What’s the difference between UI and UX?

21st August 2019
Posted by in Brain Bites: 2 Minute Insights
Tags: ,

We often see roles being advertised as UX/UI designer, or we see UX designers who are just designing without contact with users. We thought we would answer the question on what the difference is and why it is important.

A couple of weeks ago a good friend gave me a call.

“I find the work I am doing challenging, but I’m not doing the role I applied for.” He said.

“Why is that?” I responded.

“Because I’m employed as a UX designer, but I really have only been doing UI design. I haven’t done any user research since I started.”

This got me thinking about the difference between these two acronyms and why they are being confused.

Defining UX and UI

Both terms are often used interchangeably, and often incorrectly. We should start with the definition of both and then look at where it goes wrong.

At the most basic level, the user interface (UI) is the series of screens, pages, and visual elements—like buttons and icons—that enable a person to interact with a product or service.

User experience (UX), on the other hand, is the experience that a person has as they interact with every aspect of a company’s products and services.”

To break these down even further; a common example of UI is a digital interface such as a website or app and how those interfaces are formed through the use of different design elements.

Whereas UX is the entire experience a user will have. For example, when attending a football match you will have many touch-points with a company’s products and services: searching for which match to attend, buying the tickets online, figuring out a way to the ground, entering the stadium, buying a drink, watching the match, leaving the ground, and figuring out the best way home are examples of points along the journey which all combine to create the user experience.

So where is the confusion?

As a UX professional it is your role to understand the entire user experience, and the only way to know that, is to know your users. As each user is different, each user experience is too. In contrast the UI does not change depending on the user. A good way to think about this is if you think of a journey on a bicycle; for every person who rides this bike their journey will be different, but the interface (pedals, seat, handlebar…) will be the same for everyone who rides it.

To stay with the bike analogy; user research can be done for both UI and UX, but the impacts will be significantly different. User research within UI could help you optimise the handlebars or seat. But UX research could reveal that a bike is not the right transport method at all for the task they are trying to achieve.

So, by now, I’m sure you can see that they cannot be executed well without each other. And this brings to me to another conversation I had recently with a UX Manager at an Ad agency.

“Tell me about your job day to day; how do you like to involve users in your designs?” I asked.

“Well…” She responded, “We do our best to involve users, but usually clients don’t have the budget for it.”

“Hmmm….” I thought to myself. “Do you still produce designs for them if you don’t involve users?” I asked.

“Yes, we do.” She replied.

This is still an example of delivering UI design, but most certainly is not UX design.

Are we just being pedantic?

At Bunnyfoot we have specialised in UX Design for over 20 years, which is about involving users in the design process. We do specialise in UI too, but we never do UI design without UX research. Without the involvement of users, we cannot be certain our designs are meeting the needs of users or will be understood by users. We would be relying entirely on assumptions. We feel strongly about this because we have seen first-hand – many times – how detrimental and costly it can be if ignored.

Is one more important than the other?

No. They should not be compared or opposed. Good UI should be the result of diligent UX work.

UX and UI are very important components of the design process of digital products. Both should be given respect, and should not be confused or lumped together, importantly when hiring or defining job roles.

Want to learn more?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

About Bunnyfoot

We are psychologists, interaction and design experts, researchers, usability specialists. We cover Web, software, mobile, print, service design and more.
More about us