UX vs IA vs UI vs IxD design differences (& what they stand for)

Shocking. Another acronym in the internet world. You know we love them. They’re the big four of visual design and product design which together lead to more user satisfaction. We’re going to discuss how they’re similar, how they’re so very different and where they all meet in the middle. Each is critical to the process so it’s valuable to understand how they can improve your operation.

UX vs IA vs UI vs IxD: what’s the difference?

You’re likely familiar with the terms UX, UI, and maybe IA, but IxD, while even lesser-known, is seriously picking up pace and is becoming a big deal. More on that later. All four are completely necessary to properly shape the overall experience, so it’s good to learn them and see to it that they’re being used and used well. They should be included in your UX strategy, by the way. Your design team as a whole should (in the name of good design) know what all of these mean, how they function, and how their role is affected by, and works with, the others.
IA vs UX

What does IA stand for?

IA stands for information architecture. It’s how you organize information and content across your site. In turn, it makes the UX, UI and IxD shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.

What does UI stand for?

UI stands for User Interface. This is made up of how something is presented to the user and how they’ll communicate back to it. It tells us the way users will interact with a system.

What does IxD stand for?

IxD stands for Interaction Design. There are some seriously wordy answers out there, so to boil it down — IxD is how a product (digital or real-world) responds to a user’s interaction or input. When I do this, the app or object does that.

What about UX?

How do they relate? Well, UX can’t exist without a UI. IA is required to create a UI and UX. IxD is not quite UX but it is a close relative that just makes UX all the more enjoyable to use and adds a little extra polish to It. All four disciplines use a few shared product design skills but mostly function completely independent from one another. They’ll probably have some disagreements and arguments while some will work more closely with one than another.

What is IA in web design?

IA design is a critical step in the design process of websites and apps. IA, or information architecture, is the organization of information in the most logical and effective manner so as to produce the most seamless human to digital product interaction possible. It’s exactly as the name suggests. Apps and websites that have useful things buried and less relevant things upfront — these are examples of poor IA user experience situations.

Data architecture, on the other hand, is different as it typically refers to the storage of raw data in the most logical way for a system to use and access to provide a better experience on the front end. It’s similar to the IA interface but is for the benefit of system operations; a benefit that is passed on to your end-users via an improved, smoother experience.

Good IA should never actually be noticed. It should just work really well and stay out of the way like a maid on Downton Abbey.

UX vs IA design: what’s the difference?

The difference between UX and IA is how your user feels about an experience. IA is how your user consumes information. IA is part of UX but it’s still different. Because the difference isn’t massive though, you may find that some UX designers are also information architects. IA vs UX should more accurately be IA and UX as the roles don’t compete. They must work well together. If not, you’re robbing yourself and your users of the full experience.

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What is UI in web design?

UI in web design is how users interact with your product. Is it a window and people click things? Do they talk to an AI assistant through a speaker? Are there physical buttons to press? This is the medium people will use to tell the product what they want to do. The right interface elements are key to the rest of the process working properly.
Web UI Example

UX vs UI design: what’s the difference?

The difference between UX and UI is massive. Lots to unpack here. A quick description: UX involves things that affect how the user feels when using your product. UI is how the user goes about using the product and telling it what to do and getting a response from it.

We refuse to give the ketchup bottle example — but think of a regular remote, either the stock one from your TV or a cable or satellite remote. Now think of an Apple TV remote or a Roku, or any smart streaming unit. The UI in this situation is a handheld candybar style or a full size remote with buttons to control features. The UX is taking that and boiling it down to an easy five or so buttons on a streaming device remote and somehow having those five buttons control even more than the full-size thing.

Apple TV remote design

UI determines how a product is used, UX makes it a more enjoyable thing to use. UI vs UX, although very different, rely on a lot of the same principles to function; design, technicality, user research and many more.

What is IxD in web design?

IxD in web design is so much fun. It’s literally everywhere, but you may not even notice it anymore because it’s just the expectation. IxD is all about interaction; when you do this, it does that. Some examples. You hover your mouse over a button on a checkout page. Does it light up? Maybe it pops a little? A little wiggle or shimmy in place? Perhaps it changes colors? You scroll down a page and what happens aside from moving downward? Text appears or disappears into focus as you scroll one way or another? The photos enter and exit in various ways? These are all small interactions we experience every time we use a digital product.

IxD Example

IxD is absolutely everywhere we look and it’s so normal to us and that’s easily proven. If you’ve ever been to a super basic website, you’ll notice everything tends to be flat and stationary. Nothing reacts. It’s like that because it’s missing these elements that we’re just very used to seeing and experiencing.

IxD is still somewhat new, comparatively speaking. But to put in perspective just how fast it’s catching up, take a look at this quote from the Research Institute of Sweden, or RISE.

Cognitive ergonomics is about adapting technical systems to human abilities and limitations. This is becoming increasingly important as the digitalization in society and in our workplaces increases. Better customized solutions can enhance the user experience, improve work performance and create a more healthy and safe environment.

Let that sink in. They’re discussing how IxD can be customized for individuals to better suit their needs and way of interacting with things. Yes, obviously AI can do this and can learn some of these things about you, and your phone pulls up a map to Pizza Hut when you leave work and it’s embarrassing, but this is next level. This is changing small details of the entire design and system to suit specific people and their needs. There are so many things this could be applied to; People with learning challenges, those who experience photosensitive seizures, adjusting to certain moods or times of day and in ways we probably don’t even know about yet.

UX vs IxD design: what’s the difference?

The difference between UX and IxD is simple, yet noticeable. But first, what is UX design? It’s making the experience of using a product better, easier and more user friendly. IxD, on the other hand, is made up of small design elements that respond to user interactions. A cause and effect. IxD vs UX is the difference between what happens while you’re interacting with the content and features of a website and how the website is designed to be easier and more enjoyable to use. IxD is just one of the many factors that go into making UX even better with the implementation of each moving along their own path.

UX includes all of the others — IA, UI and IxD — and is kind of the glue that holds this family together. We started off by saying you can’t have UX without UI. You need IA to put all of it together. IxD makes the UX and UI easier to use within the IA. As you read along, that should probably have become more clear.

Our conclusion.

We’ve driven home the thought that these four disciplines are separate but each very necessary. We’ve discussed how they apply to real-life scenarios. Your UX strategy and design as a whole should encompass all of these things to the fullest extent possible. Digital design relies on them all so heavily that if you’re not taking the time to utilize the tools, you don’t know what you’re missing. Plainly put, if you’re not using your resources, staying with current market trends, giving the users what they want and you expect better results – it’s likely never going to happen. In that sense, it shouldn’t be too hard to better your product. Just ask Blockbuster Video how they feel about Netflix.

IA resources

UI resources

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Sean LeSuer

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