Mobile app development has become a big business. Most companies that want to dominate their market and stay competitive will need an app they can use to interact with their customers.
The ability to continually engage with customers through forms like push button notifications can keep the company front and center in the customer’s mind, but the increased competition of this trend means that there’s increased rivalry.
A quality app will require a focus on both the user interface (UI) and the user experience (UX), and that’s why it’s important to employ both UI and UX professionals throughout the development process. The differences between the interface and experience roles can be confusing to people not well versed in the terminology.
The Distinctions Between UI and UX
At its basic core, UX operates on the macro level while UI operates on the micro level. To put it differently, the user interface is all about making the app attractive while the user experience is about making the app functional. Both UI and UX are integral parts of making an app appealing to the user.
The role of experienced designers usually comes early in the stages of app development. They’re focused on making sure that users have access to the content they need as easily and expediently as possible.
In terms of mobile app design, this means minimizing the number of clicks or swipes the user has to input to reach sections within the app, ensuring that all the information a user needs is readily available without having to hunt around, and creating a seamless flow from one element to the next.
Since UX designers construct the core framework of the app’s flow, their most important work precedes that of the user interface designers. Consider the UX designer to be the architect who drafts up blueprints for a house and makes sure that all the rooms are arranged logically to reduce hassle in the day-to-day life of the homeowner.
If the experienced designer is the architect, then UI is all about the interior design. Maintaining a sense of consistency throughout the app’s interface is crucial, and a good grasp of basic design principles like layouts and color theory are some of the most integral skills to possess.
A high-quality UI is important since it’s one of the first things users will see in an app and since they’ll be interacting with this interface whenever they make use of the platform.
The Fundamental Aspects of an App’s Interface
While the design of an app can vary depending on its core purpose, there are a number of standard expectations that remain consistent through a variety of different platforms. An experienced UX developer will tell you that this is by design.
One of the principal goals of these developers is to make the experience as intuitive as possible, to create an ecosystem that the user already recognizes the fundamentals of and can make the transition into using the app easier.
The hard part is creating an intuitive interface that still has its own personality and maintains consistency while streamlining the app to achieve its core goals. Understanding how these common elements play out through both the experience and interface can help set apart the unique differences and similarities between the two positions.
The home page serves as the central hub by which users interact with the app, and it provides some unique challenges on both the interface and experience end.
For UX designers, the difficulty comes from how one makes all the information accessible from a single screen. For UI designers, the challenge comes down to expressing that information in a manner that doesn’t crowd or clutter the screen. Often the latter challenge will be overcome by using intuitive icons that express everything the reader wants to know without having to depend on text.
For the UX designer, expandable menus can be a huge boon. Whether this takes the form of a traditional menu or one that scrolls down with the swipe of a menu, these allow designers to do more with the limited real estate they’re given. This is especially challenging given the smaller screen size of smartphones.
While not every app is going to have an onboarding system, it’s a practical necessity once apps start to become more complicated. The ideal experience is one where the user can intuitively understand the ins and outs of the app without any additional information, but a short tutorial is often a necessity.
The trick is making the content as engaging as possible, but UI and UX designers often tackle the problem from different angles. The UX designer will often have little to play in the actual tutorial, but the onboarding will serve as a testing ground for the effectiveness of the framework. Belabored tutorials can reflect a weakness in experience design, and that’s why it’s imperative to implement natural micro-interactions like swipes into the product’s basic usage.
The cleaner the interface is, the easier the onboarding process is for the UI designer. Most users want to jump into using their mobile app as soon as possible without having to engage in lengthy lessons, so UI designers are tasked with making the experience as streamlined and engaging as possible.
Copy should be as clean and crisp as possible, engaging users directly without making them read through extraneous information. Mascots and animations are typically employed to draw the user into the experience.
The Settings Menu
The settings menu allows users to adjust how they interact with an app, determine permissions that the app has access to, and allows them to adjust their personal information. While it’s an often overlooked aspect of design, it’s critical because the more data available for the users, the easier the designer’s job is. Consistency is important for the UX designer.
The settings menu is one of the most utilitarian components of an app, and that makes it unappealing to navigate through. Tasks should be accomplished in as few clicks as possible, and elements that are interactive should be highlighted as such.
Getting the user to engage doesn’t always have to mean interacting directly with the settings menu either. Smart UX designers will make use of pop-ups if they want to allow permissions like push notifications or GPS location services. Spacing these out over the course of a user experience and making them visible but unobtrusive are key methods for improving engagement.
UI designers typically take a subdued approach with the settings menu, befitting the fact that it’s such a utilitarian tool. Color coding options for the user, making the content bright and presentable, and stripping out unnecessary language can go a long way toward making the experience more presentable for the end user.
Ultimately, UI and UX designers are two sides of the same coin, and they possess many of the same aptitudes. Sensible app development requires understanding the distinctions and making sure that each designer has free rein over his or her aspect of the project. Delineating between the two roles while still facilitating open communication between both sides can go a long way toward making an app really stand out.
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