Confusing UX, UI, Socrates and Plato

A UX, UI Question & An Answer

It is interesting that Socrates is known as the father of Western philosophy. He didn’t invent philosophical thought, didn’t really propose any laws or ideas, and didn’t author a single book. Socrates only asked critical questions – with every chance he got and with every person he met, answering counter-questions and answers alike – with more questions, never an answer.

Plato, on the other hand, is the only reason we know Socrates. Seeing as since Socrates didn’t write anything, Plato extensively wrote all that we know about him. Plato clearly took Socrates’ idea of questioning everything. He used it as a framework to arrive at answers and propound his own philosophical solutions. And this is what led to Plato, and through him to Socrates, becoming two of the most important philosophers of all time… So much so that some even suggest that Socrates is a character that Plato made up.

The Chicken or the Egg

So, if UI (User Interface) is defined as “the means by which the user and a computer system interact”, including – visual design, content, user controls, input and output devices. And UX (User Experience) is defined as “the overall experience of a person using a product such as a website”, involving site-mapping, sketching, data analytics, prototyping, user testing, user satisfaction. What then comes first in the scheme of things – UX, UI or something else?

If the analogy of the soup and the spoon were used to describe it – the soup being the UX and the spoon being the UI, Socrates might ask – when inventing a new soup recipe, who does a chef co-relate with more – A UX designer or a UI designer?

To cut past the philosophy – it is popular opinion that UX comes before UI, which is funny – considering I hear it often referred to the other way around – “UI/UX”. Yet, I believe this is symbolic of how the confusion really lies in the difference between interactive design and observable design. The two have very little difference. Socrates’ questions imply answers, as Plato’s answers raise questions – so are they both creating questions or both presenting answers? When it comes to interactive design, the answer is simple – good UX, UI – make good websites, applications and interactive designs.

Are U I or are U X?

What’s interesting is that – a visual designer or UI expert is perfectly capable of understanding and effectively incorporating the rules for UX when designing an interface. However, a UX expert – while capable of understanding UI and planning the UX for it, if not a visual artist by talent – is mostly incapable of creating an effective UI by themselves. So, does this mean that it’s better to higher UX experts that are also experts in UI?

To contradict this with recent historical evidence (wink, wink) is a dialogue from Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs movie –

“Steve Wozniak: What do you do? You’re not an engineer. You’re not a designer. You can’t put a hammer to a nail. I built the circuit board! You stole the graphical interface! So how come ten times in a day I read Steve Jobs is a genius? What do you do? Steve Jobs: Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra”

Moral of the Story – Vincent Van Gough became one of the most famous artists of all time after he died. Because they didn’t teach UX back then…

The User

Jokes aside, there was a time, when artists believed that their art was a reflection of themselves. There was little or no empathy towards whether you liked it or not. Socrates was imagined to be a figment of Plato’s imagination. It was important to separate the UI from the UX and the questions from the answers. When it dawned on us that art is never about the artist as much as it is about – The USER… For only then do users make it all about the artist. This well-illustrated and explained infographic breaks the discussion down in more technical and clearly defined terms –

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