In the modern world, almost every business has an online presence. Whatever sector your company operates in, a professional-quality website is the minimum requirement if you want to attract customers or clients, promote your brand, and engage with the contemporary business environment.
Your website is like a billboard advertisement, a shop window, and the main portal through which users can access your product, all in one package. It’s likely that the first experience that potential customers have of your business or brand is through seeing your website. For this reason alone, it’s important that the site is immediately appealing, easy to use, and fit for purpose.
For an increasing number of businesses, however, their website is only the beginning of their engagement with digital media. They will likely have a social media presence across multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. They may also have a blog that is separate from their main website, and a proprietary app through which customers can order or engage with their products.
All of these digital platforms need to deliver a consistent message while also serving different functions. This is the responsibility of both the user interface (UI) designer and the individual or team responsible for the user experience (UX). UI and UX are equally essential in terms of attracting and retaining customers, and both need to be managed to the highest standard.
In some cases, business managers, CEOs, and even those in the design community can hold the opinion that UI is subordinate to UX. They may indeed think that UX is of such overriding importance that UI can be considered an afterthought.
There is also a widely held belief that if you get the UX design right, then the UI design will automatically come along with it. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. UI design needs to be carefully considered and applied in its own right and given priority when necessary.
This is not to downplay the importance of UX. Today’s online customers want to be able to easily access the services they require, and have a seamless journey through all stages of their engagement or transactions, across all possible devices. If websites are not optimized to deliver this, then the customers will swiftly look elsewhere for satisfaction.
However, when people are casually browsing the web, searching for a product or service, or trying to decide between multiple, outwardly similar providers within a particular sector, then it’s the UI that is the deciding factor. The UI design on your website is what initially differentiates it from the competition.
First impressions count
When a potential customer is still trying to choose a provider, they look at how the product is presented – that is, the UI. First impressions make a huge contribution towards attracting and retaining customers, which is why paying attention to UI design is so crucial.
Imagine a user clicking on your website for the first time. What do they see? Is it immediately apparent that it will be able to satisfy their requirements? Does the design promise an easy and intuitive journey? Is it clear what they need to do next to find the information or the product they’re looking for?
If the UI isn’t right, then the UX won’t happen. It doesn’t matter how well integrated the various functions of your website are if the customer is put off by the way that it looks. The customer’s response to the initial interface will decide whether they stay on your site or immediately look elsewhere.
The user decides
The true test of whether UI or UX design is successful is whether or not it appeals to the user. Designers may have their own opinions and tastes, and may be skilled, knowledgeable, and able to apply tried-and-tested rules to their project, but at the end of the day, the customer is the judge.
This is why both UI and UX designers need to cultivate profound insights into user behavior, in order to understand their target demographic as intimately as possible. Data-driven research and analysis will allow them to create targeted strategies that will vary according to the platform, while delivering a consistent message across all of them.
Being able to carry out focused research, analysis and rigorous testing are aspects of business intelligence and are the starting point for successful UI and UX design. Being able to present and read data effectively is also essential when trying to identify the needs and preferences of a demographic in order to create a prototype user interface.
Marymount University offers an online Doctorate of Business Administration (DOBA) in Business Intelligence that includes the skills and knowledge necessary for effective data visualization. Over a minimum of three years, students work with artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge tools to develop appropriate, business-focused data strategies and learn a full range of essential business intelligence skills.
Search engine optimization
Both UI and UX can greatly influence a website’s search engine rankings. Search engine optimization (SEO) was once thought to be merely a matter of employing the right keywords, but Google’s ever-changing algorithms are now more sophisticated and use less easily manipulated factors to determine rankings.
The amount of time it takes for a page to load and become accessible, the average amount of time a visitor spends on a site, navigation behavior, and many other qualities are all considered in Google’s efforts to ensure that the best and most appropriate websites come first in search results. The way that these processes are optimized for best results is through first-rate UI and UX design.
Both UI and UX design should focus on user habits and satisfaction in order to improve both the product and the brand’s reputation. Essentially, good website design is about making complex information appear simple, guiding the user effortlessly through every stage of their journey. Positive feedback from users on their experience will further boost SEO, while negative feedback will have the opposite effect.
The difference between UX and UI
If UX is about how a website or other digital commodity works, then UI is about how it looks. Some people say that if UX is a process, and as such is more conceptual, then UI is a deliverable, in that it is a tangible product. UX deals with the architecture of a site, while UI focuses on information and motion design, branding, and storytelling. UI is about form, while UX is about function.
Of course, all of these definitions are to a degree simplifications. There is no fixed point where UI ends and UX begins, and it’s no wonder that the two are so often conflated. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re interchangeable.
Vital to success
Good UI and UX are vital to the success of any business. However, if the UI isn’t fit for purpose, then the UX is also redundant. You might be able to offer users the best-designed, most stress-free, and frictionless journey through the buying process ever devised, but if the initial interface isn’t pleasing, then they will never get to that point. Bad UI makes good UX irrelevant.
If the UI is effective, then it encourages your customers to engage with your app, website, or social media page. If it is poorly designed, then it will make them turn away and not come back. Good UI improves sales by creating customer loyalty and an increased return on investment (ROI).
UI and UX work together, flowing into one another in the design process. The purpose of UX is to prioritize customer satisfaction, improving the overall experience so that they can easily do what they came to do.
The UX designer will start with a skeleton structure for the site and basic wireframing. All the functions of the site will be naturally enabled within this so that the site is easy to use. The UI designer will take this and translate it into an inviting and brand-appropriate interface, combining innovation and aesthetics with function and familiarity.
All visual elements
UI design determines how an interface looks and feels to a user, as opposed to UX, which is concerned with how a user interacts with that interface. What is seen on the screen, including all visual elements, branding, instructions, buttons, and clickable images or phrases, is the responsibility of the UI designer.
If the UI is designed well, then the user should immediately grasp the layout of the site and understand how to navigate it. The landing page should be indicative of the content within, and it should be clear how to proceed to get to what they want. Nothing should be confusing or irritating. On the contrary, the site should implicitly promise a pleasant, easy experience, making the user want to stay and explore.
The advantages of excellent UI
It’s estimated that a well-designed UI can increase conversion rates by up to 200%. People have an average attention span of just over eight seconds, so the UI has to grab them immediately. Initial responses are instinctive, rather than thought out. If you have to explain to a user why the landing page looks the way that it does, then the UI isn’t doing its job. Users should ‘get it’ immediately.
Having your UI in place as soon as possible can save time and money as you don’t have to keep redesigning and relaunching the site. While the occasional refresh is desirable, making major changes to the look of a site once it’s up and running is likely to confuse and unsettle your users. It’s therefore worth taking the time to get it right before going live.
A strong UI makes your brand look good and can be used to build brand identity through branded colors, typography, logos, patterns, and so on. As users’ first point of contact with your brand, the initial interface to a large extent defines your identity. Use UI to send a strong message about your brand, its values, and the quality of service it offers.
Branding should be consistent across all platforms, and again, this is achieved through UI design. Taken as a whole, the UI design on your digital media will help you to build a solid online reputation.
Understand your users
Improved UI means better user retention. Increased traffic means increased sales and better search rankings, but the longer that users stay on your website, the better you can analyze their choices and decisions in order to find out what makes them tick.
The longer you can engage your users, the better you’ll be able to understand them. This kind of direct market research is invaluable, as it allows you to tailor the UX to your customers’ needs and behavior.
What is the UI?
The UI is the element of a website or app that you interact with. For instance, if you have a form to fill in, then the UI consists of the text box, the drop-down menu, the send button, and so on.
UIs come in three main formats, the most common of which is a graphical user interface (GUI). An example is a website menu or landing page. When people talk about UI, this is what they usually mean.
Voice user interfaces (VUIs) are also becoming more standard as technology improves. This is when the user interacts with a device by employing their voice. Proprietary examples include Alexa, Siri, and Cortana.
Finally, we might also talk about gesture-based interfaces. This is when a user engages with 3D design through bodily motions. At present, this kind of UI is mostly found in gaming or VR and AR-based apps.
A complex process
The job of UI design is to present a streamlined solution to online navigation, but UI is more involved and complex than it might initially seem. The designer must anticipate user preferences and then create an interface that understands and fulfills these, sometimes before the user is even consciously aware of what they want themselves.
The UI must be aesthetically pleasing, but also responsive, accessible, and effective. It should present a seamless blend of visual design and information architecture that doesn’t compromise on function or content.
Understanding information architecture
Information architecture covers the structure, organization, and labeling of the website contents so that this content is easily accessible. Navigation components, input controls, and other information components should all be consistent, concise, and predictable.
The bottom line is that most users are not actively concerned about the look and design of a site as long as it can be understood and used with minimal effort. To a degree, then, UI design should be invisible and not distract from the customer journey. At the same time, however, it should quietly make the experience more enjoyable and convey the sense of a trustworthy, professional brand.
What makes good UI design?
Strong UI design should balance innovation with familiarity. If the design is too radically disruptive, then users will be confused, even frightened, and may be put off engaging with the site or app.
With any device or product, users have an expectation of how it should look or work, and this understanding enables them to use it more easily. If a device comes along that confounds these expectations and looks wrong, then it is more difficult to use, even if the new design should, in theory, make it easier.
Form follows function
Innovation needs to be gradual and in the service of the user. Always remember that form follows function and that users should feel comfortable and welcomed, not challenged. Put the user first and see how the interface looks and works from their point of view.
UI should give users constant feedback, validating their choices and actions, while keeping them focused on the next step in their journey. It should also respectfully point out any errors they have made so that these can be corrected. However, the user should always feel like they are in control.
It’s also essential that UI respects users’ time. It should let them achieve their objectives with the minimum of actions and without having to pause to work out what to do next.
The UI is where the interactions between humans and machines happen. Attention to detail is important in a hugely competitive digital ecosystem, not just to attract customers but also to retain them. Creative UI will help to build brand identity and enable you to stand out from the crowd, but it should also meet standard user expectations.
If the UI doesn’t do its job, then the UX doesn’t matter. The UI is where your customers decide whether they are going to proceed with your site and your business or not. As such, it is essential that you get it right and present a consistent message across all of your digital offerings.