By Frank Spillers

UX vs Visual Design- walkway vs footpath

Image above cheat sheet: "Designers can create the right pathways, but users will do things their way. Knowing what those habits are-- will help you add shortcuts that make the journey more comfortable, and lead to better business outcomes for you" - Frank Spillers (UX Trainer / Chief Experience Officer, Experience Dynamics)

Summary: UX Design and Visual Design, while related, have very different approaches and intentions.  Visual design is about helping users see controls, menus, buttons and areas of a screen where they perform an action, for example. UX Design helps define what should go on the screen, in the first place, and helps define interactions that reinforce Key Performance Indicators like engagement, adoption and task success.

UX Design and Visual Design, while related, have very different intentions and outcomes. They come from different traditions (science vs. art)...but in today’s fast paced software engineering teams, the two are often confused as being the same thing. They are not!

3 Key Distinctions:

1: UX Design and Visual Design have differing intentions.

UX Design is about helping users get to task success, fast. The interface is crafted for maximum motivation, engagement and adoption. The aim is to present the right UI's-- at the right time.

In Visual Design, the intention is to look beautiful, often at the expense of usability. User can't see it? User can't find it? "Stupid User! Too bad, not our customer". UX Design says: "Make it ease to use, even if beauty is sacrificed". At Experience Dynamics we believe you can win with both beauty and function

2: UX Design direction is dictated by user "Interactions" based on behavior, goals, tasks (not pretty colors).

Visual design focuses on making a design look good. The emphasis is on making screens visually pleasing and in supporting brand guidelines and overall UX direction.

UX Design is about mapping and planning the "flows",  user journeys, pathways and sequences users will take to most efficiently navigate, discover, interpret and complete their tasks. 

3: Measuring success, based on user behavior, is critical to UX Design. 

With Visual Design, users are supposed to appreciate the art because of its overwhelming magnetic power and beauty, technically called "branding".  On screens, it is not enough to appreciate art. Function is as important as "pretty".

For 100 years,  great industrial designers have been telling us that balance is key: beauty they said, is defined as the absolute nailing of ease of use in a way that celebrates emotion and pleasure. 

In UX Design the idea is to base the design on observed user behavior, habits and needs. This leads to prototyping ("a prototype is worth a thousand words") and then to measuring success and failure (with usability testing and/or AB Testing). Metrics are critical to high-performing teams following an Outside-In Design approach. 

Conclusion: While Visual Design and UX Design end up on the same screen, they start out with adding different levels of value to a UI/UX project. Both are valuable, each are different, neither should be compromised for the other. 

Want more? Attend our upcoming FREE webinar: Visual Design: Setting the Standard for Design Leadership