Founder Basics: UI/UX Design

User interface (UI) design focuses on maximizing usability, creating a positive user experience, and making new technologies easier to use.

The emergence and popularity of UI/UX design is the result of the increasing awareness that the users’ online experience has a considerable impact on business.

Did you know that a delay of only one second in page load time decreases conversions by as much as 7%, page views by as much as 11%, and overall customer satisfaction by 16%? Even Google itself saw an alarming 20% decrease in traffic back in 2006, when they were experimenting with the design on their search result pages. Google wanted to show more results on the first page, but failed to predict that a mere 0.5 seconds delay in loading time would have such a huge impact on traffic. It was a valuable lesson that put UI/UX design in the spotlight.

In fact, these and many other startling statistics about user experience led UI/UX design to evolve into the discipline that it is today. As a founder, it’s crucial for you to know how to leverage the skills of UI/UX designers to drive growth and increase revenue.

What Is UI/UX Design?

User interface (UI) design is the process of planning how the interface of software programs and technological gadgets, such as laptops, smartphones, home appliances, and other electronic devices will look and function. It’s a user-centric approach where the main focus is to maximize usability and create a positive user experience. UI design bases its principles on findings about human-machine interactions in an attempt to make new technologies much more comfortable to use, attractive, and useful.

User experience (UX) design follows a similar path. As the name suggests, UX design is the process of optimizing user experience by designing technologies that fit users’ needs, preferences, and behaviors. It addresses design issues by taking the users’ perspective when designing products, processes, services, events, etc. However, it takes a more holistic approach than UI design and focuses on the entirety of the experience when buying a product, rather than a specific aspect of the process, such as the interface design.

Together, the combination of UI and UX design covers all aspects of a user-centered design, including: user research, multidisciplinary collaboration, usability, testing, visual presentation, and more. Depending on the company’s products, services, or projects, different elements of a UI/UX design discipline might be needed. We’ll explore this further in the article, when we talk about the process of hiring UI/UX designers.

UX and UI Design: What Is the Difference?

There’s a lot of overlap between UI and UX design, which is why at a first glance it might seem like these two concepts refer to the same thing. Most of the time, they’re used interchangeably, but you should understand the subtle, yet meaningful differences between them.

UI and UX design are related in terms of shared goals - they both aim to improve the usability and user experience of products, services, or projects. However, UI is more concerned with the visual properties of the design. It refers to the visual presentation of information, or in other words, how the display looks and feels. Having said that, even if the interface is incredibly simple, functions extremely well, and looks very attractive, it won’t mean much without optimizing all the other areas of product development. This is where UX design shines. It’s integrated into all the stages of product development, ensuring that the company creates products or services that guarantee a positive overall experience. 

To sum up, we can say that a UI designer optimizes one element in the product development process - interfaces, while a UX designer's responsibility is to integrate different design processes into an overall pleasant experience.

It’s also important to note that UI and UX go hand-in-hand if you want to see great results. You can’t have one without the other, which is why we believe that it’s justifiable to talk about them as one discipline with different areas of expertise.

On the other hand, some professionals within the UI/UX design field tend to gravitate toward one or the other subfield, meaning their skill set might not always match your company’s needs. Consider this difference and your specific needs when interviewing UI/UX designers.

What Does a UI/UX Designer Actually Do?

Until now, we’ve talked about UI/UX design as a discipline, but we should also consider it as a profession. In this case, we should discuss the processes, tasks, and tools used by UI/UX designers in the context of tech companies.

From everything that we’ve said so far, you can say that UI/UX designers humanize technology by making it more appealing, accessible, intuitive, and comfortable. The way they do this is by employing a non-linear, iterative process, called the design thinking process. There are five stages that guide designers when tackling user experience problems.

The six stages are: 

  • Empathize - conducting research, surveys, interviews, and other methods of collecting information with the goal of understanding users.
  • Define - identifying pain points, creating a detailed target persona, choosing objectives, listing risks, opportunities, and actions needed to reach the company’s objectives.
  • Ideate - collaborating with other teams, brainstorming, evaluating all ideas, prioritizing, filtering, and choosing actions as part of the plan or strategy.
  • Prototype - creating mockups, storyboards, and real testable representations of the best ideas.
  • Test - conducting testing on real users, collecting feedback, and iterating based on that information.
  • Implement - evaluating feedback and documentation, choosing the best performing solutions, and implementing them as part of the product or service.

To follow this process rigorously, UI/UX designers need a wide range of tools. For instance, it’s common to use tools for management and communication, research purposes, collaboration, prototyping, wireframing, and testing. Although the specifics of the design thinking processes may change from one case to another, the following list is a good example of tools designers might use in each stage.

  • Empathize (UI/UX research): Typeform, SurveyMonkey, Google Forms (creating surveys), Zoom, Microsoft Teams (interviews).
  • Define: Smaply, Userforge, MakeMyPersona.
  • Ideate: Miro, Mural, Lucidspark, Ideaflip, SessionLab Library, Stormboard.
  • Prototype: Mockingbird, POP, Sketch, AdobeXD, Figma, Mockplus, InVision,  Wireframe.cc, Whimsical.
  • Test: UserTesting.com, Pingpong, Hotjar, UsabilityHub, UserZoom, Optimizely.

The Value of UI/UX Design: Benefits

As a founder, your main concern is the value of UI/UX to the development of your business. So, why waste resources on a UI/UX designer?

There are many ways in which UI/UX design can add value to your business processes, some of which include:

Increased Usability and Efficiency of Products and Services

The whole point of UI/UX design is to make products and services more usable and efficient. Through the design process that we explained earlier, UI/UX designers make sure that your offers are well-received among your target audience. After all, usability is extremely important, as we’ve learned with the example of Google’s traffic decline. Moreover, in a survey done by The State of Mobile Enterprise Collaboration, 97% of users said that ease-of-use is the most important quality in a mobile app, and they’ll leave the site if they don’t like the interface.

Improved Customer Acquisition

By improving user experience you’ll be able to attract more customers and increase conversion rates without spending additional costs on marketing or sales. Learning from the statistics presented above, we can conclude that if the interface is more aesthetically pleasing and intuitive and gives customers what they’re looking for, the bounce rate will be lower. And, more visitors reading your content leads to more customers, even if the conversion rate stays the same - but, it won’t because a strong UX design increases customer satisfaction, leading us to the next benefit. 

Increased Customer Satisfaction and Customer Retention

Acquiring new customers is great, but retaining existing customers is even more important. And, if you want to learn more about retention strategies, please read our article “Founder Basics: Retention-Driven Marketing.” In the meantime, let’s see how user experience can help you improve customer satisfaction and retain customers.

Create a product that makes people feel good or solves their problem in a simple and efficient way, and chances are they will keep using it or come back for more. Best of all, when that product or service is associated with a positive experience, users will turn it into a habit - it will become their go-to solution, which is a recipe for a loyal customer that will never leave you.

Lower Product Development Costs

In two separate studies, one conducted by Rogue Wave Software and the other by the University of Cambridge, researchers found that around 50% of the time that developers spend fixing bugs could’ve been avoided. This debugging process then leads to delays and added costs. UX testing can avoid these problems, save you time and money, and help you establish a trustworthy and authoritative reputation among clients or customers.

Maximized Revenue Generation Opportunities

A sales pipeline represents the stages of a customers’ journey from their initial contact with you until the moment they made a purchase. And, with each interaction in those stages, there are many opportunities to seal the deal or convert leads into buyers. UX testing is a great way to see how users react to some of your approaches in each of those stages, and help you focus on the ones with the greatest conversion power. This way, you won’t have to theorize about new trends or good practices, but directly learn from your own customer base what works and what doesn’t. Then, you can continuously refine the experience and witness how your sales grow.

More Valuable Analytical Insights

Of course, everything that we’ve mentioned so far wouldn't be possible without data-driven decisions based on analytical insights from UI/UX findings. These findings bring additional value to your business and help out other departments in various ways. For instance, learning what users are missing from a product, where they look first when visiting a page, or why they leave your website can help you tailor your product development, marketing, or lead-generation strategy. Together with the standard analytics, you’ll have a competitive advantage when it comes to understanding and building a relationship with your customers.

On top of the above-mentioned benefits, you might also appreciate some interesting facts from user-centered tech giants. According to the insights gathered from “The Trillion Dollar UX Problem: A Comprehensive Guide to the ROI of UX,” we know that:

  • Hubspot recently hired one UX designer and two visual designers for a three-month project concerning the user experience on the website. When the project finished, Hubspot revealed that their conversion rate doubled.
  • In the first year of founding Amazon, Jeff Bezos invested 100 times more in user experience than in advertising. 
  • Victor Lombardi, the author of Why We Fail, believes that Nokia went from being the biggest mobile phone manufacturer to barely surviving because it did not prioritize user experience as Apple, a brand that dominates the market today, did.

Outsourcing UI/UX Design: What Are the Options?

Outsourcing UI/UX Design: What Are the Options?

One thing that makes founders say no to UI/UX designers are the costs related to running a creative department in a newly-formed startup. Beginnings are especially hard, which is why you might be inclined to believe that UI/UX design is a luxury in the early stages. However, that’s not true.

Sure, we’re not saying to hire a creative department dedicated to user experience - that makes no business sense for a startup, unless finances are not an issue. We are only suggesting that you do not discard UI/UX design right away. There are other alternatives. 

For starters, until you can afford to hire an in-house team, you can outsource your UI/UX design needs. Again, you have two options: freelancers or a digital agency.

Hiring freelancers is more affordable and might give you the chance to work with professionals that have a different skill set. Because of this, you’ll learn a lot of useful practices, tools, and new ways of solving user experience issues. The downsides refer to common problems with freelancing: quality concerns, failure to deliver, punctuality, and availability. Investing time and effort is the key to overcoming these risks.

Hiring professionals through a digital agency is more expensive than freelancing. However, you’ll get more efficiency and reliability. For instance, if a designer becomes unavailable, the agency has other people ready to take over - your projects won’t suffer. On top of that, agencies have their own evaluation and incentive systems to make sure that all tasks meet certain standards and are delivered in a timely manner. 

Making the right decision is not easy. You need to consider your business needs, the time span of your project, your budget, and the pros and cons of both alternatives.

But don’t worry, to help you hire the right person for the job, we’ll discuss the skills and areas of expertise that UI/UX designers need. This way, you’ll be able to identify and focus on the skills that best match your company’s needs, or make an informed decision to hire professionals specializing in a specific area of expertise. 

Skills All UI/UX Designers Must Have

UI/UX design is a competitive field with a lot of talented people waiting for job opportunities. However, to make sure you hire the right person for your specific business goals, you need to better understand the skills that will make great designers stand out.

  • UX research and usability testing. The two pillars of successful UI/UX design are: 
  • research intended to help you better understand your users, and;
  • testing - to evaluate responses and choose the right solutions.
  • Prototyping, wireframing, user flows, mockups. During the product development process, UI/UX designers need to be able to envision how the final product would look like. This is done by creating a wireframe, prototype, or mockup. 
  • UX writing. Words define communication, whether it’s in-person or online. The success of the visual presentation depends on the designer’s ability to speak the users’ language and make them feel good.
  • Visual design and design software. Designers need to have excellent skills in drawing and animation tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator. Moreover, they need to have knowledge of color theory, typography, design elements, etc.
  • Application development. UI/UX designers are not developers, but they’re still expected to know the basics of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. This helps them collaborate with developers, have realistic expectations, and directly contribute to product development.
  • Collaboration. Integrating knowledge from different disciplines is one of the core principles that define UX design.
  • Visualization and Presentation. Not just as a technical skill, but visualization and presentation are two soft skills that help designers communicate with stakeholders and other colleagues.

UI/UX Design: Areas of Expertise

Finally, UI/UX professionals with a lot of experience usually specialize in one of the following four areas of expertise. While they need to be familiar with all four, having expertise  in one subject has its benefits. Specific projects might be focused solely on research, testing, prototyping, etc.

Experience Strategy (ExeS)

Experience strategy refers to the process of integrating business, technological, and design strategies into solutions. The goal is to improve user experience by bringing more value to the client or customer, but at the same time, adding value to the company as a provider.

Interaction Design (IxD)

UI/UX designers specializing in interaction design focus on creating interactive products and services that best serve the users’ needs. In this process, the interaction between product/service and client is the priority, while the goal is optimizing this interactive experience.

User Research (UR)

We’ve mentioned user research many times before, but it’s more than just a skill. Many UI/UX design professionals specialize in conducting research, utilizing research tools, and gathering valuable insights from your target audience.

Information Architecture (IA)

Information architecture is a practice focused on the organization and structure of content displayed on websites, mobile phones, tech gadgets, and other electronic devices. It studies what is the best placement of elements in order to achieve specific results. 

A Few Words Before You Leave...

Many professionals today swear by the saying: “focus on the user and everything else will follow.” The data tells a similar story - with UI/UX design, you can double your conversion rates and increase revenue. Hopefully, our article gave a good explanation why these claims hold water and you’re leaving with a better understanding of UI/UX design. 

To learn even more, visit our blog to see what else we have to offer. And, if you have a burning question on your mind, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our team back at Redwhale would be happy to help you out!

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