By: Bayshore Solutions Design Team
As a fan of buzzwords and corporate jargon, I’ve wanted to throw around words like UX Design, Information Architecture, Interaction Design and UI Design but I’m reluctant to because someone might actually ask me what they mean. I have a general idea of how they relate to web design but I need a better understanding as to why they’re important components of a successful website before I start using web design terminology like this in client meetings. So here’s a brief explanation of each term and how they can make or break a website.
User Experience Design (UX Design)
Coined by Don Norman, former VP of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple in the mid-1990s, User Experience Design is defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as “a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the user of anticipated use of a product, system or service.“ To put that into the context of web design terms that means the way a visitor experiences a website. It’s how users feel and what types of things they think about, like layout and colors, functions of buttons, navigating through pages of content and ultimately getting what they want and need from a website.
A website that really works fulfills strategic objectives and meets the needs of users. Even the most interesting content and the latest technology won’t help achieve those goals without an effective user experience to support it. How a website behaves and how it is used in the real world requires attention to the user experience. It’s the little details that make the difference. Having something as simple as a button on a website work the way a user thinks it should will give them confidence in the website, the product and most importantly, the brand.
Information Architecture/Design (IA)
The Information Architecture Institute, or IAI, defines it as “the art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.” Research done through usability tests, polling and various other methods of user-based testing produces data that can then be passed down to programmers, designers and content developers to create site maps, diagrams, wireframes, site-flow, content and site structure.
Information architecture is critical in the case of information-oriented products like corporate information websites. On content sites, IA is concerned with creating organizational and navigational schemes that allow users to find things easily and then to communicate that information as effectively as possible so users can absorb and understand it. Without IA, the user might never find services or products they’re looking for and come to the conclusion that if the site is difficult to work with than the company is probably the same.
Interaction Design (IxD)
Interaction design has an organization associated with it too, called The Interaction Design Association (IxDA). This quote is from their website:
“Interaction designers strive to create useful and usable products and services. Following the fundamental tenets of user-centered design, the practice of interaction design is grounded in an understanding of real users—their goals, tasks, experiences, needs, and wants. Approaching design from a user-centered perspective, while endeavoring to balance users’ needs with business goals and technological capabilities, interaction designers provide solutions to complex design challenges, and define new and evolving interactive products and services.”
Another good definition is from Chris Crawford’s book, “The Art of Interactive Design”, where he explains good interaction design resembles a good conversation in which the participants listen, think and respond within a reasonable interval.
If a website doesn’t recognize a user’s request or doesn’t produce thoughtful or relevant data when they search for something, or does so in a slow and unresponsive manner, the user’s interaction with the website suffers. Good interaction design doesn’t make the user think as it simply just works. Goals are achieved easily and there is little or no learning curve when interacting with the design.
User Interface Design (UI Design)
Author and founder of Adaptive Path – a user experience consultancy, Jesse James Garrett, defines interface design as being all about selecting the right interface elements – like text, buttons, text fields, color coded lists, etc – for the task the user is trying to accomplish and arranging them on the screen in a way that will be readily understood and easily used. He goes on to say successful interfaces are those in which users immediately notice the important stuff. The goal is make the user’s interaction as efficient and simple as possible.
One of the biggest challenges of designing websites, especially complex ones, is figuring out which aspects the users don’t need to deal with and reducing their visibility. A well designed website recognizes the course of action users are most likely to take and makes those interface elements easiest to access and use.
So in an oversimplified and user-friendly nutshell, UX Design is how a user feels about the website, Information Architecture is how a website is organized, Interaction Design is how the user and website act and react to each other, and UI Design is what, where and how elements work on a website. Keep in mind there are a myriad of definitions out there and they can all be applied to many different fields of design, not just web design. So if you are going to start throwing these web design terms around during your next meeting, you may want to learn more about each. Happy jargoning!