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In my work with design, user experience and user interfaces, I often run into confusion about these three terms, both within and outside of SAP. The tendency is to think they all mean the same thing. In reality, they are different parts of the puzzle, all working together to support the new way we need to think about enterprise software. To set the record straight, here are my thoughts on what these terms mean. We’ll start with design.

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Design is a Process


Design is not just about products. It is about the way in which you arrive at the best results. The term “Design Thinking” describes an approach for the practical finding and resolution of problems. It combines empathy, creativity and rationality to meet user needs and drive business success. In the world of design thinking, design is a three-phase process of “discover, design and deliver.” Other companies use different words and different steps, but in general it is always the same. The key for success is iteration with customers and users from the beginning to the end.


Design Requires Skills and Mindset


In order to complete all three phases of the design process, organizations require a new set of skills and mindset, including facilitation, coaching, brainstorming and idea generation (Design Thinking). But it doesn’t stop there – just because you filled a whiteboard with sticky notes in a design workshop doesn’t mean you’re ready to execute on that design. In reality, additional skills are needed, including design “doing” and design “implementation”.


With Design Doing, people engage with the end user, do user research and translate those observations into interaction design and visual design. This requires skills in psychology to understand what users really need (user research), prototype and mockup creation (interaction design), as well as color and typography (visual design). Design Implementation, meanwhile, requires UI development and coding capabilities in languages like HTML5.


Design Delivers Results


The product or result of Design Thinking, Design Doing and Design Implementation is the user interface and user experience. This is where the confusion really begins to boil over. While many people confuse and conflate UX and UI, there’s actually a big difference between the two.


The user interface is what the individual interacts with, like the screen on his phone or tablet, for instance. In most cases, you interact with the user interface in a physical way, most often through touch or sight. The user experience is the broader context in which the UI exists, taking into consideration the individual’s role in the overall process, how he or she collaborates with other people, and the environment in which the individual and the UI exist.


A good way to understand the difference is to think of three different cars: a Smart car, a Lamborghini and a Bulli car. Which one has the best user interface? Each one has a nicely designed UI, but the UX is very different in each case, and the ultimate selection depends on the needs of the user. Which one has the best user experience? The answer has to do with the greater context of who you are, what you do, who you do it with, and the environment you live in. A surfer, for instance, might choose the Bulli, while an upscale executive might choose the Lamborghini, and a young city slicker might choose the Smart car.

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So there you have it: design, UX and UI. In short, design is a process that requires certain skills to deliver results. The results are UI and UX. When you combine all three, you can fully grasp the future of enterprise software.


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