I cannot resist addressing a different question — the distinctions between UI, IxD, IA, and UX, as revealed in this control panel

This offers a bad design example with many KINDS of improvements possible, so we can talk about the different kinds of design involved and how they relate

2/ A complicated, confusing control panel for a washing machine
Perhaps most obviously, there are weak affordances: we cannot tell what many of these buttons will do or what the lights indicate.

It presents a confusing face.

So we can improve this simply at that USER INTERFACE level, providing more clear labels.

We can get even more specific than “UI”:

There are a few symbols here, so we can talk about ICON DESIGN, which is a very specific class of UI design work.

For even so narrow a design problem as that, we need to broaden our thinking to the overall USER EXPERIENCE …

… because we need to understand the users and the conditions under which they will use this machine.

Will this washing machine be used by people unfamiliar with it, in a laundromat … or in someone’s home, where they will quickly develop skill in using it again and again?

It is tempting to think of icon design as pure visual technique craft, but this basic question of purpose for a washing machine shows how it is entangled in a user needs analysis, which in turn connects to marketing questions.

This control panel for a washing machine reveals a key distinction many product dev orgs miss:

The customer may be a very different person from the user. The customer may be a laundromat owner (marketing!), while the user is the laundromat patron (UXD!).

Icon design’s close sibling is INTERFACE LANGUAGE DESIGN.

Again we must ask about user & context.

For a machine in one’s home, one wants labels that are succinct & distinct.

In a laundromat, more explicit & detailed explanation is desirable.

Interface language design for a washing machine does not have much territory to cover, but more complex tools may include a lot of labels, feedback, instructions, et cetera … and may interlock with DOCUMENTATION DESIGN used in training or for reference.

Even a simple washing machine has documentation to consider. It comes with a manual, and most top-loaders have instructions under the lid.

In this simple example we see several elements of documentation design.

10/ The underside of the lid for a top-loading washing machine,
Even a simple instruction panel like this has several INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN components:

COPYWRITING (the text of the instructions)


INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE for how those are organized

VISUAL DESIGN for how it fits together

There are opportunities for improvement on several design fronts here.

For instance, the How To information probably should be verbose in the name of clarity … but the warnings should be succinct and visually emphasized so users will register them.

I notice that we have an intrusion of marketing copy here.

This pitch is perhaps relevant to a customer … but not to a user … and it takes up precious, permanent under-lid real estate.

Shouldn’t this go on a display at the retailer, instead?

13/ Close-up of a section of the under-lid instructions from the
Returning to the control panel itself, we see that even in a pretty simple system UI design can be understood as an INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE problem —

not just how these controls are labeled, but how those things are organized and relate to each other

There’s an interesting diagram solving an INFORMATION DESIGN problem grounded in an IA (info architecture) grouping decision:

the row of lights across the top middle, linked by lines to indicate a continuum of options

(It suggests a sequential process, which this … isn’t)

There is also an INTERACTION DESIGN component here.

When one pushes the buttons and turns the knobs, this affects STATES & MODES of the system, reflected in lights providing feedback … and what the machine will actually do.

I suspect that like with many washing machines, the knob switches between various modes, with lights turning on and off as indicators:

in Mode A it uses cold water and does a longer rinse, in Mode B it uses warm water and more vigorous motion from the agitator, and so forth

Just as we talk about the lights and buttons and knobs being interFACE design (the face between system & user), we talk about the behaviors of the system when the user turns the knob and pushes the button as interACTION design (the system acting in response to user action)

In the overlap between UI, IA, visual design, and interaction design (IxD) we can ask questions like:

What is the most important action here? Starting and stopping the machine, right?

Why is that not emphasized, easiest to find and do?

Notice also that these UI/IxD/IA questions I have been talking about are informed by the machinery of the device, on two levels:

what washing capacities does the machine have?

what is the vocabulary of what we can do with this interface?

To the second question:

It looks like this interface is implemented very mechanically, using LEDs and buttons and so forth.

There are probably significant engineering limitations in how closely lights & buttons can be spaced and so forth.


These are technical questions about FRONT END ENGINEERING which affect the vocabulary which UI, IA, and IxD designers can use.

And of course we can choose a different platform for the front end — say, a touchscreen — which has a different vocabulary.

The tech platform chosen for the front end thus informs design ... and must be informed by design.

As an IxD I may hunger for the flexibility of a touchscreen, while also preferring mechanical controls as better suited to the laundry room.


This is not only a UX design question. It connects to technologies, costs, manufacturing capacity, maintenance, marketing to customers, developer skill accessible to the development organization.


Making product decisions informed by all this and more is itself a full-time job, called PRODUCT MANAGEMENT.

Oops! I tried to defer describing "user experience design" (UX) but no such luck.

This thread is in dialogue with @jjg's capture of 1990s discussions of "user experience" as an umbrella for various entangled types of design.

All of this is UXD.


(still just getting started; I'll be chipping away at this thread all day)

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