Coffee Chats is a series where industry experts spill the beans on their profession, address misconceptions and impart practical tips.
The internet has been a game-changer in eliminating physical distance and opening doors for online businesses: in a fashion the world has never seen before, it grants customers easy and convenient access to all kinds of products and services.
Vietnamese enterprises are no bystanders. To last in the race for clients, they’re increasingly invested in creating and bettering users’ online experiences via web and mobile. This rapidly growing line of work that’s responsible for navigating online/digital experience is none other than UX.UI design, and rising demands from the business sector has only taken the industry’s appeal to new heights — especially among young professionals.
Having broken into UX.UI from its humble beginnings, our featured expert Hoang Nguyen couldn’t help but notice some common misunderstandings about the field. His credentials: a product designer with over nine years of experience in app development — including five years at Interactive Labs, Inc in Silicon Valley. Now back in Ho Chi Minh City, Hoang serves as co-founder and design coach of GEEK Up, a software company that specializes in building and launching digital products for enterprises and start-ups around the world.
Vietcetera sits down with him to identify and debunk seven of those myths.
Brief introduction to UX.UI design
- UX: stands for user experience, or their reaction and impression when using a digital product, service or system.
- UI: stands for user interface, or what they can see and interact with through their devices.
Since Vietnam doesn’t have a major public university that offers an undergraduate UX.UI program at the moment, local students lack pointers on this industry at the early stages, when they need career guidance the most. In fact, most only hear about UX.UI when they’ve started another program or even later when having worked another job — further limiting their chances of approaching and advancing in the UX.UI field.
“The most seamless transitions I’ve observed are perhaps from those with a background in graphic design. It’s because they understand and can apply visual principles to create an effective, eye-catching interface for UI,” said Hoang.
“But beware that the hype isn’t always the truth, especially for an industry this new and underexplored. Given the circulation of false information in the air right now, it’s looking to me like many young professionals are likely to have misunderstood and overglorified the UX.UI field. It would be a pity for them to go into it with less than realistic expectations... only to waste time and be let down.”
Myth 1: UX and UI are identical — If you can do one, you can do the other
Short answer: no. Long answer: UX and UI are essentially independent and even demand a few different requirements:
- UX: Best to equip yourself with knowledge on human behavior, psychology, business and the market. Some great qualities to have would be empathy, good communication, problem solving skills, a zest for learning and the ability to look at the big picture.
- UI: Favors an eye for art, aesthetics and visual design principles. The ideal candidate should be artistic, creative, persistent, meticulous and open-minded, particularly in the face of challenges.
A successful UX.UI designer would obtain and combine a myriad of the above skills and even more. But the grind doesn’t stop there: heavily dependent on technology, UX.UI is ever-changing. So designers must also stay up to date on industry knowledge with regular practice.
Myth 2: UX.UI is an extremely well-paying profession
This misconception is a dangerous byproduct of the start-up bubble in recent years, when start-up companies are abnormally overvalued compared to the historic average. Under the pressures of staying on track with key performance indicators (KPI) and timelines sketched out by hopeful investors, these start-ups would pour a lot of money into talent acquisition, hence inflating the UX.UI industry’s actual wages and demands.
At these firms, UX.UI designers have often been assigned a set scope of work by their seniors, with little consideration of what ideas they might have to offer. When substantially all they need to do is clone existing features from one app to another, these designers will soon be discouraged from values of creativity and usage of fundamental design principles that they once carried to the job.
The paradox, though? Pay is high for doing less. Yet, as soon as the deal closes or the market collapses, these very designers will be the first ones booted out.
Such events can easily wreck and confuse them. Misled and oversold on their own competence, the designers will have a hard time grasping their own strengths and weaknesses, making it difficult to move onto a new job that’s suitable for them and the inflated salary expectations they had been used to. In the worst case scenario, before they realize it, years will have passed while their career makes little progress.
If you feel like what described might be happening to you, take this lesson from every other industry: no matter whether someone’s a photographer, bartender or graphic designer, if they want higher wages, they show that they earn it — by having a competitive skill set and rising to the top with it. That’s the only path to sustainable income, no matter where and who you work with, in my opinion.
Myth 3: There is room for limitless creativity within UX.UI
There’s hardly a right or wrong answer to this.
A UX.UI project can be divided into two stages: examination and execution. During the former, it’s crucial to first identify the area needing work. We do this by interpreting available data on users, businesses and market demands, using careful analysis and logical thinking. Only then will we move onto finding the right course of action.
Note that an issue is worth time working on when it meets both of the following criteria:
- It exists, meaning that users are actually reporting it. A speculation that you’re trying to prove real wouldn’t be justifiable.
- It creates values, meaning you have grounds to believe it is substantial enough that users would be willing to pay for a solution you created.
As you can see, this stage doesn’t necessarily call for creativity. It’s during what follows that we incorporate it, though always under certain conditions.
UI design, or building experiences, is that next step. At this stage, the designer is tasked with finding the most optimal solutions to the problem. It’s very important to have a variety because of all the possible restrictions that might arise during implementation. These can include:
- Technical limitations
- Business profitability
- Market trends
- Target customers’ demands
- Labor and time constraints
- The trail left by industry giants such as Facebook, Google, Apple…
Myth 4: UX.UI is king of the design industry
This might sound ludicrous, but I have met UX.UI professionals who look down on others in another design discipline.
When these folks are convinced that there are soaring market demands for this career and opportunities are abound for them to pick and choose from, the confidence can easily get to their head. Interestingly, though, UX.UI design actually stemmed from industrial design. It only took the shape it has today after the emergence of the internet, when a new, digitalized world was born.
Because everything happened so rapidly and recently, the UX.UI industry is still largely in its infancy. A lot of the things we currently know about it have been and will be redefined continuously over the years. On another note, I think there’s really little point in pitting different professions against each other, when what truly matters is that we’re working to the best of our ability and enjoying what we can earn from it.
Myth 5: UX.UI offers the flexibility to work from anywhere
The planet earth might not be flat, but our modern world surely is, thanks to widespread internet connectivity. As a result, many industries have been able to leverage this to comfortably accommodate remote work.
UX.UI design is no exception, though the option would be most suited for teams that check off the following:
- You have an efficient, rigorous routine and open communication among team members. You’re also all in senior roles, with stellar work ethics, self-control and commitment to project objectives.
- You’re dealing with a fairly simple and static task, which can be done by referencing existing models and therefore doesn’t require regular, in-depth discussions with the entire team.
Myth 6: UX.UI is easy as you can use references
I’ve often heard that the UX.UI project timeline can be jokingly summed up as: Receive a brief → Go on Dribbble/Behance for inspiration → Sketch out a layout or two from there → Make few adjustments to chosen layout to mask as original work → Start on UI → Get back on Dribble to search for a style → Color → End up with a cool mock-up.
In order to understand this, we need to know that an app usually has two types of functions:
- Basic features are almost mandatory and built into virtually every app: signing up, logging in, settings, user manual…
- Primary features are important in identifying an app’s main selling points and differ from field to field: booking for hospitality, purchasing for e-commerce...
It’s alright for designers to prioritize working on the tasks that will actually set their products apart, hence referencing available designs for basic features. The idea is similar to how the well-known 80/20 rule suggests dedicating a major chunk (80%) of time and resources on what’s more important in any given situation.
But designers shouldn’t abuse the availability of references when it comes to developing primary features. It’s best that they do thorough research for these features instead of depending on what’s already out there, otherwise the risks of their app conflicting original target customers’ desires or business goals and lacking originality will be high — a matter of life and death for the product.
Myth 7: UX.UI is a job only for the design department
This could be the case for UI design as it benefits from artistry, which, in my opinion, needs to be a combination of both talent and industry-specific knowledge. But with UX, the user experience doesn’t simply end when they disconnect from their device or the digital environment: it spans throughout what we call the user journey, from when everything begins with them realizing a need to only after that need has been satisfied. Here’s an example using Grab:
- The user experience starts with someone wishing to reach an address and taking out their phone to find a ride on the app, then ends when they’ve arrived at their destination. While it could be extended to the reviewing and tipping stage, the process will finish at drop-off for most users.
Because the actual time an user would spend interacting with the app’s interface is much less than that of the entire journey, all teams on board can contribute their individual expertise to the final design. What they can do together is take the data collected during implementation, imagine themselves in the user’s place, then compile valuable findings and insights that the design team would have otherwise found much more difficult to gather on their own.
For that reason, UX to me is perfect as a job for everybody.
Translated by Jennifer Nguyen