UX vs UI Design

What is the difference between UX and UI design?

UX and UI - The Intersection of Interaction and Experience

If you’re a designer, you’ve probably come across this misunderstanding more than once. If your parents ask you what you do in your career, or your stakeholders / employers wonder what exactly it is what you do during an entire day and why the hell is it taking so long, we’re on the same page.

If you’re like me and at times struggle to answer without boring them to death, seeing the disengagement halfway through the conversion or sounding like Charlie from Always Sunny in Philadelphia, you’re in good company.

A day in the life…

“What the hell is the difference between UX and UI?”. To me, this is one of the most common questions I face trying to explain what exactly it is that I do for a living. It is common to see these disciplines used interchangeably; UI and UX. But what exactly do they mean? Aren’t they both the same thing? The answer to this question is a hard no.

What is UX design?

UX stands for User Experience. User Experience encompasses all areas of a company, product or service. When someone refers to the user experience or UX of a particular product, whether it is digital or physical, it typically refers to the feelings one experiences when interacting with a good or service.

This experience can be good or bad depending on the range of emotions one might experience while interacting with an app or product, throughout the lifecycle of the interaction. The UX discipline aims to bring a more empathetic, human-centric design approach to designing and developing the vast world of digital products that have been void of this empathetic quality for decades. Up until recently, the term has really caught on. We might thank Apple for that. Perhaps Xerox, but that’s open to interpretation.

UX designers are mainly concerned with asking “why?” They constantly seek answers, validation and to make sure your team is heading in the right direction, there is a market fit and that what we’re building is actual solving the user’s needs.

What are some typical UX Deliverables?

  • Wireframes
  • Wireflows
  • Card Sorts
  • User Journeys / User Flows
  • User Research
  • Usability Tests
  • Prototypes
  • Competitor analysis
  • Wireflows
  • Empathy Maps
  • Tree Tests

What is UI Design?

User Interface is the system between the system and the user. UI or User Interface Designers focus on the graphical user interface of any particular program, app or software. The medium in which the user interacts with the product. They are not called graphic designers - careful using that term around your UI designer friends. They are different disciplines, but that we can cover that in a separate blog post.

UI designers focus not just on how a product looks, but more importantly, how users will interact with that product. They strive for success - is what we’re building clear to the user? Is the desired behavior outlined by the UX team visually displayed in a clear and effective way so users can interact with the interface as intended? Can it be improved? More clear? Every decision they make has an direct implication on the exerperience and/or ROI (return on investment).

User Interface Design is a sub-discipline of a broad term Interaction design, but people often mistake this with UX design.

Some background: Apple was the first to implement a graphical user interface in which users can interact with a mouse, in ways never seen before. Instead of relying on the command line to interact with your computer, the early Macintosh Personal Computer in 1984 took what Xerox did years earlier and improved it, soon to be an industry standard across personal computing.

What are some typical UI Deliverables

  • Polished Designs
  • Style Guides
  • Developer Handoff
  • Documentation
  • Interactive prototypes / Animations

How do they work together?

User experience designers work closely with the UI designers to distill their research findings, optimal experience and framework to polish, but the UI designer will take those findings to the next level.

It is easy to think of user experience to the confines of a website or service, but it really encompasses multiple departments and touch points with user interface acting as the system in which the user interacts to form a part of the user experience.

Many careers and positions combine the two areas of focus together in one position - the ultimate designer. They ultimately want a talented individual that can handle both areas but it is important to understand the difference between the two areas and how to find talent to meet the need across both disciplines. Where does this strategy fall short? Time.

The two disciplines require a lot of work and dedication to do the job well. Stretching design too thin is a recipe for disaster, not to mention throwing in the occasional one-off marketing request.

How are they different?

All too often, companies or teams will place little emphasis on the user interface design, the user experience design and/or both. Whether this comes from the ideology that the user experience is something more than the user interface or the user interface isn’t impactful to the end-user, this is simply reducing UI design to visual design - how a particular element looks. The color, shape or size. UI designers work to optimize and how users can interact with a system to enhance the overall user experience. It is a subset of user experience, but a critical one being that it is the medium that users interact with the reveal the overall user experience.

User experience designers strive to understand the best possible direction for the company and/or product. The constant thirst for knowledge is rooted in a desired success for the company. They ideally handle the optimization of many facets of the business through research, testing and iteration. User Experience Design is the strategy, planning, research, ideation and execution of a strategy to improve user experiences while eliminating the bad.

When someone interacts with a website, a product, a service, or even physical space, the experience they experience throughout the interaction is what UX designs aim to improve. Whether something is easy or difficult to interact with. These designers work to meet the needs of the customer, reduce friction and the interaction between the user and various areas of the company.

If you’ve ever used an app or service and found things to be frustrating, slow or difficult, you’ve likely encountered an app with a bad user experience, meaning your experience using it did not meet your expectations. On the contrary, probably have an app that you love to use and find it readily accessible on any device. This app most likely has a good user experience.

Every improvement leads to concrete value for the business. If we consider the impact and breadth that the term UX carries, it is easier to understand the return an optimal user experience can offer.

Conclusion

If you look at UX vs UI design, you’ll see a lot of overlap, but also a significant difference between these two disciplines. We’ll briefly go over the definition, differences and similarities between the two in this post.

For UX designers, you’ll likely see a lot of research, process and analysis / strategy. With UI designers, you might see a lot more visually appealing work in a portfolio. It is important to understand that because we see a beautiful UI, it does not equal UX and vice-versa.

As a UX designer, it is critical you document and outline your decision making process and create transparency between your stakeholders / employers and yourself. Show your research. Show your decision making. It is difficult to understand what we do so swallow your ego and walk them through your process. It is valuable, you are valuable!

The two disciplines are tightly interwoven, but different in many ways. They lean on each other but may coexist separately. A great user experience, but terrible looking interface. A horrible experience, but a beautiful interface. Can you think of any products you’ve used that fall into this category? Comment below with some of your favorites (or lease-favorites).

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If you'd like to chat about an upcoming project or just want nerd out on the latest design technologies, drop me a at [email protected] I'm currently AVAILABLE for research and strategy, user experience, user interface design, and product management opportunities. Let's build something incredible.