UX Design vs UI Design in 2023- The Differences

Have you ever stopped to wonder: “what do those terms UX and UI mean?” Believe it or not, even people who deal with design daily can confuse the two. As UXPlanet explains it: “User Experience and User Interface are some of the most confused and misused terms in the field”.

This is not a secret language that you can't get information on. Phrases such as “great UX” and “bad UI” of a design are not slang that others use. These are used to describe the two most important things that make a website a success – or a failure.

If you wish to learn what the two mean and how they are different, you’ve come to the right place.

Defining UX and UI

Let’s begin by defining what these two terms mean.

UI, or user interface, is anything that users interact with when using a design, digital product, or service. This term captures everything from sounds, lights, screens, keyboards, and behaviors.

To understand it better, we should go back to when it all started.

In the 1970s, people used a command-line interface when using a computer. It all began with the programming language and those confusing lines of codes, required to complete the simplest of tasks we do with ease nowadays. It was soon after this that a new invention changed technology altogether – the first graphical user interface. From this point forward, people could interact with computers by using icons, menus, and buttons. This certainly made things easier.

It was at that point that the computer revolution began. Since then, designers have been putting all of their efforts into creating interfaces with the user in mind. If they didn’t do this, their products wouldn’t sell.

Now that the technology world has advanced beyond anyone’s predictions in the past, the role of the UI designer is more widespread and demanding. They also have amazing opportunities to craft unique designs and make use of modern technology to boost the interface.

However, they could never achieve success without a good user experience.

Maze, a leader in user testing and a popular tool among designers, has come up with a great guide on UI design. In this guide, they introduce a rather refreshing explanation of the difference between UI and UX: “If you were designing a house, UX would be the foundation, while UI would be the paint and furniture”.  Thankfully, it is tools like these that make both UX and UI designing easier on the experts.

UX Design vs UI Design

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So, what is UX?

UX, or user experience, has evolved just alongside UI improvements. It's how people feel about the interactions with technology – whether positive, neutral, or negative. Naturally, designs that provide users with a quality experience are considered successful.

The term user experience dates back to the 1990s when Don Norman, a cognitive scientist employed by Apple at the time, defined it as follows:

“'User experience' encompasses all aspects of the end-users interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

This is now considered to be a very broad definition, but it captures everything that UX does – because it does so much for the design. Any experience that people have with the design of a product or service, whether digital or otherwise, falls under this term.

In other words, UX is all about:

  • How your users discover the product/ service
  • Which actions they take while interacting with your interface
  • How they feel and what they think during that time
  • Impressions they take once the interaction is completed

The role of a UX designer is to ensure that the design meets the needs of consumers and to ensure that they achieve the desired outcome in the simplest, most seamless way.

UX and UI cannot thrive without the other, which is why understanding the difference between the two is essential for designers.

The Difference Between UI and UX

On a basic level, UI includes all the elements that enable people to interact with the service or product in question. UX, on a basic level, is what that same user takes away from the experience. Both have a huge effect on the behavior of the user – and the future of the design.

CareerFoundry visual on this is quite enlightening:

The difference between UI and UX

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Let’s take one simple example to describe all this. We all know and love Google – it’s the place where we go to get our information. The founders of this search engine knew exactly what to do – create a simple place where people can get what they need. Just about anything you need to know, you can get the information in the blink of an eye with this engine.

However, what happens if getting that information takes too long every time you try to learn something? If it took, let’s say, 20 seconds to get your results – would you be willing to keep searching?

Google has a pretty straightforward and simple interface, which is what makes it so desired by users seeking information. It's as simple as it gets – you open it, type what you need, and click on search. But, if the interface remained this way, but it took too long to get the information, the experience of users would be worse.

UX Design vs UI Design in 2023- The Differences 1

According to this Medium article and the words of Miller, a web developer, “UI is the saddle, the stirrups, and the reins. UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse”.

So, these two terms might not be the same thing, but they go hand-in-hand. None exists without the other. You need UI to have UX, and vice versa. This is why a great designer possesses both UX and UI skills, even if they are focused on only one.

How the Two Work Together

Now that you know how they differ, it’s time to learn how to use both to achieve your goals.

This starts with the UX designer’s work. The designer considers the journey of the user from start to finish. He thinks of the steps users take to solve a particular problem, which tasks they'll be asked to complete, and what they feel and behave like while they do all this.

Most of the time, UX designers with the help of a professional agency like RCCO explore and define the pain points that users come up against, and try to find the best strategies to improve their experience. This is all based on extensive user research that defines the target audience, the behavior of current and past users, and predictions on how to make them happier with the design.

Once this is done, the UX designer maps out the journey of the user across the product, considering information architecture, features, etc.

When the skeleton is all mapped out, the task of the UI designer begins. His job is to bring all this to life and make it accessible to the user. Without UI, users won’t be able to enjoy the experience that the UX designer prepared for them.

UI designers take into consideration the data collected by the UX designer to create the interface. They’ll include the individual touchpoints and screens that users will encounter, consider the better option for providing the information, and focus on other details that make the journey possible.

Many ask the question: “Which one is more important”?

The answer is – none. Both these are very crucial in the designing process. If the design looks good, but it is difficult to use, its UX is poor and its UI is great. When the design is usable, but it looks devastating, it’s the very opposite. Neither of these situations is good.

Even if a product works with only one of these elements being optimized, imagine this: how great would it be if it optimized both?

One Common Element: Research in UI and UX Design

Both UI and UX design are based on one thing – research. This is an invaluable step of both and is what determines the success of the product. For a product to be successful, UX and UI experts need to gather tons of accurate information. This information will tell them what the user wants or expects from the product, as well as how they want it.

Research including analytics and testing with tools such as Maze provides invaluable insight into the user's expectations and needs. Based on this, designers can make informed and safer decisions.

How do UX experts research?

Some of the methods used to collect the necessary information include research of user or target persona, conducting user interviews and surveys, or using focus groups to gather information.

And what about UI designers’ research?

UI designers will work closely with UX experts to check the research results, learn more about the audience, and make informed decisions on fonts, colors, visual elements, patterns, and more.

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Final Thoughts

Hopefully, at this point, you understand the strong line between UI and UX design. They are different even though they go hand-in-hand and are important for the product. Whichever you choose to pursue, you should gather as much knowledge as you can about the other, and collaborate with other designers to achieve the best results.


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