UI vs. UX

Joe Tuan, the founder of TopFlight Apps, breaks down the meanings, differences, and core concepts of user interface and user experience design.

ui versus ux design

Today, you can’t build a successful mobile app or website without effective user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design. Job boards are filled with ads looking for UX/UI designers to help create appealing products and services layered on top of myriad gadgets and devices. But what are these really, and how do you know if you need a UX or UI designer to build your product? Read on to find out.

What is UX?

User Experience (UX) refers to your experience as a customer when you interact with the application. It ensures that product design is credible, useful, desirable, and accessible. UX prioritizes customer needs. It aims at meeting all your needs to ensure you have a positive experience with the product or service you are using. At the same time, UX helps companies reach their business goals.

Related: Top 5 UX Design Bootcamps

What is UI?

User Interface (UI) covers all graphical elements of a digital product, such as buttons, icons, and colors that a customer sees while using an application. Serious research in UI led to the discovery of UX in the early 1990s. UI is concerned with the aesthetic of a product or service. To use a restaurant metaphor, UX is the food, music, lighting, and how fast you're served, while UI is the chairs, decorations, and utensils.

What’s the difference between UI and UX?

UX is focused on your journey as a user, whereas UI comes out as a snapshot of a product's interface.

Of course, there are similarities between user experience and user interface; both can make or break a product. And even though UX and UI designer salaries are comparable, the skills needed are quite different.

Your emotional reaction towards the product or service is very crucial in UX. User experience designers need to get into the customer’s shoes to understand what he or she wants. They go out and research their target audiences with user-based questions that vary based on the needs of different demographics. Age, education, culture, race, income, and many other factors all come into play during UX research of customer tastes and preferences.

User experience research also aims at discovering any potential problems that the customer might encounter while using a product or service. UX helps product owners answer such questions as:

  • Why do customers not use navigation or avoid scrolling down the page?
  • What makes the customer bounce from the page within the first minute?

Understanding the needs of a target market enables UX to improve the experience for the customer.

UI, on the other hand, is concerned with the visual aspect of the user journey. When crafting UI, designers need to answer questions like:

  • Will this feature become more realistic and immersive if we make it in 3D?
  • Does the color palette match the brand book and, at the same time, carry the necessary emotional charge?

UI focuses on how the product or service's visual appeal will lure the customer into taking actions designed by UX. It determines whether or not the user will reach the end of the journey mapped out by UX. It’s because of this aspect that UX and UI are complementary.

UX aims to make interfaces practical, while UI makes them beautiful.

Your expectations as a customer are essential to UX because it has to provide solutions to the problems you face while using a product. More so, it’s responsible for bringing value. UX fills gaps in the market by meeting customer needs that the market does not provide. To achieve that, UX designers conduct surveys and do market research to determine the gaps present in the market. They then map out a product that can satisfy those needs using wireframes (essentially a rough sketch of the finished product).

Once such gaps have been identified, UI takes over by adding aesthetics and simplicity to the wireframes and flow prototypes. UI designers use typography and colors to create a visual representation of a product or service. This graphical representation is the main factor in whether users want to do something in a digital product to meet their objectives. UI uses aesthetics to ensure you get to the end goal of the app by taking you through a page by page guide using patterns or conventions that act as visual clues.

UX encloses interfaces as part of a whole product, while UI deals solely with interfaces.

UX is ubiquitous and is, therefore, used in almost every product. More companies are adopting the UX-first approach by wanting to understand their customer’s needs and market gaps within their business. UI shines through interfaces, whether in mobile apps, desktop applications, vending machines, or mass market consumer devices.

UX designs come first, then UI designs follow in most cases.

UX researches the customer’s needs and market gaps before a product is built. The findings of the research then guide and validate ideas during product development. UX designers come up with a prototype that is finalized by applying a graphical UI. UI then designs the visual outlook of the product before it's released to the market.

Although UX designs usually come first, several factors can determine the flow between the two. For example, if the design is made by different teams, UX design will always lead. In contrast, if the same person is designing a product, then either UI or UX design can lead.

One difference that’s hard to miss between UI and UX is the skills needed to pursue a career in these domains. The skills differ because of the nature of work that takes place during UX or UI design.

To pursue a career in UI design, you need an eye for aesthetics and ability to mix and match different styles of graphical design. On the other hand, if you want to become a UX designer, you need to be analytical, creative, and have excellent problem-solving skills. UX designers also need to be excellent communicators to conduct adequate market research.

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