UX and UI designers – the new matchmakers
User experience and user interface designers play matchmaker, bringing an organization and their audience together.
As I outlined in User Experience Design is All Around Us, UX design is a blend of cultural anthropology and information design. It overlaps considerably with user interface (UI) design because the interface, whether it’s a website, an app or an interactive kiosk, is where the user/customer typically experiences the product or organization.
But UX design is not synonymous with UI design. Rather, UI design is typically the distilled outcome of a lot of prior work done in UX design.
UX designers are strategists who meld the client’s brand values and mission with the needs, desires, expectations and limitations of their target audiences. UX designers do deep research to understand their client’s goals and their audiences – the people who will be the users of the interface. Research methods include focus groups, interviews, surveys, personas, card-sort testing and more. UX designers also develop the website’s entire information architecture (in some cases, this task might be the domain of an Information Architecture specialist) and map out the site in wireframe form to account for content distribution and to map users’ workflow during typical tasks.
UI designers use that same research to build elegant, efficient and on-brand interfaces that serve the needs of users and guide their behaviors. As a result, the users get to experience the client’s organization, product or business in the most effective ways.
Both UX and UI designers are designing for behavior and usefulness, and are always thinking about the relationship between the client and their audience. The end goal is to build an interface that effectively connects the two. In this sense, UX and UI designers are “relationship engineers.” But lest that sound manipulative, it’s good to remember that UX design is extraordinarily human-centered and that each project starts with a great deal of listening to the user. A good UX designer never imposes ideas on the user. Rather, the user experiences an interface borne out of research from them: their needs, desires, expectations, and limitations.
In each interactive project, UX designers must thoroughly consider elements such as hierarchy of information, consistent wayfinding, clear indicators of interactivity, clear instructions that match the knowledge level of the users, anticipation and prevention of user errors, explicit and friendly feedback, readability, appropriate redundancy, thoughtful use of visual conventions, reliance on recognition rather than recall, and reference to existing mental models. The UI designer pulls the interface into a harmonious visual whole, allowing elegant aesthetics to support all these elements along with the visual brand of the client.
Navigating a website should feel transparent and easy, and the experience should be pleasant. The best websites help the user feel smart and in control. This encourages them to make more effective and more generous decisions, such as signing up for a newsletter, completing their profile, downloading a report, making a donation, purchasing a product and so on. In turn, these actions connect the user with the company or organization’s brand.
A well-designed website shouldn’t feel like an obstacle course. It should feel like a safe, reliable place where the user trusts they will be able to complete their tasks efficiently. And when UX and UI work in harmony, the matchmaking between client and audience is natural, effortless and real. The way all strong relationships should feel.