Have you ever watched "Dune" or "Blade Runner 2049"? The visual aspects of these movies are pretty impressive - photos, colour pallet and even costumes. But having all of this doesn't mean that you will create a good movie, a movie that will make a profit for a film company. You need to have good actors who will create believable characters, memorable music, a great scenario, meaningful dialogues and exciting editing. All of these elements must work together to create a fantastic experience. And what is more, those films (like any others) aren't for everyone. Specific people with a specific taste will be satisfied.
Similarly, just like the movie industry, IT and product development have their own rules and standards to follow. When we are working on a specific product, every element must work well to satisfy our customers. They are going to be the end-users of our application (or a website) so it is crucial for the project to focus on satisfying their needs and accurately addressing possible issues. Your customers will decide if your product is valuable to them.
Unfortunately, very often we can observe that both the visual side of a product and the whole experience is treated as the same elements. We would like to make a movie with beautiful views but without a plot and somehow we are assuming that will work...
And that's the moment when we need to talk a little bit deeper about how to create this amazing experience and why only a beautiful look of an app or website is not enough.
What is UX design? How do UX designers perform their work?
In the software development world, we have a lot of acronyms and strange names which might be confusing. If you are familiar with this environment, you probably heard about UX and UI. Sometimes they are used interchangeably. But we need to say this loudly: UX and UI it’s not the same. We can make UI without even thinking about UX.
Ok, so go back to the fundaments - what is UX design? UX (user experience) describe all aspects of user interaction with a product or service. So how people react, how they behave, what is important to them, what satisfies them and what causes their frustrations. This is a highly specialised discipline connected with psychology and cognitive science. No matter if we are talking about an app or a movie even small elements of your interaction with them can cause whether you will be satisfied or not. It will be not enough to have only beautiful scenery in the movie. Even your attitude, how you have slept last night, how hungry you are, how comfortable your seats are in the cinema - all of this matter and can cause if you will memorize the film show as positive or negative. And taking care of this is a UX specialist's job.
The process in which a UX designer is working (human-centred design) consists of a lot of elements: requirements analysis, UX research, information architecture, content structure, interaction design, prototyping, visual elements, testing and validation ideas.
A UX designer is someone who should be able to find problems and find solutions to these problems. Our concern as UX specialists is to make a valuable product which is truly needed and create the experience of using it really satisfying for users. Thanks to that, they will be more likely to come back, use the product more often and will be more willing to pay for it.
What is UX research?
Crucial for creating an amazing product is to possess knowledge about users' behaviour. Think about streaming services like HBO or Netflix - they are collecting data about your preferences and they can suggest films based on your tastes.
You need to find and understand a problem to be able to search for a solution for resolving it. Gathering information about potential users is possible thanks to UX research and this is a fundamental part of creating a valuable product. UX research is a process of collecting data about goals, needs, problems, behaviours, and mental models of target audiences. Without appropriate research, and asking the right questions to the right target audience, we can't define the right solutions. To do a good product, to make worthwhile decisions you need valuable data.
So UX work is data-related. There is no UX without research. Just think about how many startups are failing? How many of them are resolving the wrong problem? How many of them are building something people don't need?
Why is UX design so important?
As a startup founder or product manager, you probably think that you know what your users need, but the truth is that you may have only assumptions or think about stereotypes - at least not until you've tested your ideas. When it comes to UX design, it's not about what ‘you think’ is the best, but instead, it's all about what you know, and what data you have. You need to deeply understand your potential users.
And what will happen if we create a product without understanding our potential customers? We will build something based on our assumptions, and invest our time and money just to discover that we are wrong. How extremely risky this approach is for your business!
What will happen if that product will be realised? The first possibility - no one will be using it because there is no market need. Another option (even if you defined the problem correctly), the execution of the solution may be poor. A structure, elements arrangement or even language is not intuitive and people won't understand it.
Bad solutions are frustrating. And we really like to show our frustration, especially on the Internet. How much time and money you will lose to convince people who have already been discouraged by your product? Is it even possible? How difficult will be to encourage new customers when you have a defective solution with only one star in a Google Play or AppStore? How much money do you need to spend to solve all of the defective features? What about morales in your team? All of these are unwanted costs.
Besides, probably you have competition or alternative solutions already exist. In today’s world, people are busier than ever. They don't have time to figure out how to use a product. If a product or website is confusing or difficult to navigate, users will quickly move on to one that is easier to use.
Another reason UX design is so important is because of the explosion of technology over the past few years. With so many products and services available, it's more important than ever for companies to stand out from the crowd. We can find a lot of similar solutions. Why use something which doesn’t bring value for us as users? We are more comfortable with spending money on products and services that make our lives easier. If your product solves someone's problem in an easy way, they will be happy to pay for it (by money, data or time they spend using it).
What is UI design? How do UI designers perform their work?
UI design refers to the visual aspect of the product, and how memorable and appealing it is. Just take a look at the top of this article and check the digression with the movies.
UI design is all about how a product or service appears and functions through colours, typography, buttons, and images. The whole visual aspect must be consistent throughout the whole product and company’s branding. Besides, it should support usability, and functionality and create engaging experiences. That is why in most cases, a UI designer will work together with a UX designer to create an interface that is intuitive and easy to use.
A UI designer takes care of accessibility and consistency. They must understand how different elements work for different operating systems (for example Android and iOS). But a perfectly looking app it's not enough in today’s world. It always comes back to UX and appropriate research. First, build a fundament - understand the problem, then create the right solution, test it and finally make it visually appealing.
Does your business need UX or UI designers? How to decide?
UX is risk mitigation. It will help your business to save money and time by building valuable products and services. Don't spend time on assumptions, don't waste developers' time by creating a product based only on assumptions. Doing this can cause a lot of waste such as delays, dealing with support tickets or poor ratings.
UX and UI designers work together to create a user-friendly product or service by determining what will be most successful with different audiences - but they have very different roles within that process.
The reason you should know which one you're hiring is, that it's essential that these two roles are cast perfectly for success.
The UX designer needs to understand requirements - from a technology and business perspective. This role is a bridge between technology, business and customers, of course. UX specialists can figure out who are your potential customers, what they need, and what problems they have. And that is crucial for checking market potential. While the UI designer needs to know how people interact with products, who they are, and what trends they follow so they can visualize what delight them.
And yes, to be successful you need both - a UX designer and a UI designer. You may also decide to use external services from a professional agency that provides UX and UI design services. That might be the most cost-effective since UX and UI design services are necessary at various stages of your product development, but it might not be a full-time job all the time.
Tips on how to pick the right designer for your needs
UX and UI are highly specialised disciplines which need skills and knowledge. Just think about how challenging is the appropriate research process: preparing a research plan, a discussion guide, logistics of the whole process, asking the right questions without suggesting an answer, synthesis, analysis and finally, finding valuable insights. Of course, not all of us will be good at that and it is fine because we are all different, we have different skills and talents. That's why not everyone can be a UX or UI designer.
Our experience shows that a proper UX process can save a lot of money and time. Choosing a good UI designer and creating a nice-looking graphical user interface (once again - a movie without a plot) but without users' expectations in mind won't lead to conversion nor an increase in app usage. Both, UX and UI design are important for your final user interface design.
Ask proper questions about UX and UI design
Would you like to find a well-skilled specialist? It's not easy. But asking appropriate questions may help:
- Of course, ask about their experience and previous projects - what have they learned?
- What was their role? Why did they make specific decisions?
- Ask about their process - what does this process look like, step by step?
- Ask about the difference between UX and UI
- Ask about the business value they will bring to your process.
UX or UI? The Difference Between UX and UI Design
To summarize: UX and UI are not the same. User experience is about the whole interaction with your product, about meeting users' expectations, needs and problems. UI designer, however, is responsible for making sure the product looks good and is user-friendly.
As a startup founder or product manager, you most probably need both UX and UI design skills in your product team. Learn the difference, ask proper questions, do your own research and wisely choose proper designers who will partner with you in the creation of the product that won't be just "nice" but rather will be useful and will help you achieve your business objectives.