• UX Design

UX vs. UI Design : Key Differences You Should Know

Dmitry Balyn
8 Sep 2020
6 min

Since the terms UX and UI were coined, there has been a dispute over their definitions. The difference between these designs is far from obvious, even for folks within the industry. Moreover, the terms are often used interchangeably, which doesn’t add to better understanding.

Today we will finally make it clear what UX and UI are, and what’s the difference between them. Let’s start with their history first. 

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What Is UI Design?

User Interface (UI) is the visual appearance of a product. It contains interactive elements of screens and touch screens, keyboards, and remote controllers: buttons, tags, text fields, drop-down lists, checkboxes, etc. 

UI design ensures that the elements of the interface are easy to access, understand, and use. Developing a predictable and consistent interface layout, UI design brings together concepts from interaction design, visual design, and information architecture. 

The Evolution of a User Interface

What was it like to use a computer without a graphical user interface (GUI)? Users were stuck in never-ending code lines: if you wanted to move a file from one folder to another or perform any other action, you needed to type a text command. 

The first GUI was created in the 1970s by Xerox PARC. A personal computer named Alto wasn’t a commercial product, but it started a worldwide computer revolution. For the first time in history, a computer could be used by anyone without programming skills. 

User Interface

In 1984, Apple released the first commercially successful personal computer – Macintosh; it was accessible and easy to use. Since then, GUI became standard for desktop computers, representing system operations with visual metaphors.  

The accessibility of personal computers urged companies to create their products with users in mind. If a product is not attractive and convenient, it won’t sell. That’s how UI design was born.

Today, the UI design is not only about visual interfaces. Zero UI moves the discipline away from screens and toward artificial intelligence. The goal of Zero UI is to eliminate interface elements to the bare minimum and find new ways of interacting with devices. It focuses on more “humanized” interaction through the use of voice, touch, and gestures. 

UI Design Principles

Good UI design begins from knowing your users and anticipating their needs, preferences, and tendencies. When building an interface, a UI designer considers the following: 

  • Making the interface as simple as possible
  • Keeping consistency by using common elements
  • Being purposeful in page layout
  • Using typography to build a visual hierarchy 
  • Using color and texture strategically

UI design focuses on the aesthetics of the interface without affecting the functionality or content. It enhances the product’s usability by drawing attention to certain components and engaging users to perform specific actions.  

What Is UX Design?

User experience (UX) evolved as a result of the improvements to UI. To define whether UX is good or bad, we evaluate our experience of interacting with the product. Was our experience smooth and intuitive, or confusing? Do the button color and position encourage us to click? Do we have doubts about our next step, or is it clear? UX design was created to answer these questions.

The History of User Experience

UX design, or user-centered design, is a set of practices that lay between cognitive science and usability engineering and spreads far beyond interaction with gadgets. Don Norman, an ideologist and creator of this term, defines user experience as “all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” 

Don Norman made the first mention of the user-centered design in his book “User-Centered System Design: New Perspectives on Human-computer Interaction” in 1986. In the 1990s, he joined Apple as a User Experience Architect, becoming the first employee with “User Experience” in his job title. 

The second book of Don Norman, the bestseller “Design of Everyday Things,” revealed user-centered design concepts to the masses. He used the term “user-centered design” to describe a design based on the user’s needs, aside from secondary issues like aesthetics. User-centered design involves clarifying product tasks to make the workflow visible and clear for a user’s understanding. 

UX Design Principles: Focus on Emotional Value

Humans are emotional beings, and the best UX design practices include the analysis of emotional response to a product. A single experience influences the overall experience: the experience of keyboard usage affects the experience of typing a message, the experience of typing a message affects the experience of messaging, and the experience of messaging affects the overall user experience with the smartphone.

Factors like the brand’s reputation, price, and people’s opinions also influence the overall user experience, making emotional research an essential part of UX design. As a consumer research division, emotional research focuses on understanding emotional responses towards consumer goods and services. It includes momentary experiences during interactions with a product and long-term connections between user experience and product loyalty.

Signs of Good UX

To understand what makes a good user experience, take a look at this “usability honeycomb” created by Peter Moreville.

practices of UX design

The diagram highlights the core principles underneath the best practices of UX design, including:

  • Understanding business’ requirements
  • Understanding users’ background 
  • Researching the market
  • Creating lo-fi prototypes
  • Performing usability testing

UX design focuses on a deep understanding of users: their values, needs, skills, and limitations. Business goals and objectives are no less important – a successful product must bring real business value. UX best practices improve the quality of users’ interaction and build trust for a product.   

So What’s the Difference?

Both UX and UI design follow similar concepts: usability and accessibility. However, their practical application in the market is very different. 

Different Tasks and Purposes

The main concern of UX design is the user’s expectations of a product. UX designers are focused on locating and solving the customers’ problems. On the other hand, UI design handles the quality of interaction and focuses on the artistic components.

Metaphorically speaking, UX design covers an overall user experience as a route from point A to point B. UI design handles all the visual components of a route. 

Equally Essential

Regardless of the definitions and division of labor, UX and UI design are both essential parts of product development and delivery. Avoid cutting corners on these areas – investing in design is an investment in the quality of a product. Researchers found that customers who had an enjoyable user experience spend 140% more on company products.

Whether you consider hiring an in-house designer or outsource a design team, you should keep in mind that UX and UI often overlap theoretically and practically. On top of that, UX and UI design approaches change dynamically alongside with technology development and market shifts. 

Although many designers define themselves as “UX/UI designer”, don’t think you can hire a two-in-one universal specialist with a niche expertise. In-depth knowledge is always specific; that’s why some companies not only separate UX and UI designer roles but also hire UX Researchers, Product Designers, and Content Strategists. 

UX and UI design call for different skills, but they are codependent. Both UX and UI should line-up with user expectations to develop an outstanding look, feel, and experience. And when they line-up, the result can be exquisite.

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