In an age of buzz words and micro trends, two terms have risen to popularity of late: UX and UI. They do appear similar. And often they’re mistakenly used interchangeably. But—even though they are both intrinsically connected and fall under the bigger blueprint of user engagement—user experience and user interface are completely different facets of design.
Think of it this way
You’re standing on top of a mountain, snowboard pointed downhill, about to tackle your first black diamond run.
You’ve got that freshly waxed board to carry you over the snow. Your jacket to keep out the biting cold and the chairlift to carry you up the hill. That’s UI—interface. The pieces of the mountain that you interacted with directly.
Now, imagine the pounding in your chest as you lean out over the edge. The wind on your face and the sensation of fresh powder as the landscape rushes by you. Once at the bottom, you stare back up the mountain and feel that sense of accomplishment. Those emotions and sensations—that’s UX. Experience.
It’s a different way of looking at things
UI answers the question: “what will it look like and how will it work?” The beautifully designed buttons on your jacket (or on the screen), that rolling slope and fluffy snow (or intuitive web design) and that agile board (the easy-to-use navigation).
UX, on the other hand, reaches deeper: “What will it achieve?” Experience with a capital X is the personal journey a user embarks on whenever they interact with a website, device, or application (or a mountain track). UX plays on a user’s expectations while incorporating the purpose of the product or medium being used. For the user experience to be a good one, UX must seamlessly pair with the interface. And to be great, UX should elicit an emotional response.
UX designers worry about things like information architecture, voice and messaging, interactivity, and customer behavior. Creating the UX experience touches on all parts of the design process from research and concept to development and market strategy.
That’s not to say UI is less important. These days, users tend to demand even more from design. As proven by the rapid maturation of interface design in recent years (for example: the shift away from skeuomorphism towards graphic-based interfaces with instantly recognizable iconography) and by how many websites and applications fall out of relevance if they fail to keep up.
There’s no denying these two fields are related at their very core. But lumping them together into a single category is limiting to both. A good UI designer will always consider UX, and a good UX designer has an inherent understanding of UI. Rarely are they interchangeable.
Illustration by: Lee Farrell
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