What’s at the center of UX? (Hint: not UI)

Last week, a colleague excitedly forwarded me an article written by a group of digital product designers called, “The Elements of UX & UI Visualized.” It “revolved” around an infographic whose creator took on the arduous task of visually organizing all the tools, inputs, outputs and methods pertaining to both UX and UI within one neat amalgam of concentric circles.

Instead of sharing my colleague’s enthusiasm, all I could focus on was what was in the center of the infographic: “UX and UI.”

“UI is a subset of UX,” I protested, silently. As a Creative Director, I personally value the distinction—but, all too often, I see the terms used interchangeably, and here was yet another example. In my world, they are not synonymous: UI refers to the aggregation of controls and elements that allow a user to interact with a system; UX is the end product of a user interface—the reaction, the satisfaction, the recall. After all, the “X” stands for “experience.”  But then I realized I had an even bigger issue with the infographic’s structure: completely missing from the conversation was the most important element—Brand.

Wally Olins once said, “Brand is the idea you stand for, made real by what you do.” In essence, a brand is the sum of experiences that a person has with a company or organization. Looking through this lens, it becomes clear that UX and UI can no longer be just the names of particular design silos, but must collectively work toward the common goals of an organization. UX and UI both need to be rooted in a strategy informed by an organization’s brand values and mission, with the objective of making the right thing, rather than making wrong things right. To use a very old saying, UX and UI should help us “see the forest through the trees” (occasionally, clichés can be useful).

With any new project, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of methods and process and lose sight of the end goal. While the infographic did a great job visualizing the overwhelming mix of tools and elements that could be part of a company’s solution, it inadvertently became a roadmap for making the wrong thing right. Without brand at the very center of a UX strategy, there is no foundation to inform all the little decisions made throughout the process of creating awesome user experiences. Conversely, when brand drives those decisions, we’re able to craft interfaces and experiences that will truly engage target audiences and forge lasting brand relationships.

 

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