UI design and UX design, though both belonging to the larger concept of web design, are two very different elements of that design. Despite this, the terms are often used interchangeably, which can lead to no end of confusion.
It’s very important for web designers (or aspiring web designers) to have a solid handle on the distinction between these two web design philosophies, and it’s something that may well come up in any interview for a position that requires knowledge of one, the other or both.
What, then, are UI and UX design?
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What is UI (User Interface) Design?
UI stands for ‘user interface’, and refers to the interface by which users interface with a digital product. UI design includes the text, images, buttons, sliders and widgets that facilitate interaction with the product.
A UI designer’s job, then, is to ensure that the user interface is clean, crisp, visually appealing, intuitive, and easy to use. It focuses on the visual aspects of web design, including transitions and animations.
What is UX (User Experience) Design?
UX design, on the other hand, takes a broader view of web design. UX stands for ‘user experience’, referring to all of a user’s interactions with a product or service. UX could refer to using a vending machine, a taxi, an app or even a store.
User experience designers therefore need to carefully consider every aspect of a customer’s interaction with their client’s company – how are they marketed to? Is it easy for them to manage their account or purchases? What elements of the company’s website might be streamlined in order to make it easier to use for customers?
Although UX can be applied to any consumer-company interaction, it’s generally used for web design purposes.
What Similarities do UI and UX Design Have?
Because UX design involves examining all aspects of the customer’s interaction with a product, service or company, UI design is inevitably a part of that process. Broadly speaking: user interface design is a single facet of UX design, but UX design is not necessarily UI design.
The ultimate goal of both UI design and user experience design is to use web design to increase customer satisfaction. With that in mind, both are motivated to please customers and design products that are customer-friendly. The two also complement each other and work together to achieve this goal. One designer put it particularly memorably when he observed that “UI is the saddle and reins; UX is the feeling of riding the horse”.
What Differences Are There Between UI and UX Design?
Despite their similarities (and their unity of purpose in delivering a great end product for users), there are many differences between UI design and UX design.
UI is Looks and UX is Feel
UI is, ultimately, largely concerned with the aesthetics of a product. Does it look good? Do the transitions and animations flow smoothly? Is it easy to use and navigate the user interface?
UX, however, is more concerned with the overall experience – how it feels to users and what their journey is like from initial engagement with the product to the post-purchase experience, including product/service support and after-sale customer service.
UI is Digital-Only, While UX is Digital and Physical
As noted previously, UI design is confined exclusively to the realm of the digital. UX design can (and does) incorporate every aspect of customer interaction with a product, good and/or company – on- or offline.
That said: the term ‘UX design’ came into vogue right around the time the internet was coming into its own, so it’s most commonly applied to web design. This goes some way towards explaining the confusion between UI vs. UX design!
UX Designers Prototype, UI Designers Finalise
UX Designers are responsible for putting the bare-bones concepts forward (i.e. prototyping, early concepts etc.) while UI designers put meat on those bones. The UI designers, in other words, are the ones that take the UX designers’ concepts and make them look good in order to improve the customer experience.
UX is About the Forest, While UI is the Trees
Similarly to the above point, UX designers focus on the ‘forest’ – that is, the whole picture – and make sure that users have a consistent and satisfying experience throughout their journey, from marketing to initial contact through to post-purchase support.
UI, on the other hand, focus on the ‘trees’ – the fine details. It’s their job to zero in on various stages of the customer journey and make sure it’s smooth, intuitive and visually appealing.
UX vs. UI Design: Which One is Right for You?
It can be quite difficult for those going into web design to choose between a UX and UI position, given the potential for confusion between the two and the inevitable overlap between many of the responsibilities and skills required for both. In fact, if working for a website design agency, you may well find yourself in both roles!
That said, here is a general overview of both jobs and the general skills required for each:
What Do You Need to be a UX Designer?
UX designers look at the bigger picture, and so it pays to have excellent critical thinking skills. The ability to collaborate with others is also must (as you’ll be constantly communicating with members of your own team and with those of the UI team).
User research and analysis techniques will also be crucial, as you’ll be required to devise your overall project direction based on researching and analysing what customers want and are likely to respond to.
What Do You Need to be a UI Designer?
Creativity is absolutely essential in UI designers; above all else, it’s necessary that you have a flair for unique and remarkable designs, as well as an intuitive grasp for what makes things accessible and easy to use.
In terms of necessary hard skills: visual branding is a must (knowledge of color theory, iconography, etc.) as well as graphic design and animation skills.
The distinction between UI and UX design can be confusing and nebulous, and we hope this article has gone some way towards explaining the distinction of these two web design roles. If, in fact, you’re looking to hire either UX or UI designers, a website design agency like UI Rocket can assist you in doing both!