February 22, 2017 - No Comments!

UX design: or the hidden face of the moon

IKEA analogy

Have you ever visited the furniture store IKEA? The store is divided into three main areas: the showroom, the marketplace and the self-service warehouse. Each area is then divided into smaller sections. The showroom, for example, is designed as a one-way natural path that leads customers through a sequence of assembled and designed kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, and offices, etc. They are meant to give the user a better idea of the furniture and products in the context of a home. The market hall is where users can pick up small products that are organised by type (textiles, lighting, decoration, etc.). Each of IKEA’s furniture is identified by a unique name and code that is referenced on all of the company’s selling platforms, including its stores, catalogues, websites and its self-service warehouse. What IKEA offers is a holistic and consistent user experience.

IKEA stores are divided into three main sections: the showroom, where the furniture is displayed in context of assembled and designed rooms; the market hall, where customers can pick up some smaller objects for their homes; and finally the self-serve furniture area, which very much ressembles a warehouse. Source: IKEA Montreal. 2016. Store map.

Above is an example of an assembled and designed living room, in IKEA’s showroom section.

UX stands for user experience. Its development process encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with a company, its services, and its products (Norman and Neilsen). Many people mistakingly define UX design as a domain that is only concerned with websites’ navigation efficiency and general aesthetics. But UX is really about strategic problem-solving. UX design is concerned with developing and improving the interaction between a user and all the facets of a company.

UX on the Web

In theory, UX is thus a non-digital practice based in cognitive sciences and theories. In practice, it has been used mostly in the digital world of Websites, mobile apps and computer softwares. When it comes to Web design and development, UX designers are responsible for research, user testing, interface / visual design, and the development of prototypes. They tend to work closely with UI designers, programers and coders.

What about UI?

UI stands for user interface. It is the link between the user and the computer. UI design is concerned with the transferring a brand’s strengths and visual assets into Website, mobile app, or computer software interfaces. Similar to UX, UI design is also focused on responding to user needs in order to achieve business goals. UI designers are responsible for the creation visual designs that guide users through a product’s interface. They create information hierarchy using visual cues such as typography, graphic design, as well as interactive or animated elements. UI designers are also the ones that think about responsiveness across digital mediums of all sizes and platforms.

"UI design is a huge part of UX. I would say that in a good majority of cases the UX designer does in fact design the interface. But UX is not UI” (Flowers 2012).

The hidden face of the moon

It is important to remember that it takes a lot of “behind-the-scenes” work to create a successful and elegant Website. Complex UX design is always “hidden" behind the elegant interface design of successful Websites. UI is only a part of a complex strategic process that involves the creation of a wholistic user experience.


In his book The elements of user experience: User-centered design for the Web, Jesse James Garrett has broken down the UX development process into five stages: strategy, scope, structure, skeleton and surface. The framework allows for a better understanding of the field of UX design.

1. Strategy: What problem needs to be solved?

During this stage, UX designers conduct user and market research in order to better understand the problematic and to develop user personas.

2. Scope: How do we solve the problem?

UX designers select platforms and features that must be included in the solution.

3. Structure: How do we organise the content?

UX designers create flow maps, user journeys, and information architecture diagrams to divide the content into logical areas, categories and hierarchies.

4. Skeleton: How do users interact with the content?

At this stage of the process, UX designers are concerned with information design, or the arrangement of specific interface elements that allow users to interact with the system’s functionalities. They create various sketches and iterative wireframes.

5. Surface: How do we communicate the brand values and aesthetics?

The final stage of the UX design process is about the sensory experience, or the visual design. With all the previously developed research material and UX design work, UI designers can confidently develop interfaces that communicate the brand values and aesthetics.

Once the UX development process is completed, the work is transferred to production, where coders and programers implement the concept.


I hope this post has demystified the terms UX and UI, and that you better understand the roles and responsibilities of UX and UI designers. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!


Flowers, Erik. 2012. ‘UX is not UI.’ HelloErik Experience Design.

Norman, Don and Jakob Nielsen. ‘The definition of user experience.’ Nielson Norman Group. 

Unger, John. 2016. ‘Difference between UX and UI design.’ Devsaran.

Pan, Simon. 2015. ‘The only UX reading list ever.’ Medium – Interactive Mind.

Published by: Laurence Pilon in Branding, Information design, UX design, Web design

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