At the core, both UX and UI designers work towards creating memorable experiences for the user, although their involvement and skill set required differs along the design and development process. The best way to know which role suits you better is by getting a grasp of what they do daily and whether your aptitudes and personality can match the expectations demanded from a UX or UI designer.
However, different companies have specific responsibilities and requirements for people they hire under “UX/UI designer,” so do not get too fixated on ticking all the boxes; mastering UX/UI design is an unreachable goal. It’s a constantly evolving field where the rules are yet to be established.
Answering how UX and UI are different is one of the most subjective debates within the design world: it has many interpretations. Overall, they are two disciplines that simply approach a problem differently.
Let’s aim to distinguish between the two design concepts and understand how they fit together.
To give a broad picture, UX is about a user’s experience with a product or service, while UI refers to the aesthetic elements by which users interact with that product or service. It is not one versus the other: there is no UX without UI and vice versa.
How are they complementary? Quoting the creative Jess Showalter: “A user interface without a user experience is like a painter, just throwing paint randomly at the canvas, hoping that it looks good. A user experience without a user interface is like a sculpture’s frame that doesn’t have anything to cover it and define its purpose.”
It could be pretty straightforward to select which of the two is more suitable for you based on your background (UX for human sciences and UI for graphic design, for example). Still, it’s way more important for all designers to have a well-rounded understanding of UX and UI: you have a competitive advantage if you can do both. It makes you a valuable team member as you can jump in at any time in the design process to give input.
So, let’s break it down a bit.
It is more than a term we instantly associate with apps and websites.
Interestingly enough, the history of UX goes back to 6,000 ago. It started with the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui and the importance of space, or how to arrange your surroundings in the most optimal, harmonious, and user-friendly way. Just as an interior designer would distribute the furniture following the Feng Shui principles, a UX designer would apply those same fundamentals to create an app or website.
And the end goal is the same: to create an intuitive, seamless, and user-friendly experience.
A UX designer will break down business requirements or briefs and translate them into concepts, sketches, wireframes, etc. The objective is to get a deeper understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve so you can design the appropriate solution for it.
The fascinating thing about a UX designer’s job is that it is a never-ending process; it is a project with its own life. People experiencing and interacting with your product have opinions that might change; you have to be confident about reframing problems, testing and iterating. Because that is the UX design course of action over and over again.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Design is more than something visual; UX designers are ultimately problem solvers. Their work is mainly conceptual problem-solving based on research and data. You will have to ask yourself “Why?” many times. If you have this puzzly side in you, you’ll find UX design captivating.
Empathy is the essence of User Experience; UX designers’ ability to define solutions relies on gathering objective research data about people’s product experiences and putting themselves in their shoes on a human level.
There is hardly any aspect of UX designers’ work that isn’t collaborative. And that means communication.
When doing user research and testing, one must make participants feel comfortable sharing their feedback to create high-quality information about their needs.
Similarly, when working on design solutions, they identify relevant business needs and understand how their work fits into an existing product. This requires having effective conversations with different stakeholders or with the client itself.
And when it comes to getting a project launched, they must empower the development team with the information they need to express how the design should work.
The digital design industry has drastically pivoted in just the past decade, switching from interface design for conventional computers to user-centered design for smartphones, for example. On top of those shifts in technical constraints, user expectations have also increased dramatically.
Consequently, continual learning and upskilling are essential.
Designers are often considered perfectionists, but the sooner you get away from perfectionism, the easier it would be to step up your designs. In UX design, there’s always something that could be improved, so you’ll never get anything 100% perfect. What matters is being able to show your work in progress and ask for feedback.
What differentiates designers from artists is that you don’t design for yourself; you design for the users. Thus if someone gives you constructive criticism, do not take it personally: it’s not about you. See the feedback as rather something that can improve your work.
The concept of UI design blossomed in 2007 when Apple disrupted the tech industry with the first iPhone. Its user interface was crafted for handheld devices that featured sophisticated touchscreen functionality.
So UI design is when the magic happens: UI designers are the brains behind the beauty and interactivity of a site. They are responsible for the look and feel and the presentation of the product itself.
Its design aims to help the user complete tasks while minimizing interference caused by unnecessary content or design elements. A User Interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.
A UI designers’ purpose is to receive the needs, structure, and content and put that into an attractive and aesthetically pleasing platform to be received by users. This is done by analyzing competition (the look and feel standards in the industry, for example), conducting design research (how each visual or interactive element shapes the user experience), and putting together the graphic and visual elements for the project (colors, typography, buttons, animations, etc.)
While UX design appreciates more certain soft skills —however not limited to UX as those can be part of the UI design toolkit as well— UI has a visual nature: having specific hard skills is imperative to it.
The first step is to be curious. But you’ll have to build a strong foundation of design knowledge, including basic design principles such as branding, typography, and color theory, and how to develop and use style guides.
Users will transfer expectations they have built around one familiar product to another that appears similar. Well-designed digital user interfaces leverage common signifiers and visual metaphors that have real-world counterparts. The latter is called ‘Skeuomorphism.’ It capitalizes on users’ existing knowledge and mental models of an actual object —the recycle bin icon used for discarding files.
Interaction is a common pillar between UX and UI. Still, the interactions a UI designer creates are focused on making an interface intuitive: the user has to understand an interface without directions.
As modern user interfaces are not simply static screens, animations bring dynamism to the table, even enhancing the smoothness of the experience.
There are plenty of design tools out there which makes it overwhelming. Still, the bright side is that all the widely-used industry tools are becoming more intuitive, with built-in UI components that allow designers to create speedy layouts and share them easily.
Yes, it will take time. But you have to bring a design to life. And like everything, practice makes the master.
Adaptability means accommodating yourself to project changes, new environments, ideas, requirements, or people you work with. In other words: you have to be open-minded. You will have to look at a particular problem from slightly different angles or perspectives.
New projects will always bring new challenges. You will design for different users, clients, etc. And flexibility is very much needed to pivot yourself from one type of design to another. Never marry your ideas or designs: a UI that looks good to you may look poor to the people it is intended for.
UI designers are not ridin’ solo; given the collaborative environment in which development occurs, working well as part of a team is an obvious asset. Creating great products is a team effort. Everyone involved in it is responsible for the overall User Experience of the end product.
First impressions mean everything in our technology-driven society, and a bad first impression is a lasting impression. UX/UI design is the number one differentiator between competing products. Its combination shapes the entire experience of a product; if one has a better UX/UI design than the other, people will engage with the one who gave them a better and more memorable experience.