UI vs. UE

A while back I watched the Keynote speech for Day 1 of Adobe Max 2007 in Barcelona. During the speech, then President and COO now President and CEO of Adobe, Shantanu Narayen shared with us 5 simple rules Adobe uses to help create the next generation of engaging experiences.

  • Content Is King
  • Make It Personal
  • Less Is (Still) More
  • Movement Has Meaning
  • Create An Experience, Not A UI

All great rules for creating engaging experiences, the most difficult rule seems to be the last one. ...

On paper it seems like people want more features. The technology is capable of so much so why not put everything you can in a product. The problem is reality. In reality people generally prefer a pleasing experience over more features. Is it ease of use or ease of marketing that makes this the truth we must deal with? Let’s explore UI( user-interface ) versus UE( user-experience ) by comparing the Apple iPhone to the Nokia N810 and Joost to Miro.

iPhone vs N810
On the surface these two products are dissimilar. One is a mobile phone and the other is an internet tablet. However, the N810 is the item I most see compared to the iPhone. Both can make phone calls, one using a cell network and the other via Skype. Both play digital music. Both have a variety of applications you can run. On features alone, the N810 seems to run circles around the iPhone. It’s an open platform that already has 3rd party applications for it. You aren’t tied to a phone company contract to use its phone functionality. You can make modifications to the way the system works without fear of litigation or creating an expensive brick. It has a full QWERTY keyboard built into it while the iPhone only has 2 physical buttons! What does the iPhone( and iPod Touch ) have that makes it so much better? It has a sexy interface. Many people I’ve talked to find the interface easier to use and they love it. Is it truly easier, or has the marketing department at Apple done a better job of proving to you that it is easy. Perhaps it only feels easy because it is enjoyable to use, and thus worth a user’s time. Perhaps iPhone is easier to remember than N810. While some people will still prefer the N810 over the iPhone, the numbers say that the iPhone is the clear winner. The interface is what makes people want to buy the iPhone, and it does have some very decent features.

Joost vs. Miro
As opposed to the last comparison, these two video applications seem to be very similar and ready for comparison. However, because of Joost’s focus on a user experience and miro’s focus on features they are actually 2 different things. In the paper world of features, Miro has Joost beat hands down. One only needs to look at the miro website’s head to head comparison to see that. Having used both systems the miro comparison is fair and does speak to Joost’s shortcomings quite well. But having used both systems I can tell you that Joost actually gives you the experience of watching TV on your computer. It even reacts like an old CRT display when you “turn it off.” Miro, on the other hand, gives you the experience of a media aggregator/media player. In miro you have to wait for your show to completely download before you can start watching it, while joost starts your video within a few seconds. At least miro has a comparably decent naming experience. In all reality, they don’t deserve comparison because they seem to be feeding 2 different niches. Both are free(as in money) to use, so it costs you nothing to use both and get the benefits of both. With that said, I have a feeling more people will be using Joost than miro, once both are officially out of their beta stages.

It is easier to sell the sizzle than it is to sell the steak. Perhaps that is why people tend towards these great interfaces - the marketing is just too good. Perhaps people don’t want to work as hard so they go with a pleasant experience. Either way, we still need the full featured products to pave the way for new products with better interfaces that do the same thing. There will always those who require the benefits of the feature packed product and are willing to give up the experience to get it. It may be a feature they need, an ideological stance they have or both. Whatever the reason there will always be a place for those products thanks to those types of users. Those products will help push technology. They just won’t reach as many people.

Some people may argue that a fancy interface isn’t why they bought a product. They will often bring up examples of really nifty interfaces that didn’t do better. Going back to our list of 5 simple rules for an engaging experience the statement is create an experience, not a UI. Sometimes a really great looking UI still doesn’t convey the proper experience. Sometimes the developer just didn’t follow the other 4 rules. Perhaps there is a slick interface but it lacks content. In Joost’s early beta, this was a huge issue that made people doubt it. The doubt is still there, but now there is quite a bit more content. Perhaps an interface is pretty great, but a user has no way to customize it or they are forced into using a certain way they aren’t comfortable. As alternative browsers and alternative operating systems become more widely used, as we get away from desktops and even laptops as our only way to compute this will become more and more obvious. Perhaps, in trying to create an experience, a developer creates something that does too much and takes away from the original vision and scope of the project. Perhaps the experience goes too far and is too busy. Then all the motion takes away from what you are trying to communicate. Or perhaps they are still focused on the interface, just in a different way and still are not actually working towards creating a user experience. I’ve heard user experience in web applications best described as choosing a metaphor and seeing how far you can take it.

Here is the full keynote speech from day one of the Barcelona Max event

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