Why User Experience Design Is Not an Extension of Graphic Design

digital drawing with user experience design

How it may have started

You may have seen marketing agencies offering user experience design services, you may even have seen graphic designers freelancing as user experience designers and may have come to the conclusion that UX design is a natural offshoot of graphic design. In layperson terms, one may assume that if someone knows how to use Photoshop, they can also do UX design. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the early days of software development, the primary method of interacting with computers was through programming, using interfaces that were purely text-based called “command line interfaces” (CLI). The people who used these computers had to first spend time learning how to programme a computer using one of many programming “languages”. There was no need to make interfaces accessible to the common person as computers were specialised machines that served specialised requirements.

How it evolved

But the multi-purpose nature of computers was too tempting to not capitalise on. Computers could be programmed to do anything from maintaining accounts to playing games. So if one could sell computers to every household, the market was enormous. The only hurdle to making this idea a reality was that it couldn’t require several years of learning on the part of the end user in order to programme a computer. It needed to be simpler and it was achieved through a collaboration with designers from Xerox’s research wing called PARC. They had invented what is called the graphical user interface (or GUI for short). The very name of the technology hints at its origins. It was natural, therefore, for graphic designers to be employed in the field of user interface design whenever there was a need for programs to be made more accessible to regular human beings.

Graphic design, however, is the field of design that organises information for the most effective communication of an idea. Its roots are in the world of print design as is evident by the curriculum of every graphic design student across the country. But the field of UX design is involved in solving the problems dealing with people interfacing with computer systems, businesses, machines, tools, buildings or other people. So it requires the designer to be equipped with knowledge not only about psychology, business and marketing but also about anthropometrics, architecture and anthropology and anything else that may be required for the execution of a project. Quite often, philosophy and an understanding of technology also play a big role in the design that is created. UX design, often, is about finding the most efficient path for navigating all these influences.

What it involves today

The payouts from UX are also often huge in comparison. For a start-up, it can mean the difference between finding a product-market fit and not because it’s easy for an entrepreneur to conclude that no one needs the product or service s/he has to offer when the reality may be that it’s just too hard to use. For a social organisation, it can make the difference between getting enough grass-roots action or not, if the messages to the stakeholders do not get conveyed properly and at the right time. For a bank, it can mean the difference between making huge losses due to fraud or not, if their rural banking application is not designed with a “zero-trust” principle of UX design. For a hospital, it can make the difference between being perceived as opportunistic or being thought of as dependable, if a proactive approach to patient care cannot be taken with the aid of an application.

UX design can make a significant difference to the bottom line too. In the implementations with our clients at Redd, we’ve seen a significant drop in the number of in-bound customer support calls. Every customer service seat reduced in a call centre is not only a saving in costs to a company but also an indicator of the significant increase in the retention of customers, which is a significant cost in the re-marketing efforts businesses employ to retain existing customers.

UX design may have had humble beginnings as an unanticipated side-effect that came about when technology was fused with graphic design. But user experience design today has evolved and become an independent field of design and definitely doesn’t need to be thought of as graphic design plus or a field that concerns itself only with the beautification of software. It’s so much more than that!

This post was originally published on Education Times.