Mind the Gap - The Difference between UI and UX


- Maureen Dillon 02.05.2015

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For those unfamiliar with the design universe, the terms UI and UX are often used interchangeably. This is understandable because they are, after all, interconnected. However, the problem arises when newbie design professionals find themselves unable to clearly tell the two apart. Often, this leads to some confusion about what exactly is expected from them when they are evaluating a web design. Take a look at how UI and UX are distinct although they do share some commonalities.

UI and UX Defined

Both User Experience (UX) design and User Interface (UI) design are critical to any project and they need to work hand in hand to give that Wow! factor that makes the product really appealing to the end users. To simplify it, you could say that UX deals with the ‘feel’, the workings of the product while UI has more to do with the ‘look’ of it. Of course, this is a very bare bones description because both UX and UI design capabilities are required to deliver a product with great look and feel. 

Typically, the UX designer has his eye on how to make the product easier to use, more functional for the user. The UI designer ensures that the user finds the product interface more exciting, more intuitive, highly interactive. In effect, the UI designer ensures that the product complements the UX designer’s design objectives.  

Translating the UX Design into Reality

The UI designer’s focus is on ensuring that the ideas formulated during the product’s development, layout and content stage are all faithfully translated into its user interface. The UI spotlight is on the various ways in which the end user and the system (or product) interact and how these can be enhanced to give a stupendous user experience.

In contrast, the UX designer’s job comes in one step earlier. It is the UX designer who comprehends the business’s objectives accurately and ensures that the product fulfills them in terms of satisfying the customer. The UI designer takes this a step further by ensuring that the basic design is truly intuitive and interactive in all the right ways to give the end user a great overall experience. Among the UI designer’s key responsibilities is to tweak the design so that the user is visually guided though the product’s interface. He makes use of interactive elements to help him achieve this objective.

To simplify it further, UX creates the bare bones version of the product’s user interface, taking into account the ease of use and functional aspects while UI gives it the final appearance, polish and sheen that make it easy and exciting for the end users to actually use the product.

UI Design is Not Merely Cosmetic

This explanation may give rise to a fallacy that UI design is only the cosmetic aspect of the design. This is definitely not true. The product’s responsiveness to the user is also part of the UI designer’s tasks. So is the product’s suite of user guides that help him/ her use it more effectively, easily and optimally. In effect, the UX designer creates a structure that makes it easy for the end user to adopt the product and utilize its every feature to the max in the minimum possible time. The UI designer ensures that the user is made aware of this structure and can leverage it all to achieve the shared objective of achieving outstanding user experience.  

Which is More Important- UI or UX?

That’s a trick question and it simply does not have an answer because both UI and UX are critically important if you want a viable product that your users will love to use. A product that has a great UI designer working on it alongside a mediocre UX team will turn out to be amazing looking but impossible to actually use. A product that is easy to use but that looks complex and absolutely not user friendly indicates great UX design but poor UI design.

UI/ UX and the Product Life Cycle

One of the major differences in UI and UX comes when determining where each of them comes into play. UX design needs to be an integral part of the production process right from step 1. The UX designer’s inputs need to be  taken from the beginning of the product life cycle since every stage of the product should be designed to make it usable, valuable to the user.

The UI designer steps into the picture at a later stage to ensure that the product is tied up nicely so that all its amazing workings can be communicated to the user. He not only makes sure that core product functionality and utility is showcased perfectly but also designs to lead the user through them all with ease.

UI and UX are co- dependent but it is not wrong to describe UI as a critical component of UX. That’s because the perspective of the UX designer necessarily needs to be wider than the UI professional’s. The former needs to factor in a much bigger scope of work than the latter and from a much earlier stage in the design process too.

Understanding of the User at Different Levels

While both UI and UX designers need a clear understanding of the end user, the UX designer has to cover user behavior starting from a very basic level. He assesses what his users prefer to see and use in the design and makes provisions for these in the product’s structure right from the early stages.  Whether it is content, information architecture or any other aspect, the UX designer assesses the end user’s, structures the requirements for each project and makes sure these requirements are met.

The UI designer is more concerned with how the user  works with the product and what can be done to make it easier for the user to utilize it fully. It bridges the gap between the product and the user and allows him or her to experience the product and its many features fully, in the way the product designers intend.  

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