UI vs UX: What’s the Difference?

By Jeremy Voltz| November 15, 2018

As technology continues to become deeply integrated into every layer of business, companies are relying more heavily on digital assets to generate revenue, enhance brand identity, and engage with customers. A clunky, outdated, or unappealing website or application is no longer just an annoyance; it can have a lasting impact on the growth and progress of your business.

This new reality has made a well-developed user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) critical to the success of your business. When building your application or website, it’s important to understand the distinction between these two critical functions; equally important is understanding how UI and UX work together to delight customers and drive your business objectives forward.

What Is the Difference Between UI and UX?

To understand the difference between UI and UX, let’s take a look at the website you’re currently visiting. When visiting our homepage, you’ll notice the navigation bar is cleanly styled with easy-to-navigate links, the links change colors when you hover over it and there is a "hamburger" icon to hold additional menu items. All these visual elements are part UI.

Beyond visual appeal, your interactions with our site play a role in your overall impression of the brand. You don’t have to wait long for pages to load. When you use the search bar, relevant results are served. The information that is most important to you is typically just one click away. All these interactions with the website are part of the UX.

What is UX?

UX stands for user experience. UX designers are responsible for researching, creating, and refining all aspects of the end user’s interaction with the website or application. Here are some of the key elements that go into an exceptional UX design:

  • Persona Research: UX designers need a deep understanding of who they are creating the website or application for. This allows them to make decisions based on how well they address the needs of their customer. For example, if you’re primary persona prefers to email over placing a call, then you’ll want to make sure your “Contact Us” page has an easy-to-use form for quick and seamless communication.
  • Competitor Analysis: You’ll want to know what others in your field are doing. Design preferences are constantly changing, and a customer doesn’t have to look far to find the next best thing. To differentiate your brand from the rest, make sure you know what your users are expecting to be able to do on your site, and then go above and beyond that.
  • Copywriting: At the core of any website or application is great content. An exceptional UX design means incorporating relevant, valuable content that speaks to the audience in the right places. You’ll want to rely on a UX designer who understands how to position content to help users understand how to leverage the site.
  • Prototyping: A prototype will show the rest of the team how the website or application should work. Before any color, images, or styling decisions are made, the prototype services as the skeleton of the site. Often, a team will go through multiple iterations of various prototypes before any line of code is even written. This helps avoid wasting time and money on reworking a solution after a development work has already started.

What is UI?

UI stands for User Interface. At its core, UI represents the look and feel of a product. A great UI designer can create emotional responses from the end-user to make a brand more likable. Beyond the aesthetics, UI is used to visually guide users through the product’s interface and interact with elements across all devices. Here are some of the key elements that go into an exceptional UI design:

  • Responsiveness: Today’s users expect a website or application to work flawlessly across all devices. A UI designer must ensure that the website or app not only looks good on a desktop but also on various mobile devices. As the screen size shrinks, the site should respond to show a mobile-friendly version of itself.
  • Design System: A consistent look and feel throughout the entire solution are not only pleasing to the eye, but it also helps provide visual cues to help users find the information they need. For example, all related buttons across the site should share the same size, color, font, and location. This helps users intuitively navigate and interact with different sections of your site.
  • Branding: UI designers are experts in branding. Similar to having a consistent design system, you’ll want to ensure that your brand is consistently represented throughout your website or application. A strong brand representation can elicit a set of ideas, emotions, and associations that make your brand more relatable and likable to customers.
  • Understanding of front-end development: Just because you design something that’s beautiful on a page, doesn’t mean it translates well into code. While it’s not a requirement that a UI designer is a master developer, it’s important that they at least understand the nuances and constraints associated with web development. A strong connection between the UI/UX team and developers is critical to the success of your website or application.

How UI and UX Work Together

Now that we understand how UX and UI are different, let’s look at how they work together.

A UX designer is responsible for how things work. Without UX, you would have a beautiful website, but it would most likely be unusable. A UI designer is responsible for how things look. Without UI, you would have a site that functions seamlessly, but the poor presentation would turn everyone away from using it. Simply put, you can’t create an exceptional product without both UX and UI.

If you want to delight your customers, increase traffic, and boost conversion rates, it’s important that you work with a company that invests in a dedicated team of UI/UX designers who will make sure your website or application is both beautiful and usable to your customers.

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