UI & UX: Differences, Evolution & What Is to Come in 2014

“UI is the saddle, the stirrups and the reigns. UX is the feeling that you get to ride the horse and rope your cattle.” – Dain Miller

It’s hard to make your product stand out. In the digital world, this is even more true than in the physical product world. To the end consumer it looks like many apps offer similar if not identical functions and services. That’s why it’s important to take your user interface (UI) and turn it into a user experience (UX).

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This isn’t an issue that only apps have. Online stores and every online service, for that matter, have met with this need. Regardless of how well your app, online store or site is built, consumers will want more than that. They want a user experience.

Simply put, User Interface refers to what the user sees when looking at your site, store or app, while User Experience refers to how your app, store or website make that same user feel. More accurately, the User Experience is what you get when you’re skiing with a good pair of skis, while the User Interface is the design and weight of the aforementioned pair of skis.

UI and UX are not different things. They overlap. More specifically, the User Experience is the User Interface and more.

To exemplify, if you’re designing an online store, the user interface refers to the ways the user interacts with your store (i.e. buying & browsing the products in your store) while the user experience refers to the way you present your products (the overall site design, the products you sell, the audio, visual and text content and so on).

If you have a website, the UI is what tells you that you should have buttons to make navigation easier. The UX, on the other hand, is what tells you that the buttons should look good and actually press down when you click on them.

1. Breaking Down the User Experience

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In order to help you better understand what UX is all about, we’ve broken down the key elements that factor into the User Experience in a website. Many, if not all of them, apply equally well to apps.

•    Visual Appeal: The overall design of the site. This refers to the color scheme, the branding, the layout as well as the imagery.
•    Search & Navigation: This is a common element of UI and UX. The easier it is to find what you’re looking for, the better the overall User Experience.
•    Site Map: Again, a common element of the two. The better your content is grouped and categorized, the better your site.
•    Content: This is a pure UX element. The better your content, the better the User Experience. The better the User Experience, the bigger the appeal.
•    Ease of Use: It stands to reason that when your site is easier to use it will provide a better User Experience. Nobody likes being frustrated with a needlessly complicated site.
•    Help: This is, again, an element that exclusively characterizes the User Experience. The quicker your users can get help, the better. The better the help they get, the better the UX.
•    Performance: Nobody likes using a slow, under-performing website or app. Optimize it as much as you can.
•    Payment Options: If you’re selling something, make sure to give your users as many options on how to pay. Think of it this way: if you opened a diner and only took cash as payment, you’d be frustrating and missing out on the users that prefer paying by credit card.
•    Personalization: The more you make it about the user, the better. People love being pampered and feeling that they’re important to you. Personalize your content as much as you can.

2. What’s Been Going On in 2013?

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User Interfaces and User Experiences have evolved all throughout the year and there are a few things you should keep in mind when designing your next UI & UX.

First of all, make sure that you unify your User Interfaces. Take a cue from Microsoft, who decided to create one comprehensive UI that works on all sorts of devices. This is a great example of what role UI plays in UX. Learning to use one User Interface and using it across all your devices, be they desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, is a lot more appealing to your average user than having to use different interfaces for each of these devices.

This is a trend that has been going on for several years, ever since Google unified the Android versions for smartphone and tablet with their Android Ice Cream Sandwich in 2011 and has reached maturity with Microsoft Metro, the Windows 8-style interface that Microsoft has spread out all over their devices, regardless of their mobile or non-mobile type and of the input methods associated with them (which is not officially called Metro anymore).

At the precipice between 2012 and 2013, the people over at UX Magazine very correctly identified eight of the biggest User Experience trends of the year. These were:

•    Downsampling: The reduction of massive amounts of data to attractive visualizations.
•    Foodism: Food as a substitute for art as high culture.
•    Quantified Ambition: Data-driven, quantified goal-setting & achievement.
•    Augmented Dialogue: App-assisted conversations, helping you navigate the terrain of interpersonal dialogue.
•    Increased Sensory Bandwidth: Smartphones finding alternative senses through which to relay information back to you when one sense is busy.
•    Agile Economies: The use of mobile devices for innovative service technologies.
•    Faceted Video: Improved video searchability and uses.
•    Retro Futurism: An increased nostalgic interest in artifacts of technical physicality.

3. What Can We Expect for 2014?

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Well, over the following year we can expect the trends of 2013 to continue, especially the Unified User Interface, but we can also see that there are quite a few new directions in which things are headed.

First of all, broader mobile strategies will triumph over location-specific ones. This is because, as studies show, 60% of desktop research starts out on a mobile device. Strictly speaking, this is because people use mobile devices more to browse from the comfort of their sofa or bed and less to do so on the bus or while waiting in line.

Second, flexible & responsive mobile app layouts are the way to go. Everyone holds their phone differently and has different preferences for phone usage than the next person. That’s why flexibility is the way to go when designing your mobile app layout.

Third, richer, more engaging mobile experiences will triumph over specialized apps offering focused experiences. Simplicity and minimalism are great, but oversimplification will make your mobile app suffer – as users crave complexity and enhanced functionality. That’s why it’s going to become more and more important to offer a rich & satisfying mobile UX.

Fourth, flat User Interfaces are going to be a big part of the UX in 2014. This trend has yet to peak, so expect to see more and more of it in over the following year.

Fifth and finally, storytelling will become more and more important as parallax scrolling for websites is used. This approach simplifies the navigation of the website and increases user interaction. If you work in web design, keep that in mind.

That pretty much wraps up our look into User Experience and User Interface. We’ve seen what distinguishes the two, what the biggest trends of 2013 are and what we can expect to see in 2014. Now it’s your turn: what are your favorite UX practices of the year and what will you be focused on when designing UX in 2014?

Let us know in the comments’ section below! And remember, kicking a football is User Experience, while the shape and the stitching are User Interface!

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1 Comment UI & UX: Differences, Evolution & What Is to Come in 2014

  1. Kevin Harmon-Smith Jan 21, 2014 at 14:02

    Great post Elena. I’ve just finished a UX design and delivery for a foreign (non-english speaking) oil company whereby I had to make the procurement actions as intuitive as possible. Everything you mention about the UX experience is certainly true and whilst I have managed to deliver the front end, behind this are still massive amounts of data to digest so Downsampling will be my next step.

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