UX vs. UI Design: What’s The Difference?

Today, we see the term “UX/UI” thrown around quite a bit—so much so that many people assume the two fields are a single discipline or that they can be used interchangeably.

While UX and UI design do share some overlap, they have more differences than similarities. So, let’s explore what each of them really is, how their roles differ, and how they work together to provide a seamless user experience within the apps and websites of today and beyond.

What is UX Design?

Literally speaking, “UX” stands for “user experience,” signaling the human-first approach taken by professionals who hold this role. In practice, this means that UX design focuses on building an intuitive experience for the user to navigate an app or website without causing confusion or adding unnecessary steps. UX designers bring a solid understanding of how a product should behave and how people might interact with it.

What Does a UX Designer Do?

For UX designers working in the field, the role is less digital than cognitive and requires the use of critical and creative thinking to deliver an easy-to-use finished product. In order to do this, UX designers conduct user research, perform testing on existing components, drive development and content, and work on prototyping to ensure that the company’s design principles align with the user needs while providing the intended solution.

Because the role is so human-focused, UX designers must be able to understand the users of the site or app. But, it’s important to note that they should also be able to understand how the visual components will translate across devices, browsers, and technologies. Essentially, the designer must be able to answer two important questions:

  1. How does the user interact with the company?
  2. How can we improve the quality of that interaction through design?

Keeping those questions (and their answers) in mind throughout the design process will drive the content architecture and site map to ensure a quality user experience.

Other titles UX Designers may hold: Information Architect, Program Manager, Content Strategist, Functional Analyst

Qualities of a Great UX Designer

Not sure if UX design is right for you? Here are some of the qualities that successful individuals in these roles tend to embody:

  • Interest in sociology or cognitive science
  • Loves great products
  • Analytical problem-solver
  • Enjoys learning
  • Detail-oriented people person

Now that you have a solid understanding of UX design and what’s expected from professionals in the field, it’s time to take a look at the more technical piece of the puzzle: UI design.

What is UI Design?

Simply put, “UI” is short for “User Interface,” and is concerned with a page’s appearance, how it’s laid out, where things should go, and any elements that visually impact the website or app. While it’s not the same thing as User Experience Design, it’s important to keep in mind that User Interface Design is a subset of UX that determines the ultimate look and feel of the experience.

What Does a UI Designer Do?

Think of UI design as the digital component to the human-focused UX arm (but it doesn’t necessarily require coding experience). While UX designers are focused on the thought process behind an app or website, the UI designers use a combination of creative and convergent thinking to deliver a product that reflects their client’s needs and requirements. How do they do that? By transferring a product’s development, research, content, and layout (the UX) into an attractive, guiding, and responsive experience for users—in other words, the app or website’s interface.

Take a look below for a brief snapshot of components UI designers are responsible for:

  • Presentation—What is the overall appearance of the app or website, and is it maintained consistently throughout the entire user experience?
  • Visuals—How does the site visually appeal to users while leveraging the existing brand?
  • Themes—How does the user experience evolve within the app, over time, or when a new user is added?
  • Content repurposing—What existing messaging and touchpoints can be added to the app or website to facilitate a fluid experience and brand recognition?

With so many components to be aware of, it’s no surprise that UI designers are much more likely to work in collaboration with other departments than a UX designer (who predominantly works with company executives, the UI designer, and potential users). In the workplace, the UI designer is responsible for creating and maintaining a style guide for the front-end developer to build the interface and must also work with developers to build a cohesive look and feel based on the wireframes provided by the UX designer. 

Other titles UI designers may hold: Graphic Designer, Brand Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Developer

Qualities of a Great UI Designer

When it comes to the traits of UI designers, successful individuals in these roles tend to share a lot of the same qualities when it comes to their work:

  • Visually-inclined perfectionist
  • Eye for patterns and cohesive details
  • Team player with collaborative communication skills
  • Constant learner with an eye for trends

So, now that you’ve got a solid idea of UX and UI design and the responsibilities required for each, you’re ready to see how they fit together and work to create a unified user experience.

How UX and UI Design Work Together

It’s clear to see that UX and UI designers have very different work cut out for them, but it’s also obvious that at some point, the work that the UX designer has done must be passed on to the UI designer, who is then responsible for ensuring that the technical details laid out are represented in a format that engages the user and speaks to the brand as a whole.

At the end of the day, UI design can’t create meaningful visuals without the intention of the UX design components, and a UX designer can only take their human-centered approach so far before the experience must be digitized for usability.

To keep it simple, here’s an easy way to remember how the two concepts work together, and why they’re only as good as their combined parts: An app or website that is very usable but looks terrible has great UX but poor UI, while an app or site that looks great but is difficult to use has great UI but poor UX.

Going Further: UX/UI Boot Camp

Now more than ever, companies need innovative thinkers with the ability to transform their businesses through optimized interfaces and seamless user experiences. The UX/UI Boot Camp at UT Austin prepares you with the creative skills you need for UX research and UI design. Ready to learn more? Apply to our part-time, in-person program today.

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