UI—and its cousin UX—often look and act differently in content marketing than in other experience design fields.
Think about the user interface and user experience skills required to help persuade a user to first listen to a brand’s podcast, then read two more articles and then sign up for information about a brand’s services. Multi-touch-point engagement is the win.
Now think about the UI and UX skills needed to nudge your target audience to salivate over those super-cute shoes, put them in the cart and hit “buy.” Bottom-line revenue—cha-ching—is the win.
The goal of UI in the former is to add valuable friction: quality content. In the second case, the UI is to subtract friction that might distract the user on their way to check out their cart.
The skills and mindset are different for content marketing UI projects (journalistic versus transactional). Roles and responsibilities are reassigned, too. For example, in content marketing, the content strategist—not the UX pro—does the stakeholder interviews, content audits, personas, user journeys, focus groups and competitive analyses.
To understand how and when to use UI in content marketing programs, I sat down with Rebecca Griftner, director of digital design and UI at Imagination. She recently made the switch from product-first thinking as lead UI designer at aviation broadband provider Gogo Inflight.
What’s the difference between UX and UI?
UX is thinking about the entire user journey—how they get there, what they interact with, even user emotions—as an ecosystem. UX means user experience.
UI is user interface. We’re communicating the brand and designing the experience through the brand. We’re visual designers. I’m trying to lead you along a path through an interface. Through a whole system.
UX is usually a lot of research and ideas and sometimes wireframes—not always necessary. If I’m working really closely with a UX designer, I probably don’t need wireframes because we will have been communicating constantly throughout the process.
UI is where the rubber hits the road. It’s the actual interface that someone will experience. It’s a little bit more fine-tuned. A key thing the UI visual designer will develop (or get from a client) is digital brand guides. It’s how a brand manifests itself digitally—colors, typefaces, recurring user patterns and things like that.
Those are really important, especially for larger brands. If you have a microsite that operates differently than another company microsite or than different parts of the parent website, people notice and think something’s off. It will feel weird. Have you ever been to a site where part of it’s an old brand and part of it’s the new brand? You can tell.
What do you think is uniquely compelling about UI for content marketing programs—as opposed to a more sales-driven retail or product experience? Sales goals are often diametrically different.
Right. With product, you’re trying to make it as seamless as possible for the user to complete a transaction. Usually, that’s the end goal. And content is different in that you want someone to linger. The goal is to have them stick around and find value in the content.
I find that kind of inspirational, personally, because it’s more thoughtful. I feel like strategy is such a large part of what we do, and content and strategy are so married. Where sometimes on the product side, it can just be like, “Just get ’em to do it! Real quick, as fast as they can.”
So it’s nice. Providing ways for users to keep reading, watching or listening is always going to get them further down that funnel. It’s useful.
Now we get to design. How do you decide design UI hierarchy?
You work with the content creator to figure out how they imagine it. And then once you get into it, what’s fun about UI is that UX has intentions, and content creators have intentions. Then UI has to make sense of it.
First, you make it legible for yourself but also think about the next person who might not know anything—make sure they can get through it. It’s setting a path that’s clear for the user with all these inputs. The main goal is you’re trying to make sure it’s easy to navigate and understand what’s happening on screen.