top of page

UX is not UI

I'm not giving up.


Apparently somewhere, along the process of clarifying that UX is not UI, I clearly failed to communicate that important thing and get my message across, at least to some people. That got me wondering how I could improve my presentation. Maybe, a presentation was not the right choice in the first place?

I tried to take a step back and think again, what for me the most important part of UX was that described my work and my take on user experience.

Information should always be accessible, conclusive and understandable, so the user can make fast and correct decisions.

Okay, but how do I convey this into a universally understandable message about UX and UI other than a well done presentation?


Then, it started to occur to me that there are so many more ways to communicate than just showing and presenting. And - shame on me, I as a UX person, should know better. Figuratively, I was forcing my "users" to endure this boring wall-of-text-tutorial at the beginning of an exciting game, where they just could sit through and wait until it's over. Of course, they'd tell me, it's all clear; We all do that, when we want to get over with something as fast as possible in order to do the fun stuff.

So how do I skip the boring tutorial and let them directly experience the UX?

What is all about the experience? Not only on a visual and auditory level, but maybe even something tangible? Something that requires active involvement and learning through the process of actual experience?

Then, inspired by chance by a tangible installment at a children's science museum and the research for my PhD that deals with the topic on how to establish context for envisioning information and faster perception of data, I had an idea. I would take the risk and go for a completely non-verbal, all-experienced based approach.


One of the activities that most of us know and have done to some extent is the activity of paper folding. Whether it is the sophisticated origami, or a straight-forward paper plane folding, most people are familiar with that concept. So I choose this activity to represent my experience-approach. 

The challenge was, how do I pass on the instructions, if I don't want to talk, or show or even offer a manual? How do I create an environment, where the person could perform the whole experience on his/her own? I decided to try an approach that would place the instructions directly on the paper that has to be folded. The contextual approach, so to say. I would show the one relevant information for each step, when the user needs it and see, if s/he would be able to fold the paper correctly, just based on this.


With this approach, I basically addressed only two mental models that are necessary in order to perform this task:

1. Essential understanding about paper folding

2. Ability to read and follow up on numbers in a sequential order


After I had my first draft, I immediately started with user testing. The nice thing was, this little paper prototype was already similar to the final product, in terms of tangibility. The main challenge was to find the right amount of instructions and the visual way on how to present them to the user - so basically my own credo: accessible, conclusive and understandable. After each iteration, I collected feedback, both by just watching people fold, as well as discussing with them afterwards. I also performed a heuristic evaluation on the prototype. The main improvements that lead to the current version were:


1. Adding colors to the steps, so arrows and fold lines match easier. (However, this step is optional, for people with color-weaknesses, the b/w version works as well.)

2. Adding a safe-fold line in between step 2.1 to improve error prevention. I observed that some people tend to fold the whole paper in step 2, while some fold just one part. Instead of treating it as an error, I added an in between step 2.1 that instructs to fold the other part of the paper as well. It was essential to label it as 2.1 instead of 3 because those, who fold all in one, would miss one step and get confused. This can be considered as a proof setup that worked really well during user testing and did not leave the impression of an error for those participants, who needed this in between step.

3. Increasing the amount of fold lines, so users have better control while folding above the margin as required in a few steps.

4. Inserting a small graphics about the final shape and the amount of steps necessary on the front page, so before people start folding, they can set their expectations on what the end result is going to be and how many steps it will take them to get there. Also, once completed, they will have the possibility to verify their folded result with the initial image.

Form follows function.

This time, as a real experience.



The functionality and information (plain paper with instructions)



The aesthetics and visuals (the colored paper to make it visually more appealing)


The response on this take about my UX message have been genuinely positive, nothing to compare to the reaction after I shown my presentation before. Since I learn with each person that I watch folding the UX bird, the current version is still in progress. I will certainly continue improving it.

Want to give it a try and let me know what you think? You can download the instructions below, don't forget to print on both sites of one sheet of paper :)

bottom of page