UI Versus UX: What Is the Difference?

UI and UX may seem like interchangeable terms, but they actually denote separate parts of a product’s design. This guide will help you distinguish them.

Written by Nick Babich
Published on Aug. 24, 2022
UI Versus UX: What Is the Difference?
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User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are two terms that are often used interchangeably. For anyone unfamiliar with the concepts, they probably sound like the same thing. Although UI and UX are related concepts, they’re not the same. Both UX and UI are crucial to a product's success, however. 

User interface is the space where interactions between humans and computers occur. User experience is a user perception of a product. In this article, we’ll learn the difference between two concepts.

UI Versus UX

  • UI, short for user interface, is a touchpoint people use when interacting with a product. When we use the term UI in the context of a digital product, we typically mean a visual touchpoint or graphical user interface (GUI). A GUI consists of visual elements like text, icons, and buttons that people interact with to complete specific goals. 

More From Nick BabichA Beginner’s Guide To User Journey Mapping

 

What Is UI?

UI is a touchpoint people use when interacting with a product. When we use the term UI in the context of a digital product, we typically mean a visual touchpoint or graphical user interface (GUI). A GUI consists of visual elements like text, icons, and buttons that people interact with to complete specific goals. 

 

Who Is Responsible for UI Design?

The person responsible for creating UI is called a user interface designer. User interface design is a purely digital practice, and UI designers are professionals who have solid visual design skills. They understand concepts like visual balance and disciplines like color theory and typography so that they can organize information effectively. The goal of UI designers is to visually guide the user's eye through a page (i.e., to create intuitive interactions) and make sure the design is consistent and aesthetically pleasing.

Critical Skills for UI Designers

  • Visual design: Color theory, typography, responsive design.
  • Branding: Ability to convey brand in visual design.
  • Animation: UI designers add animation effects to make the interface more alive and fluid.
  • Prototyping: UI designers typically create mid- and high-fidelity prototypes and hand them off to the engineering team.

 

What Is UX?

UX refers to the experience a user has with a product. Don Norman, who coined the term UX, states that it encompasses all aspects of the end-users’ interaction with the company and its products. The ultimate goal of product design is to create pleasurable interactions with a product; that's why user experience is focused on user emotions and feelings when people use a product. 

Here are two popular misconceptions about user experience:

 

1. UI and UX are the same things

Indeed, UI significantly impacts the UX of a digital product. Aesthetically pleasing user interfaces are more likely to create a positive impression on users. But the user interface is only a part of a user experience. The fact is, users get their impression of a product even before they start to interact with it. 

We begin to imagine what it feels like to use a product when we see a product advertisement. Our feelings about it are also based on interactions we’ve had with the company that produces it. Imagine you bought a nice digital camera with a super intuitive and user-friendly interface. The camera worked fine for a year, but suddenly it broke, and you can’t convince the company that produced it to fix the problem. You likely will have a bad impression of the product despite its excellent user interface.

 

2. UX is all about digital products 

User experience refers to the interaction between the user and a product. The product can be anything — a digital app, a car, or a kettle. The foundational principles of good user experience stay the same: The goal is to design products that help people solve their problems effectively. In other words, UX design focuses on the overall feel of the experience.

 

Who Is Responsible for UX Design?

The person responsible for creating user-focussed design is called a user experience designer. UX designers evaluate many areas of product design, including the product's ability to solve the user problem (a functional aspect of a product), usability (ease of use), and delight (how enjoyable it is to use a product). 

UX designers have a holistic understanding of how a product will fit a user's life; that's why they should have solid skills in areas like product strategy, user research, human psychology, and usability testing. UX practitioners aim to learn a product's target audience, identify their fundamental needs (i.e., goals they try to achieve using a product), and find the ultimate solution to their needs (i.e., a product that helps users achieve their goals effectively). 

Here are some critical skills that UX designers should have:

Critical Skills for UI Designers

  • Empathy towards users: UX designers aim to learn about the user and their problems.
  • Critical thinking: UX designers treat their product ideas as a hypothesis and they always validate them with their users.
  • Business thinking: UX designers should be able to bridge the gap between user and business needs.
  • Communication and collaboration: UX designers constantly collaborate with all product team members, including UI designers.
  • Prototyping: Low-fidelity prototyping is enough most of the time. 

More in Design + UXDesign Thinking: What It Is and Why It’s Used

 

UX and UI Are Both Important for Product Success 

If you want to design a product people love, you must focus on creating a good user experience and a good user interface. If you sacrifice one thing for the other, your product will never offer the user a good overall experience. For example, when you become overly focused on creating a nice-looking user interface but forget about usability, you’ll likely end up making a bad product. No matter how good your UI looks, if users constantly face problems while they interact with a product, they’ll abandon it. At the same time, if you focus too much on creating good usability but forget about the aesthetics of the UI, you might end up making a dated design. Products that look dated aren’t inviting to explore. 

Since it's impossible to separate UX from UI, both UX and UI designers should work together on a product design. They should complement each other to create a nice-looking and well-functioning design. That's why collaboration between product designers is so essential for product success. Both UX and UI designers should be involved in brainstorming sessions where they explore how a product will look and work together, and both should be involved in prototyping. For example, UX designers can create low-fidelity sketches for a future interface and let UI designers create a high-fidelity version. 

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