Chapter 2: What Is the Difference Between UX and UI?

Posted on October 28, 2019 | Updated on January 25, 2021

Even among graphic designers and developers, there’s this misconception that UX and UI are the same things. Breaking them down by their labels, it’s rather easy to see a shallow difference: UX means user experience and UI means user interface. What does that actually mean, though? How does a focus on UX involve UI and vice versa? It’s really about the philosophy behind each practice, as opposed to their general makeup. That’s because, in many ways, UX and UI are interchangeable, even if they are different concepts. It is important to see them as just two parts of a greater whole. The final result being the application or website audiences will interact with.

UX vs. UI

UX, or user experience, involves the entire experience your users have — from the moment they open an app or website to the time when they leave. Part of this encompasses the UI and visual components, which is why the two concepts are interchangeable. You cannot have a positive user experience without optimizing the UI, and you cannot have a successful UI without considering the user experience. UI, or user interface, involves the menus, interactions, animations and general engagements your users will interact with. It can include everything from a scroll bar to a conventional button. However, it also consists of every component of a visual interface, such as typography, prompts, form fields and more. Both are user-centric concepts that involve considering what your audience will be doing when reacting to or interfacing through them.

How to Win at UX and UI Design: Keep Your Users in Mind

As developers and designers, we often create content in a vacuum. That doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t care or consider anyone else, but it’s part of the production process. You create using a combination of what works and what looks good. However, the best designers are those that take time to consider their audience. How will users react to what you’re creating? Will it help or hinder their experience? Will they respond positively? It’s essential to have clear answers to these questions before proceeding.

Consider what goes into developing a minimal interface, for instance. You must incorporate the most common functions and elements, but do it in a way that is visually parsed down. A website using this design philosophy might include a solid background, simple typography and maybe one or two hyperlinks to the most important subpages. Those important elements are the heart of good UI and UX design. It’s all about giving your users exactly what they need to not just appease their demands, but also make their entire experience better and more streamlined.

UX and UI Designers: How Do They Differ?

To break things down into layman’s terms, UX and UI designers differ for this simple reason: UX is about making an interface practical, while UI is about making it beautiful or appealing. Any good designer has both creativity and practicality. In addition, UX design always comes before UI design. It requires research and performance testing to understand how and why an audience might be relying on a particular interface. What buttons or options do they need? Is there a way to streamline their experience and make things happen faster? What isn’t required, and what causes distractions?

The difference between the two types of designers is that one works with the practicality of an application, website or interface while the other deals mainly with the visual aspects. UX designers, especially, really dig into that practicality aspect by incorporating past performance data and experiences of their own, but also a known audience. They regularly use something called A/B testing or split testing — which you are likely already familiar with — to understand what their audience wants. By using this form of testing, they can see how users respond, what their thoughts or opinions are, or even what should be changed and improved. More than anything, UX designs often go through a heavy prototyping phase which means they also require a select set of tools. This is completely different from UI or visual design, which can be carried out through a wide variety of tools, platforms and devices.

Is There Any Overlap?

There is definitely enough overlap to warrant UX and UI design mashups. Some UX designers, for instance, might be involved with UI design and vice versa. Even so, they are still very different concepts that exist separately. Most digital platforms and experiences must incorporate both elements if they wish to succeed. Users won’t be happy with a terrible experience, just like they won’t be happy with an ugly or unsightly interface. 

UX and UI: Connected Yet Separate

Knowing all this, you can see why people often confuse the two concepts. They do have certain overlapping elements, particularly when it comes to how and what users will be doing. Building a solid user experience also involves the optimization of the UI, yet they are still wholly separate philosophies of design. The question then becomes this: How do you choose between them? If you’re a graphic artist or developer, how do you select which philosophy to focus on? Admittedly, this is also where the confusion comes from, as well. That’s because you don’t have to pick — you can be a part of both. That said, you should be sure you understand how each concept differs and how that will affect the way you design and create. 

CHAPTER 1: The Top Front End Technologies for UX Designers  CHAPTER 3: The Laws of UX

The UX Design Guide for All Levels: Introduction

Chapter 1: The Top Front End Technologies for UX Designers
Chapter 2: What is the Difference Between UX and UI?
Chapter 3: The Laws of UX
Chapter 4: Why Mobile UX Matters
Chapter 5: What Is the UX Process?
Chapter 6: Why User Experience Design Is Essential to Everything
Chapter 7: What Is Lean UX?
Chapter 8: The Top UX Design Principles
Chapter 9: The Best UX Tools and Techniques
Chapter 10: How to Become a UX Designer
Chapter 11: Top Mobile UX Design Principles to Remember
Chapter 12: Dark Patterns: The Trickery Behind These Poor UI Tactics
Chapter 13: What Does Good Customer Experience Look Like?
Chapter 14: The Different Types of User Interface
Chapter 15: The Top UX Design Courses
Chapter 16: Skills Needed to Become a Great UI Developer

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at

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