User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) are currently two of the most used product design concepts. While UX designers focus on experience and set the mood, tone and communication style, UI designers materialize that experience in a user interface. Both have been around for some time now and through their combined efforts digital products come to life.
For each project there are several valid approaches, but the absolute one and only right path, better than all the others, doesn't exist. Keeping it simple and practical, however, is one of the safest ways to go, focusing on providing a perfectly working interface and a clean experience that lets users quickly meet the desired end.
Take the Tinker website as a good example of a clean and functional design:
The product search page consists of a simple and intuitive search that lets the user find the desired product by matching different parameters. When on hover, it provides both the cost and the option to add the desired article to the cart. Clicking on any product will open a different page that contains a thorough description. Everything stands on a white background that deepens the website’s clean experience.
We usually hear that less is more and, most of the times, that’s the best way to achieve the desired ends. However, sometimes it seems as there’s a blank space that no one notices until it’s filled with a different style.
MAKING A STYLISH DIFFERENCE
One of the perks of design is being able to create different experiences based on the same data. There are multiple ways of turning a set of information and requirements into positive experience for the users, such as Tinker did.
The following comparison shows how the same information can be organised in two different ways, both being easy to use and providing a great experience.
The Final Fantasy VII battle interface presents everything that the player needs. Through the usage of menus, text, numbers and bars, all the important information is available in a simple and practical way. The interface couldn’t be made easier or more intuitive and one could hardly point something negative about the experience that comes from it. Up to Final Fantasy XV (2017), all the following games in the series use variations of this same menu and that's proof enough of its quality.
Straightaway, Persona 5 seems to provide a completely different experience. However, its interface is based on the same information, only styled in a different way. Apart from the distinctive ways to select each option – single button actions against selecting options from a menu – everything works the same way.
Different styles can provide very different experiences. Even if the features that stand on the base of the menu in both cases are very similar, the style applied in Persona 5 makes it stand apart.
This type of style was not missed in Final Fantasy VII because, in reality, there’s nothing wrong with its interface in the first place. Now, if we take a good look at Persona 5, it’s clear exactly how much difference it can make. While at it, if you’re interested in a more in depth analysis of the beautiful UX/UI design of Persona 5, you can follow this great article about it.
Previously, I made it clear that style makes all the difference in the experience users have. Now, we’ll see the strategic aspect of it and the consequences of such design decisions. They sometimes might seem like small changes sometimes, but UX and UI design will define the projected image of a product's communication style and positioning.
Bloomberg is a great example of boldness in its design, one that we already explored in another context in a previous article. The example above shows how the website was before their latest redesign and, looking at it now, it seems as there's nothing wrong with it. However, sometimes it's not about looking better than before, but about looking differently.
As John Micklethwait, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief, explained, they gave their website a cleaner look in order to simplify the user’s experience. Looking at both websites now, the main difference between them is the style. They went back to black & white and organised a few elements differently, but the interface is very much alike. While it may seem like a cosmetic change, it will, in fact, greatly impact the user experience.
In the end, style is what makes the desired user experience possible. Just as easily, a user can accomplish the same on both Bloomberg examples presented here. The main difference regards the company in itself, that projects a different image with each option.
WHEN IS IT TIME TO CHANGE?
There’s no such thing as the best time to redesign. Although this applies to design in general, graphic design shows it better. For instance, Twinings of London uses the same logo since 1706, while Juventus Football Club drastically changed their logo after 112 years of consistency. Some products never change whilst others change almost every year and that's perfectly natural.
That’s what’s so interesting about the examples that were shown in this article: all of them represent perfectly healthy UX and UI designs. In the end, there’s no good or bad styling, just a particular style that is more suited to meet each product's business goals. It’s much more connected to strategic thinking - which is also part of product design - than interfaces or experiences.
Another good example comes from Google, as Chrome recently changed to integrate Material Design. Even if it doesn’t differ much from the previous interface, keeping a similar experience, it’s undoubtedly a statement that represents a strategic decision. For instance, it’s different from what happened with Gmail earlier this year, as its interface and experience changed considerably.
Equally good options can represent contrasting positions in the industry and, consequently, the best time to change is when one doesn’t feel comfortable with the image that is being projected by their design. Sometimes, it doesn't take much to change drastically. It’s just a question of playing with the product's style and adjust it according to the business goals.