Ali Jafarian
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.

Ali Jafarian

Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.

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3 thoughts on “The Difference Between UX and UI”
  1. With the UX definition I agree, however I must say that the UI definition is somewhat narrow.

    There is no doubt that the aesthetics depend solely on the UI, but the UI itself is everything that makes us possible to interact with something.

    The door handle that let us open (interact) the door and by that action, enter another room in our house is the “interface” that makes our interaction with the house possible and therefore our experience. If it’s uncomfortable to handle (as a result of a poor design that was only focused on the finish and not the ergonomics), it may damage our experience opening the door, but nevertheless we were able to open it.

    By definition, what works well is appreciated as beautiful or aesthetically superior. Designing is creating something that resolves a problem in a funtctional and aesthetical manner.

    So I would say that the UI involves a whole lot of planning preparing for the user interaction, way beyond the image… while the UX also depends deeply in the functioning of the technology involved, as much as it depends on the human element that follows (like customer service).

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