In web design, few terms see as much interchangeable use as User Experience (UX) design and User Interface (UI) design. The two disciplines certainly overlap somewhat, as they both center on the user and seek to enhance their UX. However, as much as they do, they remain different at their cores. Each requires different skills, focuses on different design elements, and has different conceptual goals. As such, the difference between UX and UI design bears discussion – which we will embark on today.
Table of Contents
- 1Why the Difference Matters?
- 2A Brief History of UX and UI
- 3The Similarities Between UX and UI
- 4– Both Synergize Toward a Better UX
- 5– Both Center on the User
- 6– Both Require Similar Soft Skills
Why the Difference Between UX and UI Design Matters
Initially, let us briefly define why this exploration bears any significance. Surely, some marketers and designers alike will argue the differences are too minor to matter. This may be partly true, as both are often pieces of the same puzzle. However, the distinction bears a few critical implications, whether you’re looking to hire design professionals or are seeking such a career path yourself.
A Brief History of UX and UI
Now, to fully understand the difference between UX and UI design, let us briefly explore their mutual history. Adobe offers an excellent, consolidated version of it that lends valuable context to our discussion.
First, they trace the history of UI “back [to] the 70s, at the dawn of the computer age.” Then, they argue, Command Line Interfaces (CLIs) required notable operator expertise, and complicated interactions between machines and humans. In the 80s, they continue, Xerox PARC developed the first Graphical User Interface (GUI), which Apple’s Macintosh home computer first made a commercial success in 1984. From that point on, they conclude, the computer revolution and GUI popularization paved the way for UI design and optimizations.
As regards UX, however, they note that its history is far more complex, far less defined, and far less digital. Don Norman, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, coined the phrase in the 1990s, when he was working for Apple. He argues, and Adobe agrees, that “UX is everything” that relates to a user’s experience with a company’s service or product:
Thus, UX precedes UI, historically speaking. UX does include UI and digital avenues, but remains far broader in its scope. Still, their histories have intertwined, and the two maintain a substantial overlap – hence the interchangeable use of the terms.
The Similarities Between UX and UI Design
So, briefly outlining their similarities, we may quote Nielsen Norman Group ourselves. Defining UX, they do “distinguish the total user experience from the user interface (UI)”, as we do. However, in the same sentence, they also note that “the UI is obviously an extremely important part of the design”.
So, where exactly do the two overlap?
#1 Both Synergize Toward a Better UX
#2 Both Center on the User
#3 Both Require Similar Soft Skills
The Difference Between UX and UI Design
All of that said, the difference between UX and UI design still requires attention. Yes, the two overlap, synergize, and share web design tools, and yes, both enhance UX. However, each offers a different career path and requires different hard skills, and each addresses individual, specific end-user problems.
#1 One Builds, One Expands
#2 UX is the Overall Product Experience
#3 UI is the Aesthetic Experience
#4 UI is Strictly Digital, While UX is Holistic
In summary, UX and UI design are by no means competing disciplines. On the contrary, they continue to intertwine over time, as both serve the same ultimate goal. However, they differ in essence, function, and scope, and noting this difference bears significance.