UI and UX are very similar but have key differences that you will come to understand after reading this.
First thing is first, UX stands for user experience and UI stands for user interaction. The two might seem very similar at first, but actually cover different aspects of design.
Essentially, UX applies to anything that can be experienced—be it a website, a coffee machine, or a visit to the supermarket. The “user experience” part refers to the interaction between the user and a product or service.
A UX designer thinks about how the experience makes the user feel, and how easy it is for the user to accomplish their desired tasks. They also observe and conduct task analyses to see how users actually complete tasks in a user flow.
For example: How easy is the checkout process when shopping online? How easy is it for you to grip that vegetable peeler? Does your online banking app make it easy for you to manage your money?
The ultimate purpose of UX design is to create easy, efficient, relevant, and all-round pleasant experiences for the user.
Here’s what you need to know about UX design in a nutshell:
Unlike UX, user interface design is a strictly digital term. A user interface is the point of interaction between the user and a digital device or product—like the touchscreen on your smartphone, or the touchpad you use to select what kind of coffee you want from the coffee machine.
In relation to websites and apps, UI design considers the look, feel, and interactivity of the product. It’s all about making sure that the user interface of a product is as intuitive as possible, and that means carefully considering each and every visual, interactive element the user might encounter.
A UI designer will think about icons and buttons, typography and color schemes, spacing, imagery, and responsive design.
Like user experience design, user interface design is a multi-faceted and challenging role. It is responsible for the transference of a product’s development, research, content and layout into an attractive, guiding and responsive experience for users.
We’ll look at the UI design process and specific tasks that a UI designer can expect in section four. Before we consider the main differences between UX and UI, let’s quickly recap on what user interface (UI) design is all about:
There is an analogy to describe the different parts of a (digital) product:
If you imagine a product as the human body, the bones represent the code which give it structure. The organs represent the UX design: measuring and optimizing against input for supporting life functions. And UI design represents the cosmetics of the body; its presentation, its senses and reactions.
It’s important to understand that UX and UI do go hand-in-hand; you can’t have one without the other. However, you don’t need to possess UI design skills to be a UX designer, and vice versa—UX and UI constitute separate roles with separate processes and tasks!
The main difference to bear in mind is this: UX design is all about the overall feel of the experience, while UI design is all about how the product’s interfaces look and function.
A UX designer considers the user’s entire journey to solve a particular problem; what steps do they take? What tasks do they need to complete? How straightforward is the experience?
Much of their work focuses on finding out what kinds of problems and pain-points users come up against, and how a certain product might solve them. They’ll conduct extensive user research in order to find out who the target users are and what their needs are in relation to a certain product. They’ll then map out the user’s journey across a product, considering things like information architecture—i.e. How the content is organized and labelled across a product—and what kinds of features the user might need. Eventually, they’ll create wireframes which set out the bare-bones blueprints for the product.
With the skeleton of the product mapped out, the UI designer steps in to bring it to life. The UI designer considers all the visual aspects of the user’s journey, including all the individual screens and touchpoints that the user might encounter; think tapping a button, scrolling down a page or swiping through an image gallery.
While the UX designer maps out the journey, the UI designer focuses on all the details that make this journey possible. That’s not to say that UI design is all about looks; UI designers have a huge impact on whether or not a product is accessible and inclusive. They’ll ask questions like “How can different color combinations be used to create contrast and enhance readability?”or “What color pairings cater to color blindness?”
Hopefully you’re now starting to see how UX and UI design are indeed two very different things. To summarize:
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