UI vs UX Design: What’s the Difference and Why Are Both Important?

Ui Vs Ux Design
tiffany-palmer@2x By Tiffany Palmer February 23rd 2021

UI and UX design is vital to your business. 94% of participants in a web design research experiment reject a website for design-related issues – whilst only 6% left the site due to content. Design matters, especially where the competition for attention is high. High-quality content or products is not enough to run a profitable business.

That’s where UI and UX come into play. While both phrases often get thrown around in conversation, they are vital to any web page, app, or software design process. Poor layouts, illogical navigation, and annoying advertisements are all costly design flaws.

UI and UX design can be compared to the aesthetics and ergonomics of a product. The look and feel of a product is a crucial selling point. Ask any product designer/engineer. Customers buy products because the product makes them feel a certain way. Whether they think clarity, excitement, intrigue, or inspiration – products are only memorable because of how they make the user feel.

If you’re here to understand the difference between UI and UX design, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s breakdown what exactly UI vs UX design is, and reveal a little more of why it is vital for your design process.

What is UI vs UX Design?

UI and UX design are two different elements (also separate from CX), but both are strongly linked. UI design means “user interface design” UX is an abbreviation for “user experience design”.

Therefore, UI is about the way the user directly interacts with the product. While UX governs the experience that the user has during their interaction. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the differences.

User Interface Design (UI)

UI design is an older practice than UX design. User interface design means a variety of elements in the design process. If we focus on websites and apps, UI summarises everything from icons and buttons, to colouring, images, and typography. Excellent UI design makes the interface attractive and responsive. UI design is a digital practice.


UI design is crucial because it guides the user through the product with as little resistance as possible. The process focuses on visual cues. For example, whether it is clear what precisely a button does, or if the colour scheme makes the text stand out. UI design is the translation of the visual qualities of a brand into a product interface, without losing consistency and clarity.


UI design is the bottom-up design process, based on the quality of the product’s design elements. UI design is the aesthetics of a product, and how the product might perform better by adjusting those aesthetics.

User Experience Design (UX)

The UX design process puts the user first; it is everything that the user walks away with after interacting with the product. The term arose in the late ’90s and was first coined by Don Norman at NNG. Even his definition of UX design is quite broad and doesn’t specify what exactly a UX designer does.

Technically, UX design doesn’t refer to digital systems and could mean the entirety of any user or customer experience. UX design centres on how the user feels when interacting with their product as well as how efficient the product is at helping the user achieve their goals. Sometimes UX design is referred to as ‘human-first design’, hence why empathy is key to great UX design.

UX design is the ergonomics of a product. UX design examples could be the process of purchasing an online product, or the process of moving money around your online bank account. In contrast to UI above, UX will not focus on the icons for online shopping checkout baskets or the colour of the numbers in your bank details – but the two are interlinked.

Although UX is not necessarily a digital practice, it is prevalent in digital design. UX is the interaction between the user and every part of the product. UX places equal importance on the shopping experience as it does on the experience of contacting customer support.

The UX design process is a top-down process, which looks at the product through the user’s experience as a whole.

UX vs UI Design

UX is how the car feels when it drives, how well it turns and stops – while UI is the angle of the seat, the quality of the brakes, and the grip pattern on the wheels. In that sense, UI is an element of UX.

Another way of looking at it is within the context of games—the UX designer dictates the rules of the game. UX designers dictate how the player can move or interact with other elements of the game, as well as the rate that the player should progress through levels. Conversely, the UI designer focuses on the texture of the elements in the game, the colours of rewards in the game, and the readability of game instructions.

UI is the lens through which UX has its effect on the user, while UI is part of how UX becomes a reality. They are both linked, but there are parts of UI that have nothing to do with UX and vice-versa. People can often mistake them for each other because UI is the most visible part of UX for the user – the user doesn’t ‘see’ the structures of the website, only buttons, links, and graphics. This misconception is especially true in mobile UI design.

What does a UI vs UX Designer Do?

UX designers begin the process by mapping out the user’s journey through the product, for example, by using atomic design elements. They try to envision the different tasks that the user might want to complete, and what issues may present themselves along the way.

UX design involves research and testing. Content organisation and labelling is foundational to UX design. The final result of UX design is a blueprint or skeleton of the product.

After receiving the UX blueprint, a UI designer will start to fill out the skeleton with aesthetic design elements. The UI designer should think about every visual component of the user’s journey and how reactive those elements should be. Decisions are partly based on the UI designer’s expertise and partly on the visual purpose that the designs serve within the UX blueprint.

Although the UI designer focusses on visuals, other elements are essential, such as how those visuals actually affect the user, or which type of user would respond well to the visuals. UI design is not only about aesthetics but about how those aesthetics influence the ergonomics of the product.

Comparing UI and UX Design

Both UI and UX design are vital to the process; neither is sufficient on their own to produce a well-rounded product. UX design focuses heavily on solving the problems of the user, while UI designers create well thought out interfaces to filter the user experience. UX can refer to any product, whilst UI generally focuses on digital products. UX design comes before UI design.

Great UX design without UI design is like a website that perfectly fits a niche audience and is well structured, but unusable because the text is difficult to read. Meanwhile, excellent UI design without UX design is like an app that looks fantastic, but the menu structures aren’t logical, and it’s hard for the user to navigate.

Remember, having bad UX design doesn’t mean the user can’t achieve their tasks, nor does terrible UI mean the website is unusable. It is better to look at good and bad design as percentages. Poorly designed products may still sell, the rate of sales will not exponentially increase as people become aware of the product. Investing in great design is fine-tuning a product that already works, like great UI polishes a structure that already exists.

Excellent web design is one of the best ways to increase business success. Some designers can do both UI and UX design, but they are still different focuses. You can liken them to being an architect (UX design) or an interior designer (UI design).

Conclusion

UX and UI design are both essential to great user experience. Although they overlap, they should be viewed as two completely different areas of expertise. If you need quick tips on how to improve your website design, you can browse our blog here.

It is essential to know the difference between UI vs UX design because the skill sets required are different. Although as we can see, there are overlaps between the two, UI and UX design require different approaches. Making the right hire or learning the right skills make it necessary for you to understand the distinction between the two.

tiffany-palmer@2x By Tiffany Palmer

Tiffany comes with a unique creative ability. She is one of the quickest learners of new tools and methodology. She leads the atomic design principles within our UI & UX team that has helped us to deliver high-quality design faster.

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