In Part Two, we continued exploring the concepts of Information Architecture, UX Design, and Prototyping.
In this article, we'll wrap things up by discussing Visual Design, Interaction Design, and finally, Gamification. Let's begin!
WHAT IS VISUAL DESIGN?
Often referred to as “Graphic Design,” or more confusingly “User Interface Design” or “UI Design,” Visual Design is the process of using fonts, typography, color theory, composition, and iconography to establish or reinforce a product’s visual aesthetic and emotional appeal. Visual design directly supports a product’s given Content Strategy and is a crucial component of branding. Graphic Designers create “mood boards,” “style guides”, or “pattern libraries” to establish conventions and standards for what all the widgets and interactive elements will look like across all parts of a product.
Since it’s visual, it’s also the part of UX design that is often the most apparent to end-users once it’s implemented. A lot of people believe that Visual Design is what you’re talking about when you talk about UX. It’s not an entirely wrong conclusion to make, but it’s missing the big picture of what UX really is. To highlight how confusing this can be, I’ve had more than one prospective client ask me “what’s the difference between UI and UX anyway?” to which I reply, “UI is just manifestation of an intended strategic user experience strategy...yada yada...buzzword buzzword.” Once the eyes begin to glaze and the nodding starts, we move on!
"People believe that Visual Design is what you’re talking about when you talk about UX. It’s not an entirely wrong conclusion to make, but it’s missing the big picture of what UX really is."
WHY IS VISUAL DESIGN IMPORTANT?
"If you've invested in sound, underlying Information Architecture and UX Design, with some market research, a rebranding in Visual Design and Content Strategy, and a few UX tweaks, you could shift the focus of your product to a totally different demographic..."
Also consider the power of how your startup can leverage Visual Design in conjunction with Content Strategy to appeal to different target markets. Let’s say that you’ve built an intuitive, functional, and beautiful e-commerce app or website on top of a robust back-end architecture, selling apparel and accessories for automotive racing enthusiasts. You’re looking at your analytics and your revenues, and it turns out that this target market just isn’t as lucrative as your team had hoped. Instead of shutting down your startup, if you've invested in sound, underlying Information Architecture and UX Design, with some market research, a rebranding in Visual Design and Content Strategy, and a few UX tweaks, you could shift the focus of your product to a totally different demographic, such as selling pet supplies and accessories for gamers. Same functionality, but with a new aesthetic approach to appeal to a different, and perhaps, unserved demographic. Visual Design is not just a superficial coat of paint, kids.
WHEN SHOULD I USE VISUAL DESIGN?
WHAT IS INTERACTION DESIGN?
You may hear the term “Interaction Design” and wonder how it relates to the other flavors of UX. It can get confusing to talk about all these different terms, but like Prototyping, Interaction Design (IxD) is a specialized subset of UX Design, informed by visual design, that deals with making user inputs and moments of interaction as useful and emotionally resonant as possible. Interaction Designers achieve this using animations, audio, visual effects, or other forms of feedback to enhance interactions, making them more pleasing and delightful.
To put it another way, if you’re planning cross-country roadtrip with your best friends, the UX Designer would come up with the list of cities to visit and the directions to follow in between them (assume it’s the 90’s and Google Maps doesn’t exist yet, kids). The Interaction Designer, on the other hand, would implement a perfect evening by getting front-row tickets to a concert or show, followed by reservations for dinner in one of the best restaurants in town.
Therefore, the role of the UX Designer tends to be more big-picture or strategic, while the Interaction Designer serves a more specialized, tactical purpose, much like a Prototyper. But how does this manifest itself in actual product development? Interaction Design does overlap with Visual Design in terms of how interactive elements should look and feel, and uses many of the same tools as Prototyping. Unlike Prototyping which focuses on early state disposables or throw-away work made with the intent to learn, Interaction Design builds on firmer foundations as it is the process of making Visual Designs come alive (within the context of a larger User Experience designs) and is meant for use in a product that's about to enter the launch phase.
Also consider the realm of Industrial Product Design where a company produces some form of physical goods or hardware, such a producing a dishwasher or microwave. The role or functions of a visual designer may not be present on the team, but Interaction Design thinking would determine how pressing buttons is pleasant and gives user sufficient feedback.
"The role of the UX Designer tends to be more big-picture or strategic, while the Interaction Designer serves a more specialized, tactical purpose..."
WHY IS INTERACTION DESIGN IMPORTANT?
WHEN SHOULD I USE INTERACTION DESIGN?
WHAT IS GAMIFICATION?
Gamification is not necessarily a component of all UX projects, but it bears mentioning here as it’s a very specialized and unique part of the toolset of some UX designers (like yours truly!) Gamification is the process of adding elements of game design or game theory into a product or service’s feature set to recognize and reward desired patterns of behavior. Such elements often include typical features like “leveling up” with “experience points” or earning rewards like “trophies” or “badges” for maintaining habits and engagement over time. But they can also utilize elements of choice-making, customization, and goal-setting so users feel more deeply invested and motivated to interact with your product.