User Experience and User Interface.
The terms UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) are giant pillars in the World Wide Web. They are also concepts that are frequently misunderstood. From a web developer’s perspective, the concepts of UX and UI mean two very distinct things, but to the everyday user their true roles may be a source of confusion, if they’ve been heard before at all.
To set the framework of these items, let look at what Webster’s Dictionary has to say:
1. User: a person who uses or operates something…
2. Experience: practical contact with and observation of facts or events
3. Interface: reciprocal action or influence.
The concept of user for our means is quite straightforward, and would be defined by a visitor or person who has chosen to visit, use and/or read upon a website or application. And for most, if not all, understanding that anyone can be a user is nothing too difficult. But it is within the definitions of “experience” and “interface” that clarification may be needed.
To help illustrate each of these points more clearly, we will use a bowl of breakfast cereal; a food readily available and understood by most.
We begin with a dissected version of a bowl of cereal. Here, each individual element has been sectioned off and displayed separately. This image represents the whole of the environment in which a user may find themselves when operating a website or application. The individual bits of cereal may represent items such as text, images, backgrounds, listed elements, etc. The colorful marshmallows could represent unique and exciting actions like dropdown menus or carousels. Perhaps the milk serves purpose in being defined as the speed of connection, and the bowl as the administrator’s content management system. These definitions are not precise, but instead stand for the larger, conceptual idea that when brought together as a whole, they are defined as something else.
A bowl of cereal, to most, does not consist only of dry bits dumped into a container. Usually, people understand that a bowl of cereal includes the bits dumped into a bowl, submerged in milk and eaten with a spoon. This bowl of cereal represents the user experience. It is defined as what one may encounter when coming in contact with the environment itself, marshmallows and all. Furthermore, UX may also be understood by the amount eaten. A user may choose to have a single spoonful (one visit to a single webpage) and decide that this particular taste is not for them. It’s important to understand that experience is not defined by eating the entire bowl, but can be understood from the first spoonful.
It is within the utensil used to eat a bowl of cereal where one may most clearly understand user interface. The spoon, a common and appropriate option for eating breakfast cereal, represents how a user may take action upon the environment. Spoons come in different sizes, materials and finishes (possibly screen resolutions, browser types and operating systems?). It’s important to realize that this item is unique to the user. Even more significant is how this item impacts the environment, and thus the environment’s responsive action to this influence.
UX and UI may initially appear to define similar, if not the same idea. But we can see through this simple illustration, that they are in fact more of mirror opposites. They are concepts that exist in response to each other, and in terms of breakfast cereal, must be used in cooperation to achieve the best taste.