What do I think UI and UX are?

When I tell people I am a computer programmer, most people understand what I mean. When I tell people I focus on building and improving user interfaces and user experiences, I get a mix of people who either say “that is great…you make websites…I can’t even check my e-mail” or “can you fix my laptop…I cannot access the Internet wirelessly.” Most information technology people are not exactly sure what the terms mean either, but I find most people in IT management know the buzzwords. My goal with this post is to tackle some of the relevant issues that pertain to web usability, user experience, interface research, as well as sharing simplified concepts that can help people create much more user friendly websites. Let me start by explaining what I believe User Experience Design and User Interface Development are.

What is User Experience (UX)?

User Experience is all about approaching applications as the user. When a user comes to your website, how do they know what is important and where to find the things that they are looking for? If they are filling out a form, do they know that their first name is required? If they don’t fill it out, how can they be notified that they must fill it out before moving on without losing everything in the form? Are things that belong together grouped together in a way that makes sense? These are the kinds of questions that user experience development asks.

The answers are not always as obvious as you might think. Why else do so many people have such a hard time using well-known web applications like Facebook and MySpace? What is shown, what isn’t shown, where they are shown, the relationship of one item to another – these decisions can make or break the ease of use for your application.

There is also a level of psychology involved in the process. A 80 year old woman may interact with a website completely differently than a 8 year old girl and have completely different expectations wrapped around their actions. The perception of how things should behave is formed by observing how other similar things have behaved in the past. For example, when you scroll over a link, you expect the cursor for your mouse to change and become a pointing finger. This is something that has been ingrained in our expectations from visiting thousands of other websites with the same behavior. With a line of CSS, it’s possible to make the cursor something else when you scroll over a link, but it breaks with user expectations and makes them uneasy, unsure of what their actions will result in and unable to use your application properly. Similarly, as AJAX and AJAX-like JavaScript becomes more and more commonplace, it is important to show the user that the objects that trigger AJAX functions are “links.” This is again just a line of CSS, but it makes all the difference where the use is concerned.

What is User Interface (UI)?

A user interface is what users see when they access an application. A user interface designer may be someone who simply designs the look and feel of an application by creating wireframes and mockups of the final product or they may be heavier on the development side. Often a user interface developer will have an array of skills in client-side technologies such as JavaScript and JavaScript libraries such as jQuery, jQuery UI, EXT JS, YUI, Prototype, or others.

User interface development ties in closely with user experience development in that the user is the end-goal in both situations, which means that simplicity in design is paramount.

I’m looking forward to delving into both of these subjects in much less general terms in the future. I hope to post some actual examples with code breakdowns.

Almost forgot…HAPPY NEW YEAR! We’re going to Disneyland!…now to let the rest of the family know : )

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I am a technologist with a strong background in software engineering. I have many interests. My current distractions are 70s-80s-90s music [it's a very eclectic collection], ontology, information architecture, mobile device technology, medical bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, and nanorobotics.

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