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UX design and UI design sound similar — and there’s definitely some overlap — but these are also two distinct fields that really boost a team’s ability to create products that look good and work well for end-users.
“UX design is a little more analytical and UI is a little more visual and more closely related to something like graphic design,” says Digital Designer and Web Developer Jesse Showalter. “Though the two are similar in some ways, they are also very, very different.”
Often people in these roles are working in tandem on the same team — or, at times, it’s one person wearing both hats.
“But they do use different tools, different skills, and approach the problem in a different way,” Showalter explains.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the two roles, let’s start with the basics.
What is UX Design?
UX is referring to user experience design. It’s the process of boosting someone’s satisfaction while they’re using a particular product — be it a website or an app — by researching, analyzing, testing, and ultimately refining the design and features.
“For example, they might study the checkout process of an e-commerce website to see whether users find the process of buying products from the website easy and pleasant,” explains Jacob Gube in Smashing Magazine.
Designers working in this space are looking at the bigger picture of how all the moving pieces in a product work together and how users interact with it. In short, it’s not just about how a product looks, but how someone feels while using it.
Find out more about BrainStation’s UX Design courses.
What is UI Design?
UI stands for user interface design, and it’s a field with a narrower focus than UX. It’s also closer to traditional graphic design, though the day-to-day challenges can be more complex.
“Unlike UX designers who are concerned with the overall feel of the product, user interface designers are particular about how the product is laid out,” explains Lo Min Ming in Fast Company.
Typically, they’re in charge of designing each screen or page that users interact with — and making sure it all works together and creates the experience a UX designer is aiming for.
“For example, a UI designer creating an analytics dashboard might front-load the most important content at the top, or decide whether a slider or a control knob makes the most intuitive sense to adjust a graph,” Ming continues.
Other aspects of the role could include creating a cohesive style guide, maintaining visual consistency, and working alongside graphic designers and copywriters who are creating content for the product.
Find out more about BrainStation’s UI Design courses.
UX Design Versus UI Design
In every company, there’s no question these roles are often working closely together while serving distinct purposes.
Showalter puts it this way: UI without UX is like a painter “throwing paint randomly at a canvas,” hoping it looks good. UX is like a “sculpture without a frame,” with nothing to give the piece purpose.
In other words, it’s not enough to approach a project with just a UI point-of-view — like picking out colors and layouts for different website pages without any research or testing to show how users actually move through the site, and how they feel about its usability.
Similarly, UX designers need UI designers to actually make their vision and research come to life through a tangible, beautiful product that people can actually use.
Because the roles are so interconnected, you really can’t have one without the other.
“The boundary between UI and UX designers is fairly blurred and it is not uncommon for companies to opt to combine these roles,” Ming notes.