While these two are different fields, UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) are still the most confusing and misused terms in and outside the tech industry. It’s puzzling that they are often used interchangeably. But it’s somehow understandable since, for most people, the creative tools and skillsets of UX and UI designers are similar and can be easily mistaken. So, what’s the difference between UX and UI?
UX design vs UI: definition
UI is the aesthetic design that deals with product content and graphic development, i.e., what the customer sees and interacts with while using a product application. It involves images, typography, layout, branding, and other visual design components that the user interacts with.
Meanwhile, UX is the whole experience that a user has with a product, from start to finish. UX is a user-centric design that aims to satisfy what the user needs and wants and how they can get there in the best way possible.
What comes first, UX or UI?
UX design comes first since it’s used in the first phase of product development. UX designers have to map the user journey into the product’s basic structure, and then it’s loaded into the visual and interactive elements developed by the user interface design team.
UX vs UI: difference
Several key factors make UX different from UI and vice-versa, including:
#1 UX is oriented towards problem solving, UI focuses on the product’s look
Products are designed to solve specific problems. UX aims to solve problems that may affect the user’s journey. This problem can be on or off-screen, positive or negative. Meanwhile, UI mainly focuses on the product’s appearance and functionality. Overall, UX design offers product solutions, while UI design focuses on users’ feelings when using the same product.
#2 UI is a bridge that connects us to the destination, UX is the feeling we get when we arrive
UI is the bridge that takes the user to the destination. In this case, it’s what links users to the product. On the other hand, UX is the feeling we get when we finally arrive at the destination, i.e., how you feel when using the product. This means that if a UI is well-designed, the user’s journey will be engaging and comfortable.
Bad bridges are generally less used since they come with lots of risks. Well, who would want to risk injuries because they decided to use a seemingly bad bridge? The same case applies to UI. The better and more refined it is, the more it’s likely to attract the user. And if the feeling we get at the destination is superb, then it means that the UX is great!
#3 UI is an integrated series of snapshots, while UX is a journey
The way you interact with different snippets of a product can be fully integrated into UI. This includes information architecture, guidelines, labels, and screen specifics. UX focuses on the user journey through the product, looking at the positives and how to cope with the available constraints. For instance, what features delight most users, and why do they shy away from using certain components? Why do few people click on the CTA (call to action) button while many of them spend time hovering on the search section? Well, all these are questions that UX designers have to deal with.
The customer’s overall experience is a journey that can be rewarding or challenging, depending on the product’s design. That’s why UIs have be interactive and delightful because they have to positively affect how the user feels by interacting with the product. As a result, UIs combine different elements, including graphic design, text, motion, and interaction, to create a responsive interface with an attractive layout. Overall, UX tends to justify why the UI is designed that way and how the things left out eventually affect the user experience.
What do UX designers do?
It’s up to the UX designers to make a product or system usable, accessible, and enjoyable to use. A UX designer should understand the user’s journey; they have to consider all aspects of product development, from design usability, business goals, branding, to marketing. The end-user interaction and experience with the product depend on what the UX designer does. So, the main roles of a UX designer include:
#1 Product/user research
UX user research is important for understanding the needs of the target audience. This includes testing for errors, analyzing the product interface, etc. The main components of UI design in relation to product/user research include:
A strategic research plan: the designer has to be strategic in determining the stakeholders they will be working with. Besides that, qualitative and quantitative research data are all important in solving the user problem.
Content structure: the designer has to implement a system information architecture that organizes and labels the content of the product, application, or system, etc. This is important for giving the user easy access to the relevant information.
#2 Workflow, prototyping, and testing
This involves the designer’s depiction of user flow, product/app simulation, and testing before finally launching the product. The goal of this part of design is to seamlessly integrate everything before sharing the final version with the relevant stakeholders and final design teams.
Prototyping/wireframing: the designer has to create a sample product version. This is important in streamlining the design process and ensuring the UX designer focuses on the important elements. A wireframe acts like an interface’s skeleton. While prototypes and wireframes serve the same purpose, wireframes are digital skeletons of the product, while prototypes offer visual product representation.
Testing: the UX designer has to test different aspects of the product to determine how the product elements interact with each other and with users. This helps to determine if the UX design process has been successful in implementing design features that are understandable and meet both business and consumer goals.
What do UI designers do?
A UI designer is responsible for designing the mobile app or website screens that the user will move across. This designer’s work starts when a product model is created to solve consumers’ issues or validate existing ideas. This is the prototype stage, and the implemented UI design ideas will be tested. To make designs esthetically appealing and optimize the amount of time a user spends on their screens, here is an overview of the role of a UI Designer.
#1 Visual design: product look and feel
This refers to the customer experience when using a product. Feel is important because every application usually leaves users with a certain emotional impression. The UI Designer is responsible for design elements such as product layout, typefaces, colors, and shapes. Besides that, they have to implement specific dynamic features, including menus, buttons, and boxes. To fully meet user expectations, a UI Designer has the following roles:
Design research: depending on the product’s niche, the designer has to do comprehensive product research to determine the closest competitors, their product designs, current design trends, etc. It’s important to design a product with an interface that meets user needs.
Visual design: this includes the implementation of images, colors, and text that enhance the way users interact with the product.
Branding and identity: visual identity is an important aspect of influencing through design. It’s up to the UI designer to give the product a visual identity with a clear overview of what the product represents. This includes the addition of a logo and specific color choices. UI designers use strong and distinct visual and interactive elements to persuade and retain users. However, branding and identity require creativity since they should balance each other by consistently promoting product usability.
System design: It’s up to the designer to ensure that the product and the brand align. This involves the implementation of a consistent system design based on complementary components, patterns, and styles.
#2 Product functionality: interactivity and responsiveness
The designer has to create products with pleasurable interfaces that promote ease of use. The principles of a functional UI design include ease of understanding and ease of use, regardless of the screen resolution, both of which rely on responsiveness and interactivity. It should be noted that a useful product should easily cater to the needs of both novice and experienced users. Therefore, the UI designer’s role, in this case, involves components such as:
Interactive design: there should be a “dialogue” between the user and the product or system. In UI, the dialogue is both emotional and physical, and this determine show users feel about the product over time through various elements such as functions, forms, animations, and transitions. The designer should consider the five dimensions of interaction: words, space, behavior, images, and time.
Responsive design involves using a graphical user interface (GUI) to create content that smoothly adjusts to different screen sizes effectively. It’s up to the designer to size various system elements in relative (%) units and apply appropriate media queries. This is important in allowing the designs to automatically adjust to various browser settings while guaranteeing user content consistency across different devices.
UX and UI designer: differences
While User Interface and User Experience designers have varied design responsibilities, these two fields are still collaborative. Below is what makes UI and UX designers different.
A UX designer needs to be an empath to understand the needs of target users truly fully. The UX designer carries out a customer analysis about a product and needs to have an analytical mindset. Thus, a UX designer has to take part in roles such as:
- User data analysis
- Service blueprint
- Customer workshops
- Customer journey map design
- Quantitative and qualitative research
- Prototype design
A user interface design team mainly includes creatives, so they should be ready to think outside the box. UI designers also implement information architectures that are ideal for mood-boarding sessions, in addition to:
- Motion design
- Design system
- Product prototype
- Adaptive design
- Motion design
- Hi-fidelity mock-ups
Which is better: UX or UI?
User experience design isn’t more important than user interface design and vice-versa. This is because a pretty user interface design that frustrates users in terms of experience doesn’t meet its product goals. On the other hand, a site design that’s functional but is simply unappealing may easily turn off a large number of users.
To delight users, UX and UI designers have to work in tandem. To meet design goals, it’s necessary to design products that delight target users not only with appearance, but also with usability, functionality and intuitiveness. Creating a user-centric product that still meets business goals requires both UX and UI aspects of design.
So, is user interface design part of user experience?
Yes. UI design is part of UX design. User interfaces are important in determining how product users interact with the product, and this consequentially determines user experience. But how do UI design and UX design work together?
It’s no doubt that both UX and UI are closely related. These two facets of digital design are important and complement one other. UX design involves user research that’s important in determining essential product features and how the whole user journey should be effectively mapped out. Meanwhile, a UI designer focuses on the feel, look, presentation, and interactivity of the final product.
The overlapping of creative tools and professional skillsets often makes it difficult for many people to distinguish between UX and UI. Even though these terms are related, they are not interchangeable. UI mainly deals with the artistic aspect of the product and how it affects what the user feels, hears, and sees.
On the other hand, UX mainly deals with functionality and the purpose of the product. This includes the quality of interaction between the product and the end-user. It’s now clear that UX and UI designers work in two distinct disciplines. They apply different thought processes but still work together towards achieving the same business goals.