The UI / UX Difference

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As a child, either I or one of my siblings had a conversation with my mom that went something like this:
Mother: Where’s that magazine you borrowed?

Child: Oh, it’s right under my math book under that stack of clothes.

Mother digs through stack of clothes.

Mother: Amazing! I don’t know how you could find anything in here.
When we create something, it becomes second nature to us.  We understand it; we know how it works; we know where we put things. What may have taken the Mom hours to find, the child could do in seconds.  The same problem exists with user-interfaces written without attention to the user.
Integrated Knowledge
As programmers and software developers, some things are instinctively easy to us.  Actually, it goes beyond that, we have habitualized and integrated every related metaphor and paradigm. Computers, applications and their uses are so ingrained in us that it becomes impossible for us to imagine life and computers without that knowledge.
Last year my dad asked for some computer lessons. My dad has no experience with computers — he had never been interested in computers nor had he touched them since he was in college. And, even then, he was learning some basics of punch-card programming. Certainly not relevant any more.
My wife both laughed and shuttered as I attempted to teach my dad the basics of computers — menus, toolbars, the difference between a right click and a left click. I tried to teach the generic concepts that would be applicable to most programs.  I was attentive and careful to use only universal idioms and metaphors.

I failed. He didn’t understand the metaphors; he didn’t see the relevance to life. Every concept was completely foreign.

Importance of UI / UX
I had recently been researching some user interface design issues in About Face 3: Essentials of Interaction Design so I understood a one very important thing:

Most everything we attempted was based on implementation model, i.e., rather than being goal directed and based on user understanding, my dad would have to understand something about how the computer was implemented in order to use the computer.
Resolve to Learn
Admittedly, it’s impossible for me to forget everything that I know, but it’s not impossible for me to learn much more about how non-programmers and every-day users think. I’m by no means a capable UI / UX person (quite honestly, I’m awful with colors and aesthetics), but I have learned enough to make a difference for the users of my programs.  Resolve to learn some UI and UX basics — you can make a difference.
Inspired by a tweet by David Siegel.

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