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Cold porridge and cutlery: a UX/UI metaphor

Tantamount

While the phrase UX/UI occurs frequently in the world of web design, it isn’t always very helpful: many customers don’t understand what it means and don’t understand why it matters.

Essentially, the phrase refers to the user interface (UI) and the user experience (UX) of a website, the key difference being that UI is how the user sees the site and how they interact with it, while UX is how they feel about that interaction. In fact, the term UX is now often superseded by CX – customer experience – and goes way beyond just website design to include all aspects of the user’s interaction with a company, its services, and its products.

UI – user interface: how you interact with data or content
UX – user experience: how you feel about that interaction

In case you’re still having trouble seeing the difference, let’s forget websites for a moment and think about food. Imagine a situation where you, the user, have food in a bowl and you are provided with a piece of cutlery that you can use to eat this food. That piece of cutlery is your interface (UI) with the food.

Think about the cutlery: is it a teaspoon, a dessertspoon, a tablespoon? Is it wooden, metal or plastic? Or is it a knife, a fork, a single chopstick? Obviously, what item of cutlery it is, its size, and the material it’s made from, is all going to make the process of eating the food more or less simple and a more or less enjoyable activity.

If we look at the bigger picture, though, the user experience (UX) is the whole meal experience, encompassing the spoon, the bowl, the contents of the bowl, plus the actual setting for the activity. All these elements will have an impact on how you, the user, feel.

If it’s a bowl of ice cream, to be eaten with a normal-sized dessertspoon on a warm summer’s day, a typical user is probably going to have a fairly positive experience. But what if it’s a bowl of cold lumpy porridge served at midnight in the middle of winter and the cutlery provided is a toasting fork?

In the latter example, even if the fork is replaced by a spoon that’s the perfect size, the lumpy porridge is never going to be very desirable. Even in the example with the ice cream, it’s possible that the pre-design research by the UX team was inadequate and that the user is lactose intolerant. Alternatively, if the spoon is the most exquisitely hand-carved spoon imaginable, but it’s made of ice, it won’t be very useful if the bowl contains hot soup.

It’s important to remember that even a functionally perfect or beautiful interface won’t make for an optimal user experience unless the user is being given what they want. So the best designed or most elegant website in the world is of no use if it isn’t based on a sound discovery and exploration stage that establishes who is going to use it and what it’s intended to achieve. And that’s why UX and UI matter.

Gwyneth Box
Tantamount
Email: gwyneth@tantamount.com
Phone: 0798 661 3437

Gwyneth Box is director at Tantamount, a full-service agency with international experience in brand creation and development. Working across sectors in both print and digital spaces, Tantamount specialises in creating outstanding designs and inspiring experiences that communicate corporate values and engage with customers and other stakeholders, turning them into advocates for your brand.

Gwyneth would love to talk to you about how to present your content effectively and exploit the potential of the new digital focus of the world we find ourselves in.