UI / UX : An in-depth understanding

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What is UI / UX?

User Interface (UI) in a layman definition refers to the visual elements, like, screens, pages, buttons, icons, typography, etc. which enables the user to interact with a product or service.

User Experience (UX) on the other hand deals with the interaction process of how the user interacts with the product or service.

At the basic level, we can say that UI is more inclined towards graphical elements whereas UX is a more sophisticated analytical as well as technical field.

Let us take go through the following example to understand more about UI / UX.

Every one of us has used E-Commerce Applications, like Flipkart, Amazon, etc. where we visit the website, add some items to cart, then for purchasing those items either we signup or login and finally putting our payment and delivery details for placing the order.

In the above example, if we go through the flow of purchasing items, it is the responsibility of UX whereas what font should be there, what images should be shown, text size etc. is the responsibility of UI.

In simple terms, UI is what to show and UX is what, why and how to show and how to interact with the users and how the users interact with the product or service. By UX, we try to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty towards the product or service.

A brief history of UI / UX

It all got started with Batch Computing which had speed compared to modern microwaves. The user interface in Batch Computers had no user interaction in real-time. It was done using punch cards only. At that time, designing complicated user interfaces were considered un-necessary as the objective of designing software was to utilize the processor to it’s maximum.

Batch Computer

But then came CLIs (Command Line Interfaces) into the picture which increased the user interaction to be more inclined towards real-time as compared to Batch Computers and also effectively reduced the latency to seconds by using a series of request-response mechanism.

Command Line Interface

In spite of getting a real-time response, the problem was that for a computer to work, users needed to do an infinite amount of coding to perform simple tasks. As the solution to this problem, in the late 1970s, the first Graphical User Interface (GUI) was developed at Xerox PARC which started a new era of Graphical User Interfaces and led us to the modern User Interface Designs which we have now. This ground-breaking innovation allowed users to interact with the usage of icons, buttons, menus, etc.

Xerox PARC

By the development of Xerox PARC, it became clear that having a digital user interface along with pointer systems, like a mouse can allow a compelling User Experience which led the others in the computer-science community to be a part of GUI race out of which many were also successful, like Apple Lisa Office System 1, VisiCorp Visi On and Mac OS System 1.

The decade of 1990 saw many changes in GUIs where companies started releasing features such as colors, higher resolution displays, better processing power and then came Windows 95 which had some great features, such as, overlapping windows, resize button, close button, START button (now windows logo).

Windows 95

The early 2000s had Mac OS X released which till now continues to be the basis for Mac OS operating systems which is the biggest example of keeping consistent GUI foundations.

Mac OS X

Towards the end of the 2000s, UI designs started to change at a much faster pace due to the rise of smartphones. The shift in computing hardware led the designers to rethink designs from scratch now.


What is UX?

User Experience evolved by regularly improving User Interfaces. When there is something for the user to interact, then based on the positive or negative feedback, iterations are done and features are evolved.

User Experience involves all aspects of the end user’s interaction with company, it’s services and products.

In the field of UX, usability honeycomb by Peter Morville has become the foundation for best practices for UX professionals. It helps in guiding the efforts across multiple points with the user, including:

  • How the user will discover the company’s product.
  • The sequence of actions the user will take as he interacts with the interface.
  • The thoughts and feelings that arise as the user try to accomplish the task.
  • The impressions a user takes away from the interaction as a whole.
Usability Honeycomb

UX professionals are responsible for ensuring that the company delivers a product or a service as per the customer needs and allows them to seamlessly achieve their desired outcome.

UX professionals work in close relation to UI designers, UI developers, UX researchers, marketers, and product teams through research and experimentation with their users. They use the insights to continually iterate and improve the user experience based on the qualitative and quantitative approaches.

Even though the User Interface (UI) is an extremely important part of the design but it is very important to know that Total User Experience is something which is different from UI

There are of course some good and some bad UX practices also which we will be covering at some other time.

What do you think?

As UX is evolving very fast at corporate levels, it is very common that both terms, UI and UX are mixed up or used interchangeably.

What do you think is the difference between UI and UX? Share your thoughts with us.

Written by 

Gautam is working as Lead Consultant at Knoldus Inc and have an experience of 10+ years. He is into UI/UX Technologies and is a tech enthusiast. He likes working on different domains / products and keen to learn new technologies. He constantly thrives to improve the UI/UX Processes and Designs Architectures. In free time, he likes to go for a car drive or a walk and likes swimming as well as adventure activities.

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