Ali Jafarian

Let’s take a second to talk about UX and UI. For starters, THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. And if anybody thinks they are, including your boss, send them to this article.

What is UX

We’ll start by defining UX – most people understand the acronym (User Experience). However, there’s much more to that little acronym, and it doesn’t apply to only software design. UX is all around us – the houses we live in, the cars we operate, the coffee maker you use every morning. The way we use things is defined by an experience.

Furthermore, the experience is made up of spacial relationships in time – getting from point A to point B, and what things we interact with in the process. For example, on a web page what button do I click to get to a new page. Or In a non-software scenario, what lever in my car do I push to change gears.

To be clear, UX has nothing to do with the aesthetics of an experience. It is purely the experience.

What is UI

That’s where UI comes in – the User Interface. Just like UX, UI also applies to many things outside software design. The UI of a thing pertains to its look and feel. What color is it? How big is it? How smooth or rough is it? How does it move? How does it look at night vs the daytime?

UI brings life and excitement to UX. In other words, it’s the substance behind an experience.

UX is the experience and UI is the aesthetic.

To recap, UX is the experience and UI is the aesthetic. Notice I didn’t say anything about the word “design”… Why? Because design applies to both of them. You design an experience AND you design an interface. They are not the same thing :)

Ok. So where’s the value in this?

I’ve encountered many situations in my career where these two get mixed up and thrown around as if they’re essentially the same thing. “Oh, he’s our UI/UX guy.” Stated as if the front-end of a website is all jumbled into one thing. Perhaps you’ve encountered similar situations and assumptions.

These can be very dangerous assumptions because they can lead to a break in process – ex: we’ll think about the UX later… we just need to get the UI done by the deadline. That’s like saying we’ll think about how the car operates after we design its interior.

Or, more commonly, a lot of young start-ups and companies employ a UI designer and just expect them to do the UX (or vice versa). This may workout if the designer happens to have experience in both realms, but typically they will specialize in one or the other, or at least be more proficient in one over the other. So you could be hurting your product(s) by not accommodating for both needs.

Hopefully that explanation [and use cases] were helpful. Feel free to sound off in the comments with opinions and scenarios of your own.