UX vs UI: What’s the Difference? (And How They Apply to WordPress)

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UI and UX. Are you using these terms interchangeably?

User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) are keywords in the web development space and in arguably every creative and technology-based field. What you may not know is that these terms, as concepts, have actually been around for a very long time.

You probably know what UI and UX are, but it’s still easy to misuse them. Job listings and requirements sometimes mix up the two roles and even combine them. That’s probably because UI and UX are harmonious, and many designers and developers are fluent in both. But they are very different concepts – both in objective and scope.

In fact, a better understanding of UI and UX, and how they apply to you, as a WordPress developer, is key to building a better product and brand – which is exactly what we’re going to cover in this article.

What Is User Experience?

The distinguishing definition of UX in web development and design is:

The cultivation of customer satisfaction and loyalty by optimally developing the usability and positive emotional response a visitor experiences with your site.

Is your site easy to use? Are your customers enjoying their interaction with your site and brand? Those are the key questions to consider in UX design.

To create a good UX, you need first and foremost to have a thorough understanding of your user base. The goal is to understand how best to align your business objectives with your user’s needs. To gain a full understanding of this, you have to continually test and refine every aspect of your site until your users (and you) are fully satisfied.

To better understand this concept, let’s take a look at what a UX designer does.

UX designers ensure that the makeup of your site logically flows from one step to the next. They conduct user behavior tests to identify challenges that a user may face and keep testing until they eliminate these problems to create the “ideal” UX. In terms of a practical example, take a look at a UX Designer job description at Google.

The best way to understand UX is as the core of your brand. It defines your brand – the experiences your visitors have with your site. The keyword is experience; not the site and its components, but the experience as a whole.

To put it simply, when your UX is good, it helps your brand and company prosper.

Why UX Matters for WordPress Developers and Designers

It can’t be emphasized enough how UX is key to your business and brand. In this highly digital age, users spend a few seconds upon landing on your site to decide whether or not it’s worth their time. How clear, easy to use and organized your website plays a huge part in determining its success.

Your user’s journey through the site and their overall experience has to be enjoyable and meaningful. They have to be fully immersed in your site and your product throughout the duration of their stay. This means that you have to give your site a “personality” that your users can identify with, in addition to making it easy to use. Connect deeply with your users in this way or risk losing them.

This significance goes beyond the front page of any site you design. Your user or client’s backend experience matters, too (if they have access). They need to be able to use it from their perspective, in a way that feels natural to them. Customization is key here. You can currently customize the admin panel in WordPress with the help of various plugins (such as our own Ultimate Branding).

The direct benefits for you, besides an increase in business, is reduced development, support and maintenance costs. You can spend time developing new and better products or services to grow your business and better your brand.

Oh, and keep your site visitors and clients happy, too.

How To Improve Your UX

Let’s start this section with an example of what bad UX looks like.

Do you remember the launch of HealthCare.Gov? It has become the icon of what good user experience isn’t. Site outages, overloaded servers, complex site navigation, and other feature failures were its defining characteristics.

You don’t want that.

With the above in mind, the most immediate way to improve your UX is to keep it in play at all stages of product development. An offline site represents the worst possible UX experience. It may sound obvious, but how tight a handle do you have on uptime, and how much are you working to ensure that your site’s uptime is at a maximum?

Now let’s consider some of the key aspects of a positive user experience:

  • Positive emotional response
  • Sense of control
  • Relevancy
  • Comprehension

Let’s take a look at some current UX trends that encompass the above characteristics.

Responsive Web Design

With increased mobile usage, UX now focuses to a great extent on providing great responsive experiences.

Google highly recommends the use of responsive design to match their service standards. The aim is to create a unifying user experience across all devices.

Content-Focused Design

Content-focused layouts are vital to UX. Users engage and find value through your content. Ensure that it is featured prominently and aesthetically across the board to provide your users with a valuable experience.

Determining great UX is reasonably subjective, which is why overly testing UX is a good idea. Let’s take a look at tried and tested good UX in WordPress.

Examples of UX in WordPress

Amax is one of the most responsive themes out there. It is flexible and adaptive, providing a great and enjoyable experience for users. The layout is both organized and smooth flowing. A great design to portray any story.

Responsive and easy to use AMAX WordPress theme
Responsive and easy to use AMAX WordPress theme

Simplicity. The name says it all. It is a flat retina theme that’s focused on visually creating the best story for users. Anyone can understand and easily interact with a site that adopts this theme.

Clean flat retina Simplicity WordPress theme
Clean flat retina Simplicity WordPress theme

Developers have always taken UX very seriously, now more than ever. Themes like Upfront are taking UX to the next level to make ground where WordPress is lacking.

Check out our list of 15 WordPress Sites That Are Changing The Design Game to see more examples of both UX & UI.

What is User Interface (UI)?

UI is the physical and technical elements that enable the user to interact with the technology or product, i.e. the controls, buttons, etc. UI visually portrays the UX elements that have been laid out to provide a meaningful and enjoyable interaction with your user.

So what do UI designers do?

They design product layouts to visually communicate what the UX designer has laid out. They create typography, icons and other interactive elements that solve direct interaction problems for the user. For example, a UI designer in charge of creating a WordPress admin dashboard might decide whether to use a slider, button or arrow to execute a task or move to another section. They are also responsible for making sure that all technical elements are consistent and applied across the board.

Take a look at a UI Designer job description at KPMG.

Why UI Matters For WordPress Developers and Designers

A good user interface can make or break a WordPress site. It is essential that a user can interact with a site in an intuitive and efficient way without any distractions. Focus equally on design and function to achieve a clean, intuitive and efficient site.

In WordPress, the UI is also the backend admin user panel and tools that enable all content and web production. It is important for WordPress developers to build a functional dashboard with a highly operative and proficient UI.

Let’s, for example, contemplate two WordPress themes or developments that have the same functionality but different user interfaces. Which one would perform better in terms of getting more downloads or users? Simple: the one that has the easier, quicker, more intuitive an interactive user interface.

Your clients want to use something clean, organized, clear and intuitive.

How to Improve Your UI/Key Characteristics

Creating a good UI is demanding and takes a lot of organization.

So, what makes a good UI? It’s a difficult question and the answer isn’t as straightforward. (The examples below will give you a more visual understanding.) Here are some characteristics of good UI:

  • Consistent: design and behavior across the site should be consistent
  • Intuitive: it should work the way the user rationally expects it to and they shouldn’t undergo a learning curve
  • Responsive: design and layout should be flexible across various devices
  • Familiar: design changes and behavior shouldn’t be too drastic or unfamiliar to the user
  • Clean: an organized, flat and simple design and function
  • Elegant: an aesthetically pleasing design and layout
  • Efficient: efficiency is key particularly if a user needs to spend a lot of time on your site
  • Content-focused: content, text or visual, is powerful and adds value

Top UI Trends

Material Design

Google’s Material Design is the new kind of “flat” design that Apple and Microsoft have been using. Material design, like flat design, is content-focused, adaptable and streamlined while combining visual motion and interaction design. It makes a website look cleaner and improves performance. A lot of web developers are creating sites based on this concept.

Card Layouts

Card layouts are widely being adopted for their simple, clean, versatile look. It’s also a good way for the user to digest and participate in your story. It can be easily integrated into responsive layouts for great user interaction.

Micro-interactions

Micro-interactions are contained product moments that perform one small task. Setting your alarm, muting your phone and transferring a file are examples of micro interactions. Even though micro-interactions are small, almost invisible, they could greatly improve UI & UX if they are implemented well. A classic example of this is Facebook’s like button. Many web developers are incorporating this UI design as users have come to expect simple and effective micro-interactions.

Typography

Typography plays a huge role in UI design. Web font services like Google Fonts and Typekit offer a wide range of high-quality fonts to enhance UI.

Icons

Icons are being used everywhere. They have become the perfect replacement for heavy images and texts. They can create a fun and clean feel to a site. More developers are using them in UI revamps.

Scrolling

Another effect of increased mobile usage. Clicking is yesterday’s task, the 2015 user wants to scroll, not just on mobile, but on all devices. This is because parallax scrolling creates a great content experience and greatly cuts down web loading time. It’s an element of good UI that developers need to adopt.

Examples of UI in WordPress

Although the following themes do not come with powerful admin interfaces like Upfront, they are examples of great UI in WordPress.

The Twenty Fifteen default theme is the embodiment of great UI. It’s clean, simple, efficient, responsive, intuitive and content-focused – a great improvement from its previous version, Twenty Fourteen.

Clean, content-focused Twenty Fifteen WordPress theme in yellow.
Clean, content-focused Twenty Fifteen WordPress theme in yellow.

Another flat design and fully responsive clean theme is the Themeforest Forest WordPress theme. It has a lot of customization elements to add elegance and increase efficiency.

Themeforest Forest Theme
Forest – a flat WordPress theme

Let’s Recap

To recap and establish a distinctive definition of UX and UI: UI is the components that enable a user to efficiently use your product and the UX is the culminating effect of all those components on the user. In other words, user interface is the vehicle to achieving better user experience.

It’s highly critical not to confuse the two. If you’re in the market for a designer or are managing both as a developer, you need to have a very clear understanding of what interface design and user experience design entail. Blurring the line between the two could be costly to your product, business, and brand.

What About the WordPress Admin Panel?

The WordPress admin panel has come a long way in terms of UI and UX. Imagine the current version of the WordPress user interface with tons of features, layouts, categories, plugins etc. Now strip that bare, right down to minimal features and one post category. That was the 2003 version of the WordPress admin panel.

WordPress circa 2003.
WordPress circa 2003.

It has been developed through the years with added features like spell-check; thousands of plugins; URL redirects and structures; visual editors; batch editing (of plugins, themes etc); widgets; APIs; new and improved dashboard designs; automatic maintenance; better support; better search; multi-device functionality; and tons of other features. WordPress still largely depends on various plugins for better UI & UX functions.

The current WordPress backend.
The current WordPress backend.

What we’re looking to see from WordPress in the near future is a more clean admin dashboard that enables easy visual customization of a whole site. It would be ideal if WordPress UX were highly personalized and customized to the individual user, without the need for plugins.

UX and UI: Where to Next?

Here is some further reading to help you fully comprehend and implement UI and UX on your site:

  • UX Foundations (Envato UX Foundations course)
  • Lynda.com UX tutorials (54 Lynda.com UX video courses for beginner, intermediate, and expert developers and designers)
  • A Design Workflow Tutorial for Developers: Deliver Better UI/UX On Time (A guide to creating a UX/UI Design workflow that works best for your team)
  • 12 Interactive UX Design Tutorials for Beginners (12 slideshows that cover UX in detail)

Have we missed any of your favorite UX/UI resources? Has this article influenced you to change any elements of your design? Let us know in the comments below.

Image credits: WPBeginner, 1&1.

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