What’s the difference between UI and UX?

At the most basic level, the user interface (UI) is the series of screens, pages, and visual elements—like buttons and icons—that you use to interact with a device.

User experience (UX), on the other hand, is the internal experience that a person has as they interact with every aspect of a company’s products and services.
But as much as I love that cartoon, it’s not exactly a comprehensive explanation!


But as much as I love that cartoon, it’s not exactly a comprehensive explanation! Let’s dig a little bit deeper into UI and UX to get a better understanding of the differences between them.


What is UI?

Back in the 1970’s, if you wanted to use a computer you had to use the command line interface, which looked like this:

You couldn’t buy a computer with graphics, icons, buttons, or a mouse. They didn’t exist commercially yet. To get the computer to do what you wanted, you had to speak to it in a computer programming language.Then in 1981, a group of computer scientists at Xerox PARC developed and launched the Xerox Star—a personal computer with the very first graphical user interface (GUI).It used windows, icons, drop-down menus, radio buttons, and checkboxes. And it allowed users to open, move, and delete files.
It might not look like much compared to what’s available today. But at the early stages of the personal computing era, the GUI was a revolution.
It meant you no longer had to rely on writing code to use a computer, making it far more accessible to the masses.
The teams at Apple Computer continued to develop and expand on the idea of the GUI. And in 1984 they released the Macintosh, which was the first commercially successful desktop computer to use an interface with multiple windows and a point-and-click mouse.

The advent of the GUI introduced the need for a new breed of designer—one who was focused on the graphical interface of a personal computer. And that’s when the UI designer stepped onto the scene.
This discipline has evolved over the last few decades, and it’s going to continue to evolve in the future.

What is UX?

The term UX was coined by cognitive scientist Don Norman in the early 1990’s while he was VP of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple.
Here’s how he formally defines it:
“User experience’ encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
UI designers today are working on websites, apps, wearable, and other programs. They may be responsible for things like designing the layout of a digital product’s interface and the visual elements on all the pages or screens of the system.
UX isn’t limited to the visual interface of your product. It’s a concept that has many dimensions and encompasses the entire journey a person takes, including:
  • The process they go through to discover your company’s product
  • The sequence of actions they take as they interact the interface
  • The thoughts and feelings that arise as they try to accomplish their task
  • The impressions they take away from the interaction as a whole

UX designers are responsible for ensuring that the company delivers a product or service that meets the needs of the customer and allows them to seamlessly achieve their desired outcome.
They may do that by conducting user research to get as much context as possible about the user of the product and then using those learnings to mockup wireframes and prototypes to help the user get from point A to point B.

What’s the difference between UI and UX?


1. UX is focused on the user’s journey to solve a problem, UI is focused on how a product’s surfaces look and function

UX design is focused on anything that affects the user’s journey to solve that problem, positive or negative, both on-screen and off. UI design is focused on how the product’s surfaces look and function. The user interface is only piece of that journey.

2. A UX designer is concerned with the conceptual aspects of the design process, leaving the UI designer to focus on the more tangible elements

Common logic would suggest that, if you design the UI, and a person experiences a product through the UI, that makes you a User Experience Designer. However this would also imply that designing your own home makes you an architect, and fixing a tap makes you a plumber.
Often the words used to describe a discipline end up being divorced from their original meanings. For instance architect literally means “head mason” and plumber means “lead worker”. Two names which clearly no longer articulate or explain what that profession does.
In a professional context “User Experience Designer” has a specific meaning and set of skills, based on a community of practice reaching back over 20 years. In this world, a User Experience Designer is concerned with the conceptual aspects of the design process, leaving the UI designer to focus on the more tangible elements.
Jason Mesut best describes the difference (and the overlap) between UX and UI in his “double diamond” model. In this model, the UX designer has deep skills in strategy, research, information architecture and interaction design.
The UI designer (now fashionably rebranded as a digital product designer in Silicon Valley) also has skills in Interaction design. However their focus skews towards areas like information design, motion design and brand.
While some people would claim deep expertise in all those areas, this is quite rare. After all, if you’re an expert in everything you’re probably an expert in nothing.

3. There is no difference between UX and UI design because they are two things that aren’t comparable to each other

There is no difference between UX and UI design because they are two things that aren’t comparable to each other.
Just as the user experience is made up of a bunch of different components, user interface design being just one of them, that when combined together make up the user experience.

4. UI is generally about visual design and information design around screens. UX is about the complete experience, and it may not be even about the screen

User Experience Design is the complete experience, and it may not be even about the screen. User Interface Design is generally visual design and information design around screens. UX goes back to the Nielsen Norman Group’s definition of UX — any touch point a user or customer has with a system, digital or not.

5. UI is focused on the product, a series of snapshots in time. UX focuses on the user and their journey through the product

The UX focuses on the user and their journey through the product. The UI tends to be the specifics of screens, focusing on labels, visual style, guidelines and structure.
The UX is the path through a product, escaping the screen and articulating the user’s journey and motivations, justifying why things are in the UI and even more importantly, why things are left out. The UI copes with constraints, the UX challenges them.

6. UX is the overall experience a user has with the product, and UI is the things the user will actually interact with and see

There’s a lot of confusion around what UI and UX are, what the main differences are, or if there are any differences at all. They are definitely different things, but they must go hand in hand to create a beautiful and intuitive experience.
The next level of the user’s journey is the interface they actually interact with. Continuing with the house example, the UI is the visual theme throughout the house. UX design goes ahead of UI design, because you want to do research, broad sketches, and general workflows first. 
User experience design is a human-first way of designing products. You can learn more about how we’re promoting human-first design across all industries over at The UX School.
  • User experience design (UXD or UED) is the process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product.
This implies that regardless of its medium , UX Design encompasses any and all interactions between a potential or active customer and a company. As a scientific process it could be applied to anything, street lamps, cars, Ikea shelving and so on.

Strategy and Content:

  • Competitor Analysis
  • Customer Analysis
  • Product Structure/Strategy
  • Content Development

Wireframing and Prototyping:

  • Wireframing
  • Prototyping
  • Testing/Iteration
  • Development Planning

Execution and Analytics:

  • Coordination with UI Designer(s)
  • Coordination with Developer(s)
  • Tracking Goals and Integration
  • Analysis and Iteration
The UX role is complex, challenging and multi-faceted. You see that iteration of the product, as connected to analysis or testing is indeed mentioned twice, but in reality you would put it in between every other item on the list. Ultimately the aim is to connect business goals to user’s needs through a process of testing and refinement to that which satisfies both sides of the relationship.

So in conclusion:

  • User Experience Design is the process of development and improvement of quality interaction between a user and all facets of a company.
  • User Experience Design is responsible for being hands on with the process of research, testing, development, content, and prototyping to test for quality results.
  • User Experience Design is in theory a non-digital (cognitive science) practice, but used and defined predominantly by digital industries.
While User Experience is a conglomeration of tasks focused on optimization of a product for effective and enjoyable use; User Interface Design is its compliment, the look and feel, the presentation and interactivity of a product. But like UX, it is easily and often confused by the industries that employ UI Designers.
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.
 UI designer’s responsibilities:

Look and Feel:

  • Customer Analysis
  • Design Research
  • Branding and Graphic Development
  • User Guides/Storyline

Responsiveness and Interactivity:

  • UI Prototyping
  • Interactivity and Animation
  • Adaptation to All Device Screen Sizes
  • Implementation with Developer
As a visual and interactive designer, the UI role is crucial to any digital interface and for customers a key element to trusting a brand.


So in conclusion:

  • User Interface Design is responsible for the transference of a brand’s strengths and visual assets to a product’s interface as to best enhance the user’s experience.
  • User Interface Design is a process of visually guiding the user through a product’s interface via interactive elements and across all sizes/platforms.
  • User Interface Design is a digital field, which includes responsibility for cooperation and work with developers or code.


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