Digital Design Terms: Exploring the Concepts of IA, UI, and UX
It can be challenging to keep up with the evolution of digital design. However, understanding core concepts is important.
The world of digital design is evolving faster and faster. It’s propelled by the emergence of new technologies, as well as the ongoing refinement of search engine algorithms, consumer expectations, and a lot more. Keeping up with digital design can be challenging if it is not your full-time profession, particularly some of the terms that are being bandied about today. However, it is important that you have at least a working knowledge of these terms and concepts, how they apply to your website, to your website visitors, and, ultimately, to your organisation’s success.
The Shift in Lexicon
It was not all that long ago, that you might not have encountered terms like IA and UX, although UI has been around for some time now. You only need to look back to the debut of the original Windows to see it in action. The term then was GUI, or graphical user interface, so now we’ve at least established part of what one of these terms mean. The real reason that you’re seeing these terms more and more often is that they apply to user experience (UX – there’s another one), which has become increasingly important as a way to separate your website from competitors but also to comply with Google’s preferences.
IA stands for information architecture, and it applies to how your website is structured. It includes everything from your navigation style to the presence of site maps to how your pages relate to one another. It even touches on things like how different content sections within a page on your website relate to one another.
Ideally, your information architecture will be logical, and will provide your users/visitors with touchstones that tell them more about where they are on the site and how it relates to other sections of the site. Your site should be easy to navigate, with clear links to various areas that are of interest to your visitors. As you might have guessed by now, IA also impacts UI (user interface) and has an impact on UX (user experience).
UI, or user interface, is a term that is often applied to your website as a whole, particularly to elements that do not change from page to page, such as your header, footer, navigation panel, and the like. However, it also applies to all other elements to one degree or another, up to and including the colour choices that you’ve used throughout the website.
The design of your website should not focus on your business. Rather, it should focus on meeting your users’ needs. For instance, if you have a button on one page that is repeated on another page, it should do the same thing on both pages.
Your user interface should be easy on the eyes, as well, with ample whitespace to ensure your visitors are able to easily focus on your content. Speaking of content, you should use easily readable, standard fonts with few embellishments that might affect readability or ease of access.
Your interface should be free of distractions like flashing text, and it should also avoid using animations if at all possible, unless absolutely necessary. Ideally, all pages will share the same overall design them to avoid your users having to reorient themselves from page to page or relearn how to use the various functions on each page.
Finally, we come to UX, or user experience. This one is more difficult to codify, largely because it is ephemeral. You can see your font choices. You can edit your button design and layout. You cannot see a user’s state of mind on exiting your website, nor can you see their reaction to colour choices, page layout, and all the rest.
Really, UX has a focus on all the aspects of UI and IA combined with website accessibility and information digestibility. It addresses questions such as is the website useful and usable? Is information findable? Is content credible? Does the website and its content deliver real value to users?
As time passes, more and more focus shifts toward UX and a number of tools and resources can be found to help determine the quality of your user experience and improve it if necessary, including expert collaboration, user testing, user research, and more.
Ultimately, business owners and decision-makers, as well as a wide range of other stakeholders, must understand the core concepts and terms used in the world of digital design. IA, UI, and UX are just the start – there are numerous others that, when learned, can shed light on critical elements to website success.