For this article I’ve enlisted my boss Windahl Finnigan, who heads up the Capgemini UK UX team and we’ve been discussing for a while about how to best describe the difference between User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) as the two are often confused with each other but they are vastly different entities.
A well-used example is that riding a horse is the User Experience while the saddle, the bridle, etc is the User Interface.
However, riding the horse is actually better described as an Activity that forms part of the overall User Experience.
The User Experience is everything that covers the full experience and everything related before, during and after the ride: The track, getting to and from the track, the thrill of the cheering crowd , looking at the photos of you flying off the horse days after the actual ride and so on.
Riding the horse may have been great and getting thrown off was a fun (and somewhat humiliating) lesson that made you respect skills of seasoned riders.
But two weeks later your leg still hasn’t recovered from the fall, you call the stables but they won’t even listening to you quoting disclaimers you signed when mounting the horse… Suddenly the User Experience of the ride is quite different.
However, the User Interface (the saddle, bridle etc) remains the same as before the change in perception of the User Experience. The materials and tools haven’t changed.
The best way of describing a User Experience is you cannot perceive it while you are in it. Only after it is over can you comprehend and review the User Experience with the benefit of hindsight.
What it means to your customers
A good User Interface creates trust. Trust that the site will work, trust that the company offers a professional User Experience as promised by the professional looking User Interface. But without applied User Experience Design it only forms a single step in a what is a multi-step process. Not having the other steps can leave the user feeling unengaged and with no clear direction or encouragement.
A good User Experience nurtures customer loyalty by creating a consistently good experience throughout the user’s journey no matter what path they may follow. The User Experience delivers on the promises of the professional looking User Interface.
Why User Experience has emerged as such an important craft
In the early days of the web Graphic User Interface Design, User Experience Design, Information Architecture, Frontend Development and more were all the responsibility of a single role: The Web Designer.
Today, the tasks are split out into a range of roles for a number of reasons:
- The digital industry has grown immensely in a short period of time. So has the digital projects and their importance to the businesses. Where a digital presence used to be a fringe investment, it is now part of the core business model.
- In the early days the User Experience was limited to a single website. Today it extends across a range of delivery mechanisms and channels: Websites, Digital Marketing, Social Media, not to mention Mobiles, Tablets, Interactive TVs, Games stations, Touch Screens etc. As such maintaining a consistent User Experience across is a complex task involving Creative Skills, Strategic Thinking as well as Psychology, User Research and much more.
- And last, but absolutely not least, there is the expectations of the Users. While the web has grown ever more complicated, the Users have equally grown more impatient and demand simpler and faster experiences. As Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, said: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
So what about Customer Experience vs User Experience?
The term “User” has become associated with digital interfaces where the word “Customer” feels more at home in traditional marketing/CRM/PR terminology. But the fact is due to the impact and integration of the Internet with everything, the experiences on- and offline are naturally flowing together into a single Experience.
In practical terms Customer Experience and User Experience are for most parts interchangeable. The main difference being User Experience has a wider reach as a Customer is automatically a User of the Experience, while a User may not necessarily be a Customer (they could be a competitor, a colleague, a partner etc).
The important takeaway from this article is the difference between User Interface and User Experience as the former is only a single step of the full path that is the latter.