Not so long ago, the phrase digital design conjured up visions of graphic designers creating art in front of their computer screens. Nowadays, the growth, complexity and diversity of the digital world means those who would come to use the term digital design could quickly become burdened with acronyms like UX, UI, IA, and IxD. But, what do all these acronyms stand for, what sets them apart from each other, and why should we care?

Although all the acronyms represent specific functions, the common thread is their focus on the user’s experience. While they may all revolve around the end user, it is important to understand the similarities, differences and use cases of each digital design area.


What is UX design?

User Experience (UX) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction through improving usability, accessibility and interactions between the user and product. UX design encompases the general and traditional design of human-device interaction as they are perceived by end users. UX design is vital to the overall project because it enhances the user experience by considering how these users interact – or should interact – with your website, app, or any other digital solution.

Communication is one of the most critical skills of UX designers. They are in charge of conducting research as well as competitive analysis. UX designers conduct several ‘usability tests’ to further understand the general experiences of the end user after the project has been launched. They are often concerned with the usability of how a certain product feels. Then, it is the designer’s job to communicate their findings through their work in a manner that the user would find useful and effective.

For instance, if you have ever been on a website or mobile app that is difficult to use, you most likely grew frustrated and moved on to another site that had what you were looking for. On the other hand, if you’ve had a great and easy-going experience, you most likely came back to that site to use it again.


What is UI design?

User interface design (UI) generally refers to the visual look and feel. For instance, UI is about selecting the right interface elements – the right fonts, buttons, colors, text fields – for whatever the user is trying to accomplish, and trying to arrange them on the screen in a user-friendly way. The goal of UI design is to make the user’s interaction with the app or website as simple and efficient as possible. Good user interface design makes it easier to do the work at hand without attracting too much attention to itself.

UI is the most closely associated with graphic design. From color palettes and the art of image selection, to a multitude of animation schemes, UI experts try to bring the brand’s unique style and experience to life while placing the user on the other side of the screen in the driver’s seat. UI focuses on anything the user may interact with to use a certain digital service or product. Whether they are website or smartphone applications, the unique visual interactions that the user may have within a digital experience are thanks to the exceptional work of UI experts.


What is IA design?

While UI generally refers to the design of the interface or the web/app design, Information Architecture (IA) focuses on the foundation of how such information relates to one another. In web design and development, IA can be defined as the structuring, labeling and organizing of information effectively and sustainably. While engineers and data scientists may use the term IA for developing software, in web design, IA is based on the labels that are included in the website, such as page titles, navigation portals, general site architecture, user hierarchies, and the sitemap. 

IA is about helping people understand their surroundings so they can easily navigate to what they’re looking for during their digital session. IA structures the relationships between content and assets while building connections that users and search engines can easily follow. 

For example, all of IKEA’s merchandise are kept at the warehouse on the ground floor. The showcase floor, on the other hand, is where items and categories are exhibited and organized in the best possible way to give customers value and meaning.


What is IxD?

Interaction Design (IxD) is generally used to define the structure and behavior of certain interactive systems. Interaction designers strive to create meaningful relationships between users and the digital interface. From websites to mobile apps, the IxD’s job is to tackle complex tasks and transform them into intuitive, easy-to-use, and accessible designs. Whether these users are first-time users or sophisticated experts, it is up to the IxD to redefine tasks to suit all users.

To achieve this goal, interaction designers collaborate with a diverse array of roles and teams, such as designers, researchers, engineers, and product managers. Interaction designers are there throughout the whole design process from creating user flows and designing wireframes, to building prototypes and user interface mockups.

At each stage of the design phase, interaction designers will have to anticipate what users need. Interaction designers strongly advocate for the user within their internal teams to ensure the final product surprises, and at the same time, delights the users. 


UX, UI, IA, and IxD Defined

Identifying each element of the design process can be tricky since each role goes hand in hand. Here’s a quick reference to what each of these design areas entails: 

  • UX design is the satisfaction a user derives from the interaction between the user and product.
  • UI design focuses on the elements of a website or app and how they work together to ease and simplify the user’s interaction. 
  • IA focuses on how information on a given app or website is structured. 
  • IxD advocates for the user to create intuitive, easy-to-use, and accessible designs. 


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