I’ve been increasingly bothered by the characterization of design lately, which goes a little something like this:
“UX is not UI”
—as though designing an interface completely precludes someone from considering its experience, and vice versa.
Because here’s the thing. We’re not making closed software systems. The interaction we’re designing isn’t really between the computer and its operator.
Explicitly or implicitly, the user interface is the interface between the customer and the business.
So UX design is UI design; we’re building all the enabling means by which the business and customer connect.
“Design is the wrong way, UX is the right way”
—as though design lacks function, empathy, or processes that figure out what users really want.
— Matthew Oliphant (@matto) June 26, 2015
— Ray (@raymayfield) January 22, 2016
“Web design is dead, long live UX”
—as though achieving desirable interface experiences is done in a vacuum.
“Designers should code”
—as though the merits of a certain profession should be defined by another.
— bianca nasser (@lifewithBianca) June 18, 2015
A dumbed-down definition of design
For those who need it spelled out: of course definitions, roles, philosophies, or processes cannot be distilled into short phrases. But they are, because they’re portable, easier to make infographics about, and write clickbait articles about.
I’m also not opposed to designers learning code. I believe designers should understand the medium they work in so that they can effectively work within those constraints.
Because that’s what designers do: work within constraints. Otherwise it’s an artistic, expressive pursuit.
A guy named Steve Jobs once said, “design is not just how it looks and feels like, it’s how it works.”
By that very definition, designers must give a damn about more than aesthetics or interactions, and pay attention to functionality and meeting goals.
A design fails not only because it is “ugly”. It fails when it doesn’t meet user needs or it’s difficult to use. Often a designer must balance the whims of a boss or client and the needs of actual users, with limited time & resources to research, test, revise, ship. Even more often: designers are excluded from contributing to decisions, and are simply expected to comply.
When a design fails, it’s entirely possible that the designer is not the only person to blame, but the entire process.
If people undervalue user experience, hence the need to evangelize what it is & isn’t, then it’s also equally possible that they misunderstand & undervalue design too.
A derogatory demeanor towards designers
You don’t need to put down UI to emphasize the importance of UX, or put down design for that of programming.
Whether designers’ responsibilities only go as far as putting together style guides, sketching wireframes, creating comps in a graphics program, or coding prototypes that run in the browser, you can’t assume they don’t care about the user experience.
It’s insulting to imply that design is only about visuals and aesthetics. Even so, it’s condescending to think that visual design has little influence in building the ideal user experience, or that these skills are a less evolved, less valuable form of what one must practice these days.
Doing away with divisive distinctions
You know that term “creatives”? I don’t believe people in design and arts are the only ones who should be called that. Relegating the activity of “being creative” to a select few only abstracts it. The less people understand something, the less people care.
But everybody exercises creativity everyday—and teams could do so much more if everyone felt they could contribute more meaningfully to the process.
This should be the same with UX, and how designers are treated.
Managers, designers, developers: they all require creativity in solving their own problems, and they all should care about the user in their own ways.
Rather than tell people “what you’re doing is not X”, it’s more constructive to say “here’s how you can do X in your profession”. Make every member of your team care, so that they can work harder and do better at delivering a fantastic product.
It’s time to do away with simplistic analogies, clickbait headlines, or buzzy phrases. Don’t be a hindrance to moving the industry moving forward with confusion and negativity.
- Instead of “UX is not UI”
— UX is not just UI. UX should care about UI, and UI should care about UX.
- Instead of “Design is the wrong way, UX is the right way”
— Neither design nor UX is better than the other. You need both to deliver a good experience.
- Instead of “Web design is dead, long live UX”
— Until the Web actually ceases to exist, web designers and user experience designers need each other.
- Instead of “Designers should code”
— Designers should know how their medium works, but not knowing how to code isn’t the definition of a bad designer.