What are the key differences between UX and UI?


Simply redesigning the ‘look and feel’ of a website (or an online platform) to make it look more modern or user-friendly, isn’t applying User. Experience (UX). UX and User Interface (UI) Design are terms that are commonly confused, and whilst the disciplines are linked, here’s how they are quite different:

  • UI focuses on the appearance of a product and how it looks. It is the tangible elements that the user sees and interacts with.
  • UX however, is concerned with the user and their journey. It is concerned with how the user feels about what they are interacting with, that could be the company as a whole, its products or services. It is a broader subject, within which User Interface Design falls.


Does it really matter how the user feels?

Have you ever used a website that is confusing or frustrating? How much time do you spend trying to figure out how to use a site before you give up and search somewhere else? Probably not very long. Organisations can’t afford to lose leads or sales because an online visitor got lost or distracted.


What is UX?
The so-called ‘Godfather’ of User Experience, Don Norman, formally describes the discipline of UX as follows; “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

Lauralee Alben, Founder and CEO of the Sea Change Design Institute, who works with clients such as Apple, IBM, Intel and P&G, defined UX in 1996 as “All the aspects of how people use an interactive product: the way it feels in their hands, how well they understand how it works, how they feel about it while they are using it, how well it serves their purposes, and how well it fits into the entire context in which they are using it”.
These two definitions help to summarise the fact that UX isn’t just about a user interacting with the elements on a screen. It is about the whole journey, both offline and online, that the user takes, combined with their thoughts and feelings about the experience as a whole.


So what does a UX professional actually do?

A UX expert reviews the processes that users go through, the sequences of tasks they undertake, their emotional and sensory responses during the journey to reach their goal, and the final and lasting impression of the interaction.

UX doesn’t rely purely on opinion or guessing to inform what would make the ultimate experience, but instead undertakes research using interviews, workshops, and surveys. They will analyze data from company stakeholders, end users, competitors, raw data as well as UX industry best practice to build up a picture of insights that will feed into the proposed solution.

This insight is used to inform the design and development process. Techniques such as User Persona development, Process flow diagrams and Journey Mapping are used to visually turn the insights into actions and help inform the structure of the website or web application.

A UX expert’s aim is to optimize important journeys for the specific goals and tasks of different user groups (or personas). Usability testing in another frequently used tool, where product testing is undertaken by users and the feedback is used to drive improvements.


So, what does a UI designer do?:

A UI Designer will work with a UX professional (sometimes they are the same person).

They will determine the surface design of the website or application. The layout, colors, images, and typography used are all important elements for consideration. If the UI designer undertakes research, it’s usually focused on the functionality or usability of the design, rather than the design in the context of the whole experience.


 Some example of the differences between UX and UI:

Here is an example of UX and UI in the context of a new car:

The user interface is what the driver sees and touches. It is the physical features of the car such as the number of seats, the controls, style color of the car.

The user experience is subjective and intangible. It is about how the car feels to drive, how intuitive it is to use. Does the driver instinctively know where to find the controls and how to use them? It considers how well the car suits the driver’s needs and how the user feels when they drive it.

Whilst a car may look aesthetically pleasing, if it feels awkward to drive, the controls are confusing or there aren’t all the features wanted by the driver, the experience will suffer. This would lead to negative word of mouth and ultimately fewer sales. This is exactly the same with websites and online platforms.

UX professionals understand that there are different types of users, and what isn’t right for one user can be perfect for another, that’s why delving deeper into the audience and the user experience is so important. They also know that it is important to remember the context in which users are interacting with the product.


An Intranet example:
When thinking about a company intranet, for example, UX design will consider how and when it will be used, asking:
What monotonous processes could be made more efficient?
What content needs to be easily accessible?
What features and functionalities will make the user’s life easier?
What devices will be used?
Will the user be at home, on the train or in the office?


The UI designer will consider the interface in terms of where their content is displayed on the page, the design of the buttons, the fonts, and color. A great looking intranet still won’t be used if the content is irrelevant, the available buttons aren’t right and there are too many steps to complete a task.

So whilst UI and UX are different, they also need each other. UX provides the foundation of insights that means when it comes to UI design, decisions can be made based on research rather than opinion, and a great design becomes even more effective.


So, if you are thinking about ‘doing some UX’ for your website or platform, consider that to do it properly will take time and budget. It isn’t the same as doing a design refresh on the interface. If you do invest in UX, you can be sure that you are doing the best to make your consumers happy which is the best way to grow any business.

David Hall

David Hall