UX vs UI: What’s the Diff?

By Kristen Harris

UX and UI. We hear these two little abbreviations all the time related to requests for web design work, and 99% of the time they are combined into one thing: UX/UI Design. But are they really one thing? No, no they are not. UX and UI are strongly connected, and both are important, but they are two separate pieces of the design puzzle.

Check out our conversation about UX and UI with Ramona Nichols, a design expert who straddles both sides of this fence.

There are lots of definitions for UX and UI—here’s mine:

UX (User Experience) is creating the experience a user or customer has with your product, service or company.

UI (User Interface) is creating the layout and design of the website, application, or another interactive platform.

While generally related to websites and apps, UX really can encompass every interaction someone has with your company, from walking into your store to receiving a package shipped to their home. It’s mapping out the whole journey a person takes with you, and how, when and where you’ll interact with them every step along the way. “If they do X, we’ll do Y, which then leads them to Z.” It may involve psychology, research, observation, and conversations with customers to understand what they really want.

On the other hand, UI is a tangible execution of that journey. It’s the colors, logos, fonts, graphics, icons, buttons, links, videos and more that emotionally engage the customer and helps move them along the path we’ve mapped out. UI brings UX to life.

I think about it like a house. UX is architecture—the floor plan, the flow of one room to another, ceiling heights, placement on the lot, etc. UI is interior and exterior design—the color scheme, flooring, wall finishes, siding, and landscaping. I need an architectural plan first so the house can be built. But without the walls and flooring, I would just have the idea of a house, not a finished home I can live in.

UX needs to come first, but often people want to skip right to UI. “Let’s just build a website!” Back to the home example, how can you build a house if you don’t know what you need, who is living there, or the neighborhood standards? Once you have the experience mapped out, that UX plan acts as a checkpoint and filter for creative ideas that surface during the UI design process.

While many creative people are adept at both sides of this equation, it’s important to keep in mind that UX and UI are not the same thing, and sometimes not the same person. But they are two separate and important pieces to delivering great customer experience.