UX stands for user experience and can be broadly defined as the overall experience a person has of using a digital product or service. By extension, user experience design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving their experience.

Many components go into mobile UX design, including user research, information architecture, interaction design and of course different aspects of the visual design itself. In general, products with great user experience are able to cater to the exact needs of the user in a clear and simple manner, while also being elegantly designed and pleasing to use.

What is the difference between UI and UX design?

The Differences

UI design refers specifically to the design of the user interface of the product. In mobile apps, the user interface is what the user sees and interacts with on the screen. It includes the layout of the application, the shape and size of the screen elements, the colours and fonts used, the transitions between different states and screens and the various subtle (or not so subtle) animations that help bring the product to life. In other words, it is what people traditionally think of when they think of the design of the product.

In terms of how UI and UX design compare, as mentioned above, mobile UX refers to the user’s experience as a whole, some of which is absolutely determined by the quality of the user interface – a compelling visual design plays an important part in improving the overall experience. However, it is far from the only thing that determines what someone’s experience with a digital product is; there are multiple factors in play, many of which can seem out of a designer’s control. UI and UX are both necessary components of a cohesive whole that creates a successful mobile product.

A user’s experience is as affected by the structure and navigational flow of the application as it is by the app’s performance and speed, their own internet connection, the time and place where they use the app, their mood on that particular day, and their prior experiences and preconceived notions of how the product should work.

Factors Specific to the ProductFactors Specific to the User
A sensible structure and seamless flowThe performance and speed of the user’s device
A clean and beautiful visual designThe performance and speed of the user’s internet connection
Helpful microcopy with an appropriate tone of voiceHow intuitive and valuable the product is to the specific user
Transitions and animations that are both useful and delightfulThe social and cultural context of the specific user
The performance and speed of the productThe user’s specific location and mood
The accessibility of the productThe user’s experiences and expectations

It is tempting to think of UI and UX design as two separate disciplines, with one being responsible for making the flow and function of the product seamless, and the other being responsible for making it look beautiful. However, that does not take into account the huge amount of mobile UX prototyping and work that is done during the interface design. Animations are often used to help explain functionality, and it is common practice to use the colour red to denote destructive actions; both of which are done to make the product more usable.

So, is mobile UX design the same as usability?

Designing Mobile

The short answer is no, UX design and usability are not the same. However, usability is one of the cornerstones of user experience design and is one of the most well-established and impactful aspects of the discipline. A product that is not usable is most likely going to result in the user having a terrible experience.

However, there are notable examples where a decision that technically leads to decreased usability actually becomes an important part of the user experience. A good example of this is the existence of friction. In a mobile user experience, friction is defined as “interactions that inhibit people from intuitively and painlessly achieving their goals within a digital interface”, and is generally regarded as a bad thing. Many decisions made throughout the design process are made in order to minimise friction.

In contrast, the experience of purchasing furniture from IKEA is filled with nothing but friction. IKEA forces their visitors to walk through the entire building to reach the checkout because they are only provided with one path between entrance and exit. Not only are they asked to note the shelf and location of any piece of furniture they wish to buy, but they have to collect the flatpack from the warehouse themselves, transport it from the store to their home and then assemble it all using limited instructions featuring only pictorials and no text.

Given the above, IKEA’s approach to their customer experience contradicts almost everything we know about expert UX design; it’s not clear, it’s not simple, it’s not elegant and it’s often more stressful than pleasing. Yet IKEA’s global presence demonstrates that their system is in fact based on a profound understanding of human psychology. As it turns out, it is deeply satisfying to us as human beings to feel a sense of accomplishment, and that satisfaction is amplified if the task in question is challenging. In other words, making it too easy for your users to reach their end goal may end up robbing them of the sense of achievement that helps build their self-esteem, and by extension their relationship with your product.

IKEA might be an example of a real-world in-store experience rather than a mobile one, but in the realm of digital products, great UX design agencies and architects take the same holistic view of the user’s experience and consider things that are happening both on the screen and outside of the screen when making decisions about the product design. As described above, it may be that things that break the “rules” of UI design or usability actually make sense when considering the full context in which users interact with the product.

Why is working with an expert UI/UX design agency important?

Expert Design

A common misunderstanding is that mobile UX design is a single phase in a project or an additional deliverable that can be added to a product at a later date to improve its quality. However, as described above, this is not the case.

After all, there is no such thing as a product without a user experience – the user experience may simply differ in quality depending on how much time was spent on it. Working with experts in a user experience agency or others qualified in UX design is important because it ensures that throughout the process of UX prototyping, the product is planned, designed and developed in a manner that maximises the user’s satisfaction, and thus the likelihood that they will return to the product over and over again.

In other words, it is the job of a UX architect and/or user experience consultant to be a champion for the end user; to ensure that their experience forms the basis of decisions throughout the whole design and development process. A UX expert at a UI/UX design agency provides the users’ perspective on everything from which features to include, how to present them, and how to build them.

It is this user-centric design that is behind the digital products we simply can’t get enough of. In other words, not even one app should be developed without a UX architect’s expertise.

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