UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) are terms that are often used interchangeably. But, although intricately linked, the two areas of web design are two different things. Indeed, it is possible to have a website with an excellent user interface but an atrocious user experience. So, understanding the difference between UX and UI is crucial for good web design. Here’s a rundown on what UX and UI mean and how they work together in web design.
Table of Contents
What is User Experience (UX) Design?
User experience is a term that can be applied to a user’s entire experience with a brand. So, the design of a company’s website plays a part in the user experience. However, the user experience also encompasses the product, delivery of that product, and the after-sale customer service.
UX is a term that is most often used when referring to digital assets. However, UX design is not limited to the technical aspects of a business solution. UX design can be applied to a visit to a theatre or coffee shop similarly as it might be applied to a visit to a website.
So, UX design refers to a human-centric design approach to ensure a satisfying overall user experience. It is relevant to any elements of design that apply to the touchpoints a user will have with a brand.
What is User Interface (UI) Design?
User experience is a conglomeration of the many touchpoints that a customer has with a brand. However, the user interface is more concerned with how a user interacts with an app or website. The various elements of the user interface include look and feel, interactivity, and presentation.
The term user interface is generally associated with digital assets. UX relates to how the user interacts with a digital product. The touch screen on your phone, for example, is a user interface. So, too, is the digital display in a coffee machine. And, of course, buttons, scroll bars, and menus are all elements of the user interface of a website.
The objective of user interface design is to create a visually appealing, intuitive way for users to interact with the app or website. UI design covers any visual element with which a user may interact.
How Do UX and UI Differ
There are many overlaps between UX and UI, and one cannot exist without the other. So, it is not surprising that two terms often get used interchangeably. But, how do the user experience and the user interface differ?
The best way to describe the difference between UX and UI is to use an analogy. If you were talking about a house, for example, the user experience would be the structure and the functional elements of the building. The user interface would be the décor and things like the light switches and heating controls. UX design is concerned with the end-to-end experience. In contrast, UI design focuses on the look and feel and functionality of a product’s user interfaces.
How UX and UI Design Work Together
UX and UI design tasks do overlap. But in a large-scale web design project, there may be separate UC and UI designer teams. Of course, for a small development project, the tasks would be completed by a single web designer.
A UX designer would look at the journey a user will take through the website. They would be interested in what steps a user needs to take to locate and purchase a product. Or what the user would need to do to sign up to receive more information or subscribe to a newsletter.
The work of a UX designer includes identifying user needs and mapping the user’s journey through the app or website. In other words, what does this app or website need to do to solve the user’s problems and give them an excellent experience?
Once the UX designer has the bare bones of the functionality mapped out, the UI designer gets to work designing the visual aspects of the solution. The UI input will include considering things like the design of buttons, how a user will scroll down the page, and how a form will be completed.
However, it would be wrong to assume that the UI design of a website is superficial. The choice of colors, fonts, and interactive elements can affect the useability of a website. So, the user interface affects the overall user experience.
Why UX and UI Design Must Work Hand-in-Hand
UX and UI design are equally crucial elements of good web design. If they do not work together, you could end up with a website that looks amazing but is almost impossible to use, or vice versa.
Suppose you came up with a revolutionary idea for an app, for example. In that case, a UX designer would take your concept, research the problem, and design the features that would turn your idea into a reality. The UX designer would also map the entire journey a user of your app would take. But the app also needs to be pleasing to the eye and easy to use. So, you need a UI designer to design an easy-to-use and aesthetically pleasing user interface, too. So, UX and UI are two aspects of web design that must work hand in hand.
In a small development team, UX and UI designer roles may be filled by a single person. Even so, it can be helpful to consider the two aspects of web design separately. The user experience design maps out the skeleton of what a website must do to meet the user’s needs. So, it makes sense for UX to come first. The user interface then becomes, to coin a phrase, the icing on the cake. If the two tasks are undertaken simultaneously, it can lead to an unnecessary reworking of the UI to accommodate changes in the site’s core functionality.
There is, of course, a lot more to the roles that user experience and user interface design play in the design of a website. But hopefully, the above helps to explain why UX and UI are different but work together. The crucial thing to take away from this post is that you need to consider both UI and UX when designing any website in today’s highly competitive digital world.