And together, they effectively mix technology with user instincts and aesthetic appeal to engage users on digital platforms. However, they make it possible in different ways.
In this guide on interaction design vs visual design, I will highlight the differences between each design. Before that, we aim to educate the readers about the definitions and principles of both designs for better understanding.
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What is Interaction Design?
Interaction design refers to how the particular elements of a website, application, or software behave with a user when engaged.
In other words, interactive design focuses on the structure and behavior of an interactive system of a digital platform. It counts pleasant and meaningful loading indicators, animations, motions, sounds, page transitions of a system.
Principles of Interaction Design
Since interaction designers strive to create a great user experience, they must maintain some principles to make it possible. These principles work best to simplify complex web and mobile applications.
- Matching – Interaction designers must match the prior experiences and expectations of users, sequence of steps, and information layout to reduce friction and discomfort of learning a new system.
- Consistency – Consistency is crucial to make an interface intuitive and help readers learn about a system more quickly. However, inconsistency sometimes may help to break the higher expectations of users.
- Functionality – To achieve better functionality, interaction designers have to avoid providing unnecessary features and functions and making complex tasks.
- Cognition – Minimizing users’ ‘thinking work’ to complete a task is required to reduce the cognitive load of an interactive interface. Hence, designers should focus on the abilities of a computer and utilize them to the fullest to build a system.
- Engagement – The more a user engages with a system, the more the experience will be enjoyable, easier, and productive. Also, engagement must concern users’ age and taste. Users should constantly feel like they are in control of the experience and have created something great through the system. And this is what interaction designers should take into account while assembling a method.
- User control – If the interface incorporates control, trust, and explorability at its best, users will trust, navigate, and explore it more. No need to mention the better comfortability individually. A good interaction design should feature user control.
- Perceivability – User interactions and experiences with a system vary in many ways. Hidden interaction points decrease usability, efficiency, and experience. Designers should consider these things and provide easy-to-use buttons, icons, and other visual cues as much as possible. Doing this will help users to see and perceive the objects in the interface better.
- Learnability – Interaction designers should make a system issue-free, easy-to-learn in the first attempt as well as intuitive. Users will feel smart, confident, and capable of grabbing and utilizing the new method.
- Error handling – Errors in a system should be easy to spot and avoidable without unnecessary friction. Therefore, designers should disable irrelevant functions, use appropriate control points, and provide clear direction, instructions, and warning messages.
- Affordability – While designing one or more user interfaces, designers must provide adequate buttons or underlined links. Consequently, users will be able to ‘afford’ the application, meaning to navigate and use the functionalities without any formal training.
What is Visual Design?
Visual design refers to the design and improvement of a product with suitable colors, fonts, images, illustrations, icons, typography, space, and layout.
Though similar to graphic design, visual design majorly focuses on creating aesthetic appeal and usability of the software. Additionally, it enhances user experience and engagement and builds a positive and consistent brand image.
Principles of Visual Design
A successful visual designer effectively utilizes these principles to create an aesthetic design. Without these principles, perfect alignment of visual elements will be impossible.
- Unity establishes a harmonious relationship between page elements and avoids dull, overwhelmed, or chaotic layouts.
- Gestalt makes users perceive the overall design instead of individual elements. Proper arrangement of the design elements makes the Gestalt design clear.
- Space increases readability, reduces noise, and/or creates an illusion in a design.
- Hierarchy shows importance and difference in significance between items. Various font sizes, colors, and placement are used to demonstrate hierarchy on a page.
- Balance creates the perception of distribution of elements.
- Contrast emphasizes differences in size, color, direction, and other characteristics of elements.
- Scale identifies a range of sizes and creates interest and depth in elements.
- Dominance makes a particular element stand out and other elements to be subordinates of the highlighted ones.
- Similarity creates continuity throughout a design, reduces direct duplication, and makes quicker learning of an interface.
Relationship of Interaction Design and Visual Design with UI and UX Design
Before elaborating on the relationship between these four types of design, it is important to be specific about these designs.
- Interaction design – Refers to the behavior of a system upon receiving a user’s engagement, also the physical and/or emotional dialogue between an individual and a product/service.
- Visual design – Refers to the process of creating the visual language and visible appearance of a brand, product, or service.
- User Interface (UI) design – Refers to the creation of aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-use visual elements of an application.
- User Experience (UX) design – Refers to a user’s overall interaction with a product or system.
Though by definition, a line of difference is present among each type of design, there are some similarities too. The look of a product or service is the area where both visual design and UI design focus. And a user’s reaction and engagement with that specific product/service is what the interaction design takes care of.
UX design takes both the product’s visuality and its engagement with a user into account. Interface is the main and only deal point for visual, UI, and interaction designs.
In contrast, UX design deals with interfaces, products, and services at a time. It ensures a well-organized and properly functioning interface to increase interactions with a product.
Again, interaction design deals with a specific interaction point, whereas UX design deals with all interaction points. Therefore, it is clear that interaction, visual, and UI designs are parts of the broad UX design, not something different. Neither any of these 3 subsets is alone powerful nor less significant under the UX umbrella.
Differences between Interaction Design and Visual Design
The first line of difference between interaction design and visual design lies in their work goal. Interaction design intends to improve the functionality of a product. On the other side, visual design is for ensuring the aesthetic visuality of a product.
Visual designing only centers around visual design elements, where interaction designing includes the visual elements and other elements to create functional experience.
Visual design includes visual elements like lines, shapes, color palette, texture, typography, and form. Interaction design works with 5 dimensions
- Words (1D) for giving the right amount of information.
- Visual representations (2D) including graphics, images, icons for aiding in user interaction.
- Physical objects/space (3D) referring to the hardware a user interacts with (mouse, keyboard, or mobile).
- Time (4D) for indicating the length the user spends interacting with the first 3 dimensions, also the change of media.
- Behavior (5D) for stating the emotions and reactions of the user during interaction with a product.
Area of knowledge
Visual design requires basic knowledge and a deep understanding of graphic design, branding, and visual communication. Interaction design requires the same as well as knowledge on prototyping and interactive design.
Interaction design focuses on how the five dimensions on a website/ application can be manipulated or viewed by users. The better the output, the more the user interaction increases and improves.
Whereas, visual design focuses on how the design elements will look to represent the brand identity. Proper and thoughtful visual design is crucial for gaining the expected profit of a product.
Interaction design prioritizes all possible points of interaction, including clicks, buttons, warnings, and error constraints. The focus is mainly on the planning and mapping of easier user behavior, not on the beauty. Visual beauty becomes significant later on by observing user behavior, habits, and needs.
The sole priority of the visual design is to create a simple yet magnetic product design. Function here is also important but less than aesthetic visuality.
Though both interaction designers and visual designers work to meet the business goals of a client or a brand, their job responsibilities differ.
Interaction or IxD designers:
- Research and focus on current marketing trends, user needs, habits, and behavior and create user-friendly design solutions.
- Interview users (if necessary) to understand their perspectives and goals for using an application.
- Build an invisible interactive structure between software, or website and users.
- Design functional prototypes, wireframes, site maps or page flow diagrams for easier navigation and product-user interaction.
- Serve as team leaders to ensure the coherent and pleasing design and product experience. Occasionally, they may help others to set a budget and deadline for a project.
On the other side, visual designers:
- Brainstorm, sketch, and make visual design ideas and decisions.
- Resize, retouch, and republish necessary images with copyright permissions.
- Balance or divide pixels, headings, body text, animations, graphics, white space between different typographies and images on a given page.
- Develop style guides and create icons, logos, and graphics on digital platforms to build a standard brand identity.
- Work individually or collaborate with UI designers to ensure appealing design elements are incorporated for greater customer outreach.
The Bottom Line
I hope the basic differences between these two designs have been cleared in this interaction design vs visual design guide. In today’s web design industry, being the subsets of UX design, interaction design and visual design are not inferior to each other. Even the experts of these designs receive high salaries each year.
Sometimes, employees work as both interaction designers and visual designers in either title. No matter who works in which role or which design is more complicated, interaction design and visual design are equally valuable and responsible for translating a brand’s image.