What does User Interaction Design mean?

There are two buzzwords in the tech world these days. You have likely either heard of User Experience (UX) or User Interaction (UI) design, but maybe you are unsure of what they are, or how they differ.

As simply as possible, UX design centers on the feel and visual design of a product; UI design focuses on how a user actually uses a product.

  • UI designers want to focus on how a product is laid out and how a user will actually interact with the product. Does it make sense to have a visual button or a text link? Or should an image grow larger upon hover, or should you be able to expand it upon a click.
  • UI designers ensure the entire experience is seamless and consistent. Every interaction on the site or app should make sense. If an image expands out to a lightbox on one page, it should do the same on other portions of the site. A button that has a hover effect should carry this effect across the entire product.
  • Think of the entire user flow. UI encompasses even those small interactions we encounter. Is there a cycle upon loading? What does it look like when an error occurs? How does the user know that they have completed an action? Does the product auto-refresh or do we require them to click a button to see their changes?
  • UI designers shouldn’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. Familiar layouts and patterns will feel less complex to the user because they have seen it before. Think about when Facebook does a major change, everyone freaks out for a day because it just looks different. The functionality of the app hasn’t changed, but things aren’t where users are used to them being. Reuse common icons (or text links if the icon isn’t intuitive), navigation placement, or even something as simple as using small actionable works for links and buttons.
  • We should stay flexible. I am not saying we change core design choices, but realize that what was approved in a Photoshop mock-up might look completely different when actual content is added. We need to overthink every solution. How will this vertical sub navigation render on an iPhone? What if the content becomes longer than designed for? What will the page look like then? Will it open off-screen, will it have a read more option?

UI should be so good that it’s not even noticeable. The design should be so intuitive, that a user only knows that it works. They don’t notice the small interactions they are performing, or that they are being guided down a predetermined workflow.