How many times have you come across online ads looking for ‘UI/UX designer’? Such references make the terms UI and UX seem absolutely identical. However, using the two terms interchangeably is erroneous, for, while the roles are broadly similar (as part of design processes) – there are important inherent differences between the two. Over here, we will list out some of these differences between User Interface (UI) and User Experience Design (UX):
Scope and coverage
Purely from the respective scopes of operation of UI designers and UX designers, the latter cover a much wider area than the former. UX covers the overall user-experience with any product, how people interact with it, and how their needs are being fulfilled (and obviously, UX need not be necessarily associated with tech products). UI, on the other hand, works on a more ‘micro’ level – dealing with the actual appearance and feel of the product, the buttons, tabs and clickable areas, and all the other elements that make up the overall user-experience. In a nutshell, UX is about optimizing the user-experience, and UI is about how it is done, on a granular level.
A UI designer is typically concerned with the visual appeal of the product (say, a mobile application). (S)he combines different forms of typography and colors to satisfy the the precise requirements of clients (note: the final user is NOT the chief point of concern here). A UX designer typically is more interested in human-centered design principles – how the implemented design impacts the interactions with the product. Instead of fonts and colors, (s)he is more involved in broader aspects, like task flows and simulated environments/scenarios.
Note: UI designers answer the question ‘How a product looks?’ UX designers are concerned about ‘How a product feels?’
3. Tools they work with
Given the basic similarities in the roles of UI and UX designers, it is not surprising to note that the set of tools/software tools they work with have a lot in common. For instance, both are likely to be proficient in using Adobe Illustrator, Adobe PhotoShop and Sketch. However, tools for mobile/web prototyping (InVision, for example) are exclusively in the domain of UX designers. They frame out the overall behaviour flow for a product, while the onus is on UI designers to maintain the consistency in the visual designs, and ensure that the plans laid out by the UX professional are properly implemented.
4. The Good and The Bad
If a website or a mobile app is beautifully designed (very creative splash screens, great home page/screen et al.), that’s a great example of a ‘good UI’. However, that does not automatically imply that the said site or app has a ‘good UX’ as well. For that to happen, the usability of the site/screen has to be optimized, so that users get the best possible experience from accessing it. By the same token, an app with a ‘good UX’ in theory might have a ‘horrible UI’ (think about elaborate flowcharts and design plans falling in the hands of inept designers). Both UI and UX are necessary, and neither of them are sufficient without the other.
Note: UX is more of a concept, the way in which people are expected to use a product. UI is more technical, and is related with actual, physical elements on the product.
Designers, whether dealing with the UI or the UX of any product (once again, let’s stay with our example of apps) have to be creative – there are no two ways about it. However, UI designers also need to be masters at ‘convergent thinking’, for identifying and deciding the ideal design elements/interactions to be used on a product. For UX designers, ‘critical thinking’ abilities are more important. With the product at the center, they have to zero in on a uniform, optimal, predictable behaviour of the user. A UX designer simply has to be present in a project right through, while the task of a UI designer is limited to a stage.
Multiple stops vs Complete journey
UI design would be the former, while UX design would be comparable to the latter. UI designing involves multiple tasks (adding a button here, designing a screen header there) – all of them contributing to the complete journey of a user while using the product. In the interface, the specific design guidelines and instructions (generally given by clients) are adhered to. To put it differently, UI focuses on the product itself, while UX is more about the user who would use it. The UX justifies the UI elements used by a graphic designer.
Everyone involved in a mobile app development project has deliverables. UI designers and UX designers are no exceptions either. Project sitemaps, prototypes and high-fidelity mockups, storyboards – all of these fall under the deliverables of a UX personnel. The UI designer works on a more micro level, and is generally responsible for delivering all the individual visual elements, as well as defining the behaviour/flow between them.
Note: Contrary to what many believe, the role of a UX designer is not a market research-oriented one – although there are certain basic similarities between the tasks of UX experts and market researchers.
Subset and superset
UX-designing is an exhaustive, all-encompassing job – and UI is present as a subset within it. Also included in the domain of User End experience are information architecture, audio, video and text content, interaction designs (user-product interactions) and industrial designs, in addition to visual designing. UX can be summarized as ‘Designing For Emotion’ (as done by Mailchimp’s lead UX designer) – in the sense that, it ‘influences’ the emotions and ‘conveys’ a message to the user, when (s)he uses the concerned product. UI designing is one of the many design responsibilities under UX.
We have already established that the UX is a more ‘macro’ concept than UI, and the scope of operations of a UX designer is much more elaborate than that of a UI designer. Let’s here take stock of the actual responsibilities of the two sets of professionals: Determining the look and feel of a website or a mobile app (including the branding requirements) is the responsibility of the UI expert. (S)he also has to look into things like cross-device compatibility, prototyping, animations and the overall responsiveness of visual elements. UX designers, on the other hand, handle the conceptualization and implementation of design/behaviour strategies, and perform all the user-analysis and competitor research required for that. Goal-tracking is another important responsibility, and UX designers have to work in close collaboration with UI experts and software developers (web/mobile). In essence, the UX designer is almost like a ‘project manager’.
UI is tangible; UX isn’t
Every element in the user interface of a mobile app can be seen and touched. These are the tools with which a user interacts with the application, the way in which (s)he can control it. UX is, however, intangible – and deals with the overall experience (good or otherwise) that a person has while using the app. For instance, if a button on the mobile screen is easily visible and tappable, that amounts to a good UI – but if it takes a long time for the next screen to load, the user-experience is ruined.
Note: UI is limited to individual mobile or web screens. UX, in most cases, has no such limitations – and it views the application as a complete package.
11. Other related tasks
A UX designer typically servers several other functions – like functional analysis, program management, and even content strategist. A UI designer can easily double up as a graphic expert, a website designer and (in select cases) a front-end app developer. Designing the visual branding elements (logos, images, colours, etc.) is also something that the UI personnel have to handle. More importantly, the UI designer and the UX designer should not be the one and the same person. The reason for this is simple: UI is not equal to UX!
UI (at the granular level) and UX (at the overall level) are both vital cogs in the field of software designing and the future of web/mobile development. What’s more, the two are interdependent on each other as well. Optimized UI and UX are vital for the ultimate success of a mobile app – and it would be a folly to neglect any of them in favour of the other.
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