User Experience (UX) design is often conflagrated with interface design and visual or graphic design. Where are Product design and Customer Experience in this Venn diagram of design? To most folks who are not designers, these distinctions are not needed in practical terms; as long as the end product looks good and does the job well, then the designer did their job, and the specific design disciplines employed are irrelevant.
For the most part, this is a harmless practice. Sub-genres can be conglomerated into genres without injury. However, education is empowering, and I have seen many groups, from all levels of business benefit from better understanding these design sub-genres. UX design covers a lot of ground, it includes all of interface and graphic design, essentially any time there is a user involved, we open the user experience design toolbox.
Interface design, by contrast, focuses completely on the interface itself; the implementation, speed, weight, efficiency, accessibility, localization, etc. It is a specialization of focus, a necessary part of excellent UX design, but interface design does not fill the UX design toolbox all by itself.
Some of the best design reviews I have had with clients and stakeholders evolve into design classes. The client is better able to articulate ideas and provide critical feedback when they have some design tools of their own. Design is a game of making rules, and then breaking rules. Rules about contrast, typography, semiotics, information architecture, etc. are easy to explain in the context of a project that everyone in the room understands. Each design review brings an opportunity to educate the client in these aspects of design. They can take these away from the meeting, and maybe, bring them back next time. More understanding increases the perceived value of design as a service and enables a collaborative, team environment, rather than a client-vs-vendor faceoff.
It is critical that the user experience designer is equipped to answer the question Why? Design without rationale is hollow and will likely fail to meet business objectives. Rationale allows for testing, another important tool in UX design. Visual hypothesis testing is common practice in marketing, a department familiar with A/B testing tools like Google Optimize. A marketing client may not be familiar with usability testing but can appreciate the value and process because they are a gold certified A/B testing veteran.
Answering why a design took one direction and not another informs the client, empowering them with that knowledge for the remainder of the project. Over a few design reviews, the client gains a growing sense of control of their project and an increasing appreciation of the value of UX design if the design can educate along the way. Trust happens. Then the client is transformed from stakeholder to partner, and that is a user experience worth building.
More about Zac:
As a Senior Consultant at Blueprint Consulting Services, a nationwide full-service consulting firm that specializes in identifying and implementing business transformation solutions, Zac Bedell is an energetic and creative designer with broad software industry knowledge. He is a leader by nature, thrives under pressure, and most of all, enjoys solving user experience problems. Solving user-centered problems through software satisfies both the artist and the scientist in within him. He has a B.F.A. in Visual Communication Design and has spent many years as a UX designer at Microsoft, a startup, then Webtrends, now Senior Consultant of Design at Blueprint Consulting Services in Bellevue. Currently, Zac is working to grow the design practice within Blueprint while also doing hands-on design for many internal and external projects.