UI and UX are terms that sometimes used interchangeably when it comes to website design. However, they are two very different things.
If you’re confused, it’s OK, so are a lot of other people. These two terms seem to be the same. It can be difficult to see the differences between them. Read on to learn the differences between these two web design terms.
What is UI?
In design, UI is a term that refers to user interface. It’s the way a user interacts with an application or a website on a computer or a mobile device. The UI can include screens, touchscreens, audio, keyboards and more.
Brief History of UI
In the early days, what we know as personal computers were in reality data terminals. This was back in the 70s and graphical interfaces had not yet been invented. To work on the computer, a user had to communicate with the device and the network via a programming language. It seemed to take a long time to input complicated codes for the simplest task.
Then the first graphic user interface (GUI) was developed in the 80s. This made it ever so much easier for a user to interact with a personal computer (by this time, the data terminal had morphed into a PC). Now users could interact easily with the PC through a visual interface. Coding was no longer necessary, as the user could give commands through icons, checkboxes and menus. It was easy enough that anyone could learn to use a computer.
Then in about 1984, Apple released the Macintosh PC that integrated a mouse. The Mac was the first PC to make it in the home personal computer market.
From this point on, the interface of personal and work computers began to be designed with the user in mind. This led to the creation of UI and the UI designers.
UI designers have evolved as systems have changed. These days, there are various types of devices that are to access information including computers, mobile devices, augmented & virtual reality and more. Now there are also screenless interfaces that use gesture, light and voice. These are often referred to as zero UI.
UI designers are able to work on many different types of tech such as mobile apps, websites, smart home devices and wearable technology. UI designers create the interfaces we use each day, and their jobs will continue to evolve along with the technology we use.
What is UX?
UX is a term that refers to “User Experience.” UX was developed out of the evolution and improvements to UI. Now designers had to consider not only what interface was needed, but how to design it to be useful and design how interface worked. The user experience determined how easy or difficult the interface made the interaction for the user.
The term UX was developed by cognitive scientist Don Norman back in the early 90s. At that time, he worked with Apple. His definition stated that UX the user’s interaction is with the company, their services and products.
This broad definition covers all the possible interactions of a person with a product or service. In other words, the UX is centered on the human who is interacting with the tech.
Designers focused on the user experience also work with an application’s user interface; in fact, this is where the confusion comes between UX and UI, and their differences. To clarify, UI designers decide how a user interface will look, while UX designers determine how the user interface works.
UX designers use the honeycomb visual developed by Peter Moreville. This is a combination of 7 honeycombs arranged with one in the center, and the rest arranged around this central honeycomb, much like petals on a flower.
The honeycombs include these terms:
- Center: valuable
- Petals: useful, usable, findable, credible, accessible, desirable
The usability honeycomb petal is what UX designers use as the foundation of their best practices. The foundation includes such points as:
- How a user discovers a company’s product
- The sequence of actions a user takes to interact with the interface
- The thoughts, feelings that come as they try to accomplish the task
- The impressions the user takes away from the interaction
A UX designer has a big job in that they must ensure the company products or services meet their customers’ needs. In addition, the UX should be easy to use and help the user accomplish their task.
UX designers work with UI designers and others with the goal of understanding their customers. They may use research and experiments to achieve this. The information they gain from these activities is used to continually work on improving the user experience.
The Main Difference Between UX & UI
If you’re still confused, it’s OK. The main difference between UI & UX—UI provides the look and function, while the UX is the feeling you have using the interface.
The UX designer must consider the user, their interaction journey and how to solve the user’s problem. For instance, the UX designer considers what steps are necessary to complete the task. What types of problems may users experience? How will they solve these problems? The UX designer conducts research and experiments to answer these and other questions.
With the answers to these questions, the UX designer then consider how to map out the “journey,” how content is organized and labeled, and the features users may need. They in effect create the framework for the product or site. You could say this was the skeleton of the product or site.
With the skeleton mapped out, the UI designer then begins their work. They will consider all the visual aspects of the user’s journey such as each screen that will be necessary, along with other important aspects of the user’s interaction. They then take this information and create the visual interface. They determine how the interface works and how to make the journey easier for the user.
As you see, the UX and UI designers work together to create a great user experience. You really can’t have one without the other. While they are both different, both roles are necessary to create beautiful interfaces that improve the user experience.
Liam is a website designer and digital marketer based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He spent a decade working within the charity sector before moving into the marketing space a number of years ago. Liam always strives to do something slightly different with every project and always designs to deliver results, not just pretty websites.