UX and UI design are often lumped together when discussing application development. They are closely related, but are two separate pieces of the application design process. Neither should be ignored.
Proper UX and UI design makes applications more successful, and better received by users. That helps you meet your business goals, because users are your market. UX and UI design also reduce costs and save time, among other benefits.
In this post, we break down the difference between UX and UI design and how they work together. We also discuss why they are an important part of the application development process, and how you can perform UX and UI design properly.
The difference between UX and UI design
UX (User Experience) design focuses on the usability and accessibility of your application. The goal is to optimize the user experience.
UX design looks at ease of use, the perceived value of the application (what will the user get out of it and why will they want to use it?), and efficiencies in performing tasks. This covers all aspects of the application.
UI (User Interface) design is all about the visual display. It focuses on usability, but from a graphic design angle. UI design decides what buttons and icons should look like, and which colors and fonts should be used. The work must be done in a way that supports efficiency and usability, just like UX design.
UX and UI design impact each other. A poor UI design choice—such as using a bright color in one section of an application, which draws a user’s attention away from the desired path—has a negative impact on user experience.
Both UX and UI design are user-centric. You must design for the end user rather than just making something that works from your own perspective. Your goal should be to get the user from point A to point B in the simplest, quickest, most efficient way.
So which comes first—UX or UI design? The answer is UX design.
You must first understand what you’re building and why you’re building it. What problem does your application solve? UX design answers this question.
You may start with a simple pencil and paper sketch of workflows to map out possible user experiences. UI design naturally begins to happen as you get deeper into the UX design. The UX design may determine where certain buttons and other items should be located, crossing the line into UI design, but at a low fidelity.
The UI design does not get polished until the UX design has been completed for that phase of the project. Too many changes occur during the UX design process, so it is a waste of time and resources to go too deeply into UI design early on.
Why UX and UI design are important in application development
There are five reasons why UX and UI design are important in application development.
An application that works is great. But if it is not user-friendly, people are not likely to use it (or keep using it). Time spent upfront on UX and UI design ensures your application is built in a way that will attract and retain users.
2. Lower costs
Identifying potential problems and roadblocks in the user experience before development saves you from having to rewrite code. User experience design can often find potential problems from simple paper sketching. This is a much cheaper alternative than having to fix code for functionality that just doesn’t work well.
3. Faster development time
Good UX and UI design saves time in the development cycle. Mockups and prototypes iron out issues before lengthy development time has been spent. You stay on track with your release date as you’re less likely to have to go back and redo development work.
4. More revenue
People are more likely to pay for something that fits into their workflow well and is easy to use. Taking time for UX and UI design increases the chances that your application will be well-received and worth purchasing and/or downloading.
5. Better customer retention
Deploying an application with a poor user experience leaves a lasting impression. You should identify and solve problems before deployment so your first impression is a good one.
A user-friendly application keeps people coming back. Your application becomes a part of their everyday process. New users will be drawn to your application as it becomes known for its usability.
How to improve the UX and UI of applications
Ask any application designer, and most of them will tell you there is more than one way to go about UX and UI design, because a lot of it depends on the type of application you’re building and its purpose.
That said, there is a recommended overall workflow to follow for any quality UX and UI design process:
Define what it is you want to build and why. What is the problem you want to solve?
Research current users if you’re doing work on an existing application. User interviews (via phone, video, or in-person) are a great resource. It is recommended to record the interviews. The purpose is to help develop user personas and identify a clear understanding of what the user wants to get out of the application.
Then conduct user testing. Test the application with users to identify pain points or roadblocks. Record these sessions and capture screenshots while the user walks through the application and makes comments. This uncovers issues with the application that need to be addressed.
Reach out to potential users if you’re designing a new application,. Surveys of potential users are a way to gather information after you have conducted interviews.
Research other applications in the same space to see what features they offer and what users are saying about them. Documenting your findings can be done in something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet. It is still important to capture the information so you have a good view of the landscape. Analyze current players to see how their applications could be improved.
Define what success will look like for your application. This can be tied to a number of metrics, ranging from number of active users to how much time they spend in the application. Find something that you can track so you can measure how well you’re doing and if you need to change course.
Create low fidelity mockups of the application. These simple mockups show how the application will work.
The mockups should be reviewed and discussed among the entire team, including developers. There may be requirements for some applications or platforms, and it may very well be a developer (not a designer) who is able to point out issues that need to be resolved. Do not keep UX and UI design as a separate process.
Wireframes can be followed up with a medium or high fidelity mockup so more of the UI design can be flushed out.
Build a prototype to get a true look and feel of the application. This can be done at varying levels of depth. You can create low-fidelity prototypes for testing earlier in the design process, and you can create higher fidelity prototypes later on to get a better sense of the finished product.
This step is very important in the design process. Prototyping is usually where it all “clicks,” when all the pieces come together. The application is now a working prototype. Final decisions on UX and UI design can be made based on interaction with the prototype.
Prototypes are also ideal for user testing. This can be done very quickly, and it gives you a chance to see how real users interact with the application.
Even when you think you have built a great application, everything changes when it gets into the hands of the users. Do not wait until deployment for this invaluable feedback.
It’s an iterative process
UX and UI design continue throughout the development lifecycle. Your application changes as features are added or removed. You need to make sure each new feature and version keeps the user in mind.
The process may seem complex, but many of these steps can be done quickly, and ultimately save a lot of time and money during the application development phase.
Get the right skills and expertise
Good UX and UI design is all about teamwork. Design must be incorporated into the software development lifecycle. It cannot happen in a vacuum.
AVI takes a team approach when we work with clients. Our teams are composed of experts in all areas of the application design and development process. Some of our developers make some of the best contributions to UX and UI design, even though they are not trained as designers. This is a testament to their level of skill and expertise.
Our user experience experts understand what makes an application enjoyable, productive, and hassle-free. Make sure you have the right team working on your application, covering the full spectrum from design through development and deployment.
UX and UI design are the first steps to creating an application that gets used again and again. A little extra time up front can save you the time, money, and embarrassment of fixing poor design and functionality during development or in production.