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UI & UX: Understanding the difference between UI and UX design

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It’s common to think of UI and UX as the same thing. After all, both terms describe practices that center the user in the design process, and work toward improving that user’s experience of an app, website, or service. Many organizations also lump both practices together in one role and have a single person performing UI and UX design duties.

But the difference between UI and UX design is significant—and understanding (and leveraging!) that difference can help your team work together more effectively, and produce even better results for your users.

What is UX design?

UX design—or user experience design—focuses on an individual’s experience when they’re interacting with a product. UX design typically starts with user research, which UX designers conduct to learn about their users’ objectives, needs, and limitations. That data is then used to inform design decisions like how content is organized, how the user is led through the experience, and how they find what they need throughout the product.

Bottom line: UX design is data, research, and people-driven. It’s practical, not theoretical.

What is UI design?

UI design starts with research too, and primarily deals with the look and feel of the app or product. What colors are used? Fonts? What are the aesthetic factors that inform the user’s emotional journey throughout their time in the app?

UI designers ensure that a product’s interface is beautiful, modern, and supports the emotional impression the company wants to convey. They also ensure that the product adheres to accessibility standards so the greatest number of people can accomplish what they need to within the app.

What is the difference between UI and UX design?

While both UI and UX are informed by research, UX design is about the overall function and flow of a digital experience, while UI design is concerned with the product’s look and feel. UX often takes a more high-level approach and is common in full website redesign projects

UI is sometimes more detail-oriented or closer to the ground. While it can also come into play with new or “big lift” projects, it’s often implemented in existing or ongoing projects to refine or evolve a product’s aesthetics or branding. 

How UX and UI work together

While UX and UI are different practices, they work together beautifully. You need both to create user-centered products.

“Something that looks great but is difficult to use is exemplary of great UI and poor UX. While something very usable that looks terrible is exemplary of great UX and poor UI.” – Helga Moreno 

At Think Company, we often think of UI design as creating the “building blocks” of a design—the fonts, colors, design components, etc. Meanwhile, UX designers use those building blocks to assemble the structure and flow of the product. 

Incorporating UX and UI design into a project

UI and UX can work in tandem along parallel paths. A UI designer might be defining the building blocks while a UX designer is solving structural problems and utilizing those building blocks—while also learning from research and contributing to the creation of other new building blocks. This process is like an infinity loop where each section is informed by the other over and over again. 

At Think Company, we always put at least one UX and UI designer on each project. UX kicks off the research by interviewing current users and stakeholders to identify needs and set goals for the project. They create wireframes for the team to review based on these learnings, suggesting new ways of organizing and structuring content to improve the overall user experience. Once those ideas are approved, UI starts creating components to support the new product structure.

As more and more of the product is populated with UI components, UX will bring users in to test the latest designs and validate the just-assembled concepts. Rinse and repeat until we have a fully-formed product that users can navigate successfully and with delight.

Combining UI and UX design to create user-first digital products

UI and UX are so complementary that many people think of them as the same thing. But by appreciating the difference between the practices, you can harness the power of both in tandem. UI and UX combine to help your team work together more effectively and create products that meet your users’ needs—and evolve as they do. 

Are you starting a design project? We can help your organization create user-centered experiences that are both beautiful and functional. Chat with our team of experts today!

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