What is the Difference Between UX and UI?

Digital Natives


August 8, 2018
Digital Natives


August 8, 2018

Product design is a common term widely used within the Tech industry. But what does it encompass? If Design as a career appeals to you, or you’re interested in learning about product design in general, allow us to help break down the intricacies and processes of two principal aspects of product design; User Experience design and User Interface (UX and UI) design.

Prior to outlining key differences, it’s important to keep in mind that User Experience design and User Interface design are both integral and complementary aspects of the product design lifecycle. The process of implementing UX and UI design takes a digital product from the conceptual ideation phase through to a high fidelity prototype. It’s critical for both UX and UI designers to work together and design in a way where sophisticated collaboration can be achieved that will enhance the look, feel, functionality, and ultimate experience of the product for the end user.

The Process

A complete UX/UI design cycle consists of several phases. As designers, it’s our responsibility to research, build, test, and iterate designs before launching a product. When that cycle is broken or missing key components, more often than not, the product tends to miss the mark.


Breaking Down the Unique Differences Between UX and UI Design

User Experience Design:

The role of a UX designer is to strike the delicate balance of solving complex business problems for the product owner and empathizing and advocating for the end user’s needs. Why is empathy important? It’s important because UX designers need to intentionally design for the product’s users, and not to serve their own needs. A designer relying solely on their intuition will result in a misguided, half-baked product. Employing an empathy-driven approach across each phase of the process, from research to prototyping, designers will ensure that they are advocating for the intended user to build the best possible experience.

A typical UX process consists of the following steps:

  • Work with stakeholders to clearly define the problem you are trying to solve for and establish the primary goals of product (including KPIs).
  • Conduct competitive analysis and user research.
  • Build the UX Strategy (Finalize user personas and user journey maps).
  • Build the App Map, design product wireframes, and apply UX writing as required.
  • Prototype, Test, and Iterate.

There seem to be many subsets of User Experience design. Does one have a greater impact on the overall design process? 

UX design encompasses various skill sets and specialty areas. It’s impossible to distinguish one facet as more important than the other as the entire process is critical. There are UX designers that take a generalist approach, having a sound handle on the entire process, and others who prefer to specialize. Regardless of your decision, any UX role will require the combination of technical skills, such as wireframing, and the ability to conduct and distill research that contributes to the product strategy. Regardless of your specialty, the ultimate goal remains the same- to employ empathy that will inform strategy, and build the foundation for a product solution that bridges the delicate intersection between user needs and business goals.

How to identify impactful UX design:

  • The design provides a clear and effective solution that solves for both user needs and business goals.
  • The design establishes a visual hierarchy that clearly demonstrates intended actions, navigational elements, and key content.
  • The design reduces cognitive load for the user —i.e., don’t make the user think!
    • The design elements are consistent and allow the user to easily anticipate what the next action should be.
    • Feedback —e.g., confirmation states,  should be given throughout the journey to reinforce  positive or incorrect behavior, and reduce errors from occurring.
    • If errors do occur, appropriate functionality is set up to provide direction and guidance to get users back on track.

User Interface Design:

User Interface design is traditionally defined as the design of interfaces fit for mobile, tablet, laptop and desktop screens. A UI designer is responsible for taking the functional wireframe blueprints and transforming them into a product that evokes pleasure and inspires users through beautiful and stylized design. Looking beyond 2018, UI designers must now grow beyond being pixel perfect and excelling at basic design principles. As interfaces evolve and devices become more responsive and adopt more humanistic tendencies, UI designers must now consider how to integrate the use of gestures, and voice and touch recognition into their work.

As the global community rapidly integrates technology into everyday life, the product’s look, feel, interactive sophistication and ease of functionality all have a significant impact on adoption rates and overall success of the product.

The UI process consists of more technical design components, and typically consists of a combination:

  • Moodboards and concept design
  • Colour theory and brand implementation
  • typography and implementation of branding elements
  • Visual (layout) design
  • Interaction design

How to identify excellent UI design:

  • Discoverability and clarity of a product’s primary purpose through an excellent use of basic design principles (balance, repetition, harmony, etc.). 
  • The use of colour and contrast to build common elements that assist with predictable behavioural patterns throughout the product (including designing for accessibility).
  • Controlling users expectations through micro-interactions that provide visual feedback that will ensure each feature is clear to the user —e.g., clear active states.
  • Sleek animation of modules or components to bring the interface alive, and excite the user’s experience.

As designers, our assumptions need to be challenged daily. Designing products with longevity requires both UX and UI designers to work together to understand, acknowledge, adjust, disrupt, and breakthrough aged patterns of behaviour to continually create and innovate. While technology continues to integrate into the human experience at a remarkable pace, both UX and UI designers hold the responsibility to design with the intention to contribute to building a future where technology will continue to enhance and benefit the human experience.


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