Recently, there’s been a worrying trend. The role of UI when it comes to web design has slowly been diminishing. I hate to say it, but it looks like UI might be dead. That’s right, there’s a new king in town, and its name is UX.
The internet's boring
The whole point of UX (user experience) is to provide the best possible experience for the user. It takes in every single aspect of a website; the structure and architecture, usability and accessibility, and how it looks and feels. (So yes, UI is part of UX. I’ll get to that later.)
UX is very much driven by data. Years of user testing such as eye tracking, observation and heat maps have helped UX designers understand best practices.
That sounds great right? Erm, well. You see, these best practices have made the internet a bit... boring.
The internet is no longer a fun place to hang out. I remember the frontier, the wild west of the internet, where developers and designers were experimenting and unleashing their creativity. Flash came along and suddenly anything was possible.
But now, I can’t help but feel that everything is starting to look the same. Each and every site adheres to the same UX best practices. Sure, they might be extremely usable, they might improve conversion rates by 0.001%. But what happened to the creativity and freedom?
This “paint-by-numbers” approach to web design is borne out of an obsession with UX, and it’s ruining the experience.
But why do we have to choose between fun and functional?
We need to find a balance
Now, let me just say that I’m not for one minute dismissing the importance of UX. Of course, it’s important. It’s crucial. But that doesn’t make UI any less important. We need to find a balance.
Currently, UI is often seen as a subsection of UX. I argue that we move UI out from UX’s shadow, and establish it as an equal. UX and UI should be in harmony, like Yin and Yang, like hot and cold, like Ant and Dec. One without the other simply doesn’t work.
I propose that we bring UI back from the dead, and install joint leaders at the top. UX and UI working together, a coalition if you will. UX and UI designers can then work together to create something that’s not only usable and a good experience, but makes people feel something again.
A good user experience is something that is easy to use. A great user experience is something that people enjoy using.
And great user experiences are a result of UX and UI working in harmony.
Which comes first, UX or UI?
Traditionally, UX designers are first on the scene when it comes to developing a site. Sure, the UI designer will be on hand but the wireframing and initial prototyping are the domain of the UX designer. That means at the moment the UX designer has a lot of control over the finished product.
A lot of the time, the UI designer simply has to take the wireframes and make them look pretty. There’s no room for creativity. So, what’s the alternative?
Well, perhaps we can change the order. Why don’t we stick the UX and UI designers in a room together and have them come up with something that works for both of them. A little bit of compromise goes a long way when it comes to web development.
The UI designer can unleash their creativity. The UX designer can bring their expertise to that design. Together, they can come up with something breathtaking. Something that looks incredible, but also works.
That, to me, is the way forward.
The future of web design
I know I reeled you in with my sensationalist claim that UI is dead. This is the part where I subtly withdraw that statement, and suggest that actually I might have jumped the gun a little.
Recent developments in web design seem to be moving power back towards the UI designer.
Conversational design, for example, is growing in popularity. This is where users can actually “talk” to the site. This refers to chatbots, but also includes voice-assisted navigation and improved searching capabilities.
The beauty of conversational design is that it removes barriers between the user and the site. A conversation is far more natural than clicking and scrolling. This means greater usability, and more freedom to create something that makes the user feel an actual emotion.
Other technical developments include WebGL and three.js. Where once the internet was mostly 2D, these two developments enable 3D graphics without any extra plugins. Improvements in technology provide UI designers with even more tools to create with. The possibilities are even greater than they were before.
Call me an optimist, but I truly believe that we’re approaching a new frontier in web design. I think we’re going to see UI rise in prominence again, and the internet will be awash with creativity. Only this time, UX will also play a part, ensuring that sites don’t just look great, but they feel great too.
This is a great time to be running a digital agency and I can’t wait to see what people come up with next.
So, am I wrong for dismissing UX so casually? Do you share my optimism for the future?
Feel free to argue with me, send me sweary messages or simply get in touch with us at Yoyo.