiary courses, students can also take full advantage of all the physical and digital learning resources available to them.
There are a growing number of UX design blogs, digital magazines, and online forums that can be accessed anywhere in the world so that students can engage in self-study alongside seeking academic and professional opportunities.
As user interface and experience design are both fairly young disciplines that are growing rapidly alongside the digital transformation of global industries, there truly has never been a better time than now to start picking up these highly employable and highly ‘future-proof multidisciplinary skills.