The User Interface is the Means, Not the Ends

by on 12/08/11 at 1:19 pm

Designers pride themselves on the interfaces they design. It’s natural to think what one is working on is important. But sometimes designers can get so lost in the interface they forget that it’s for the user, not them. The interface can easily seem like the ends to the designers who are working on it. But for the user, the interface is the means, not the ends.

The User Interface is a Tool for Delivering Information

People use tools to do the things they can’t do without the tool. Users use interfaces to get information. Without the interface, the information has no way of getting to the user. The interface organizes the information into an understandable and consumable format. The information delivered from the interface to the user is one experience. And consuming the information is another. Therefore, there are actually two user experiences in the entire interaction.

The User Interface is the Means, Not the Ends

Delivery Experience (motivates users)

The first is the delivery experience. The interface’s physical responsibility is to deliver the information to the user. However, its mental responsibility is to motivate the user to use the interface. What’s important is not just delivering the information in a quick, easy and efficient, but also appealing to the user’s emotions. Delivering the information in a beautiful and appealing way can motivate the user to use the interface even more. Therefore, the makings of a successful delivery experience is efficiency and emotional appeal.

Consumption Experience (satisfies users)

The second is the consumption experience. The information that the interface delivers is responsible for this experience. The goal for the consumption experience is to satisfy users. How much satisfaction the user gets will depend on the information quality. If the information the interface delivers isn’t high-quality, users will leave unsatisfied whether the interface is efficient and emotionally appealing or not. The interface is not the ends for users. The information is. Therefore, high-quality information is very important for a successful consumption experience.

High-quality information is:

  • accurate
  • up-to-date
  • relevant
  • useful
  • complete
  • easy to understand

A Successful User Experience Motivates and Satisfies Users

The interface and information both play a role in the user experience. One motivates users, while the other satisfies them. One is the means, while the other is the ends. It is not one or the other that the designer must care about. It is both. A successful means and ends means a successful user experience in the end. If designers continue to see the interface as the ends, users might use the interface, but they will never leave satisfied. A high amount of usage does not necessarily equal a high amount of user satisfaction. They are two different things. But both need the designer’s full attention.


The User Interface is the Means, Not the Ends The User Interface is the Means, Not the Ends

Author and editor-in-chief of UX Movement. Loves great web experiences and fights for the user.

6 Responses to “The User Interface is the Means, Not the Ends”

  1. Mohamed Zahran

    Dec 9th, 2011

    I’m motivated and satisfied because of such HQ information you provide :)

    Thanks.

  2. John Shepard

    Dec 9th, 2011

    You are spot on.

    On a side note, does your check mark box captcha actually work to block spam? If so, it may be the most brilliant design element I’ve seen this year.

    • visitor

      Dec 9th, 2011

      I’ve been curious about the check box captcha as well.

      I’ve seen ‘question’ captcha where a question with an obvious answer was asked…for humans that is :)..i.e. What is the color of yellow submarine?

      Check box captcha here is simpler with no possible ambiguity than the ‘question’ captcha…any chance that you’d share some data on this??

      :)

    • PM Hut

      Dec 12th, 2011

      Hi John,

      About the checkbox captcha, I’m sure it doesn’t block 100% of the spam (the owner of the website will probably confirm that to you), but it does block most of it. In my opinion it is silly that website owners make you do all these complicated things just to post a comment, so that they can block 100% of automated spam.

      By the way, I spend nearly half an hour every day deleting spam comments as my website receives a lot of traffic.

  3. igotux

    Dec 12th, 2011

    Anthony well said this is an excellent post, short and to the point. So many times clients don’t understand that just creating a excellent UI we will not meet their business objectives. With that UI many times we have to create documentation or guidelines on how to write for the clients user base.

    The User Experience role these days requires us to be masters of many realms!

  4. Cubefield

    Nov 25th, 2013

    Interesting article, i’ve met both parts of clients. Some care for the interface, other’s prefer usability and point to user’s.

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