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  • Writer's pictureAriana Shives

UX terminology: UI vs. UX

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

UI 🤝 UX. But what’s the difference?

UI and UX are two vital, valuable concepts that go hand in hand to produce great design. They are often confused for one another, but are actually distinct concepts.

Image depicts two lists, one titled "UX" and one titled "UI". It outlines the differences between the two that are discussed in this article.
UX vs. UI. Original Image.

UX vs. UI

In the vast world of design, the terms “UX” and “UI” are often used interchangeably, which leads quickly to confusion about what each term means and how they differ. While they are related, UX and UI design are not the same things. Knowing the difference will help you better understand design, communicate with your design and development teams, and choose to specialize in one or the other.

User Experience (UX) Design

User experience (UX) is a term often associated with web applications and design, but it is a broader concept that existed long before the web. Various sources word the definition of “user experience” differently. Still, all conclude that user experience refers to users’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions throughout their entire encounter with a product or service.

User experience design is the systematic design of products and services to meet users’* needs. A UX designer’s goal is to create an experience that is intuitive, easy to use, and enjoyable.

*Note: your user (the person or entity who uses your product or service) may differ from your customer (the person who buys your product or service). We will consider them the same in this chapter for simplicity’s sake.

UX design is about creating products and services that are user centered. It focuses on creating intuitive, efficient, easy-to-use designs that provide a positive, maybe even joyful, experience for the user. These goals are achieved through research and analysis of the needs of the user, testing designs, and iterating until the final product produces the best possible user experience.

Like UX, a common misconception is that UX design is only related to digital products. In reality, we can apply UX design concepts to any product or service. For example, you can use UX design principles to create physical products such as furniture, household appliances, or a car dashboard.

The UX design process typically involves several stages, including research, ideation, prototyping, testing, and implementation.

As defined earlier, UX design refers to the systematic design of products and services to meet users’ needs. UX design is concerned with creating an overall positive experience for the user. It encompasses everything from the user’s initial impression of the product to their satisfaction with their overall experience.

User Interface (UI) Design

A user interface (UI) is the actual point at which a user interacts with a computer or device. This can include physical devices, like a keyboard or a mouse, or the graphical appearance of a website or app.

User interface design is the process designers use to build interfaces and create the look and feel of those interfaces so that they are both beautiful and easy to use. UI design can be applied to various mediums, like voice-controlled interfaces, but is most commonly used in designing graphical interfaces on computer screens17. It concerns a product’s visual and interactive aspects and encompasses the design of buttons, icons, and other visual elements. UI design focuses on creating a product that is easy to use and visually appealing, and a UI designer’s goal is to create a functional, aesthetically pleasing, and on-brand design.

UI is technically part of UX, making them inextricably linked. One cannot exist without the other, and a product cannot exist without both, which makes understanding their distinct definitions tricky. When designing a product, a designer must first do user research, build information architecture, construct workflows, and assemble its content. This is UX design.

To make a product both functional and aesthetically pleasing, however, it is important to then pull everything together into a well-designed interface. This is UI design.

Depending on the scenario, one designer might be fully capable of doing both, but these are often broken into two (or even many more) different jobs.

Managers and stakeholders who don’t understand the two may also confuse their definitions — many people don’t realize that UI exists at all and often lump it in with UX. You may be asked to do both jobs in smaller companies or for managers who aren’t clear on the difference. This can be a valuable experience, but as you gain seniority you should have the opportunity to select one and work alongside a person or team responsible for the other.

In summary, UX design focuses on creating an overall positive experience for the user, while UI design focuses on the product’s visual and interactive aspects. By understanding the differences between the two, you as a designer can create products that are both easy to use and visually appealing.

Check out my ebook How to Become a UX Designer for a more in-depth look at UX vs. UI as well as information on getting your first UX job!



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