Are you interested in web design? If so, you’ve likely heard the terms user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) at some point in your life.
Behind every web page there is a web designer responsible for its aesthetics. The web designer chooses the colors of the page, the typography and determines where each component appears.
At their core, both UX and UI are concerned with the same question: how can we create an aesthetically pleasing and functional experience on a website?
In this article, we describe UX and UI design and discuss their main differences.
UX and UI: What Do They Mean?
The terms UX and UI are often used side by side, sometimes even interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing—there are subtle differences that anyone pursuing a career in web development should know about.
What is UI Design?
The user interface, or UI, of a site is anything that the user interacts with. Anything that a user sees—buttons, fonts, colors and iconography, for example—is part of a website’s user interface.
UI design is all about optimizing the look and feel of a website.
Whereas a UX designer is responsible for the overall flow for using a site, the UI designer is more concerned with its aesthetics. What color palettes and fonts should the site use? How should buttons appear on the website?
The goal of a UI designer is to create visually appealing websites. For this purpose, they use their artistic sensibility and skills to create designs that reflect the style and look of the client.
In the last few years, UI design has grown more concerned with ensuring that sites are displayed correctly across multiple devices. UI designers now spend a lot of their time considering how sites look on smartphones, tablets, and desktops, aiming for a style that looks great no matter the device.
What is UX Design?
UX, which stands for “user experience,” refers to everything a user experiences when performing a specific task using a digital product.
The user experience is defined by how easy or hard the user finds it to interact with a website. If navigating around a site is easy, that site is said to offer a good user experience; if there are complicated forms that make interaction difficult, the site can be described as having a poor user experience.
The term user experience was coined in the 1990s by Dan Norman, who said that it “encompasses all aspects of the end user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
Norman was not just talking about websites. He believed every product has its own experience. UX design, however, is concerned only with digital products.
UX designers strive to make a product as easy to use as possible. A lot of their work involves conducting research to determine the problems customers experience. Based on this research, they work closely with designers and developers to enhance the usability of an application.
The Main Differences Between UX and UI Design
UX and UI design are essential elements of the web development process, both concerned with helping users have a productive and enjoyable experience. But, what are the main differences between these two disciplines?
UI focuses on mockups, UX on user experience
UI designers spend their time creating mockups and snapshots of pleasurable user experiences. To this end, they rely on techniques from branding and design to create a great layout and make the website look enticing.
A UI designer may spend a few days choosing the colors that go best with a company’s brand. They may then move on to deciding what elements—such as buttons or headings— should use the primary and secondary colors they have selected.
UX designers, on the other hand, are more concerned with the practical elements of a website.
Some of the questions they seek to address include: Why is the user not engaging with a feature? Why are users not clicking on a button? Why are users hovering over a menu, but not navigating to another page?
UX designers first conduct research on the problem and then try out different solutions. The process involves a high degree of iteration and observing how users interact with a website. As a UX designer learns more about how people use a product, they can suggest changes to improve the user experience.
UI deals with aesthetics, UX with solutions
The primary focus of UI design is making a site look attractive. To do this, UI designers work with colors and typography, among other elements.
UX, on the other hand, is all about functionality and making websites user-friendly. UX designers spend most of their time analyzing designs and web pages and identifying problems.
Consider the following scenario: a website notices a drop in new users after updating the onboarding flow. The UX designer would begin by asking why this is happening. They would try to think like a new user and identify the problems keeping users away from the site.
After identifying the problems that have caused the drop in users, the UX designer would come up with possible solutions. Perhaps a form needs to be simplified, or maybe advancing to the next stage of the onboarding flow is not as easy or clear as it should.
In the same scenario, a UI designer would weigh in on the specifics of the design—such as the exact positioning of elements or the images used on a site—and would create a mockup with the changes identified by the UX designer.
Overall, UI design focuses on the look and feel of a site. UX, on the other hand, seeks to identify and find solutions to the problems causing users to behave differently from what the designers intended.
The Day-to-Day of a UX and UI Designer
On a day-to-day basis, UX and UI designers have different responsibilities. Let’s discuss what each does.
A UI Designer at Work
UI designers use their creative sense and artistic intuition to create intuitive visual designs for web applications. Their primary goal is to make a website look nice while keeping the functionality intact.
UI designers work with product team members and UX designers to discuss the structure of a project. They use that information to create layouts and mockups. UI designers also create style guides that standardize a company’s visual web branding and define how web pages should be created.
A UX Designer at Work
A UX designer’s job is more research-focused.
On an average day, the UX designer focuses on identifying the intended flow for a site. To do this, they work with product, marketing, and data teams to understand the user’s intent behind using a service.
Next, the UX designer analyzes existing designs to determine their efficacy, conducts competitor analysis to see how a business can improve its website, and investigates user behavior to determine problems in the site. Based on this information, the UX designer explores ways of solving the problems previously identified.
The Bottom Line
UX and UI design are complementary—you cannot have one without the other. It’s difficult to compare the two fields because they are concerned with different ideas: the user experience on a website and its appearance.
Both designers aim to improve web applications. UX design aims to ensure that users have a good experience on a site, whereas UI design is more concerned with a website’s looks.
On a regular day, a UI designer could be tasked with creating mockups, wireframes, and style guides. UX designers, on the other hand, focus more on research, prototyping, and understanding user behavior.
If you are more of a creative type who loves visuals, UI design may be a great field for you. However, if you like data and user research, UX design could be more up your alley.