If you are a User Experience (UX) design expert, chances are, you’re also expected to know some User Interface (UI) design skills. Today’s industry, both UI and UX must work together to ensure an efficient and aesthetically pleasing web design.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of UI in a UX world or vice versa, here are some important things you need to know about UX versus UI: UX is for beauty, UI for use; UX is for connection, UI is to accomplish goals; UX is what happens after UI is working seamlessly. Both are important aspects of web design, but they need each other. Once you understand these core differences, you can better understand why knowing both is so valuable.
- UI for Looks, UX for Function
Imagine a website as a building. The wireframe or basic coding behind the website forms the structure. The UX is the systems electrical wiring, lighting, plumbing, windows, climate control systems, and all of the other amenities that help ensure the building functions safely as intended. The UI would be the finished walls, paint, polished floors, artwork hanging in the lobby, building directory, and other aesthetic touches to make the building feel warm, inviting, and easy to navigate.
From a nuts-and-bolts perspective, UI and UX work toward different ends but with the same goals in mind.
A focus on UI must include:
- Visual Design
While UX will focus on:
- User Research
- User Stories.
Good website design demands a marriage of function and fashion. When you focus on functionality over presentation, you may wind up with a very fast, responsive, yet bland and uninspiring website. Focus too much on aesthetics and you have a beautiful website that is troublesome for the average user to navigate; clunky UX bogs down navigation and the overall experience of browsing a site regardless of how good it looks.
If a site looks great but performs terribly, this is an example of good UI with bad UX. It’s like a corvette with a bad muffler — it looks great, but it doesn’t run like it should. If a site is functional but looks awful, this is an example of good UX with bad UI. It doesn’t matter how great the engine purrs, if it’s covered in rust and primer, no one will want to ride with you. Both UX and UI are essential for creating valuable interactions with customers, cultivating brand loyalty, and establishing credibility as a market leader.
- UI Helps Site Navigation, UX Forges Connections
UI design pertains to all of the navigation controls, buttons, and visual design elements of a website. UX design assesses the flow of how a user navigates the elements of the website and aims to make the experience as intuitive and enjoyable as possible. While UI focuses on the presentation of a website’s navigational and design elements for each individual page, UX is a more expansive process that determines how a user will use and interact with those elements across the site as a whole.
A good UI design provides a user with an easy-to-navigate website and all of the tools and functions they expect to reach every piece of content on the site. Good UX requires a more in-depth look at how the customer will interact with the brand and consideration of how to forge a stronger connection with the customer. Some of the most critical elements of solid UI design include:
- Customer analysis: UI designers must consider their target audience’s tastes and preferences when developing website UI features. For example, a brand that caters to an older, professional market base wouldn’t want a website with an ostentatious colour palette or gimmicky navigational tools. A brand that caters to a young and hip crowd with fun-oriented products or services shouldn’t have a sterile website. It’s a little like going to a party with “over the hill” decor. People know there’s a party, but they aren’t sure about it’s theirs — nor are they sure they want it to be.
- Branding development: It’s essential for a company to have a consistent brand image across every point of contact with potential customers. UI designers work closely with their marketing teams to ensure consistent brand imaging across the entire website and all marketing channels to build credibility and trust with leads.
- Interactivity: UI designers evaluate micro-interactions very closely. One example of a simple yet effective micro-interaction is the small pop of colour that occurs after clicking to like a tweet on Twitter. Every small interaction a user has with a website influences the quality of the overall experience. Small animations in response to completed actions help users know they are interacting with the site as intended.
UX designers essentially create the building blocks of the overall customer experience with the brand, while UI designers ensure they have a pleasurable experience with every interaction with close attention to presentation, aesthetics, and ease of use.
- UX Lays the Groundwork, UI Is the Finishing Touch
UX designers rely heavily on data. UX designers take more of a marketing-focused approach while UI designers focus on visual design. UX experts collect and analyze relevant data trends to develop user experiences that resonate with their target consumers. UX designers create wireframes and prototype pages that UI designers then build upon to create beautiful, easily navigable websites.
UX designers generally play crucial active roles in early website development, leaning heavily on data to make informed decisions throughout the entire development process.
Some of the most important elements of the UX design process include:
- Competitor analysis: UX teams research their biggest competitors, browse their websites, and look for ways to offer customers better experiences.
- Customer research: Every customer-facing business needs to develop profiles of their ideal customers. UX designers research consumer trends, market fluctuations, and even social media trends to anticipate what consumers want the most.
- Product/service research and development: UX designers must know their brand’s products and services inside out so they can guide website visitors to the brand’s real value.
- Content development: UX teams must consider the type of content their user base expects and work with the marketing team for creating a better overall user experience. The type of content a brand produces helps inform the best website design strategies for the brand so the content has maximum impact.
- Wireframing and prototyping: Think of UX design as creating a storyboard; the UX designer envisions the customer journey with a brand through the website and creates a wireframe that UI designers build upon for a beautiful and functional finished site.
UI designers pick up where the UX designers leave off, but UX and UI go hand-in-hand through almost every stage of website development. While the UX designers lay the foundation for the overall customer journey through a website, the UI design team focuses on individual pages, polishing them for an aesthetically pleasing journey that users can easily navigate.
UX and UI Must Work Together
UX and UI designers spend a lot of time working with and consulting one another during the website development process. Sometimes UI designers discover issues with a wireframe that require collaborative solutions. Some UX designers may require a UI designer’s input when laying the foundation for the user journey through the site, leaning heavily on both teams’ customer research.
While UX designers consider all of the interactions a potential user could have with the brand on and off the website, UI design is a digital sphere that focuses on the interactions and navigation tools available to users on the website. UX essentially aims to develop high-quality interactions with users and improve upon them across all facets of a brand, while UI strives to use good visual design to make the user experience as enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing as possible.
These three primary differences between UX and UI illustrate how closely linked these two design processes are for any web development project. UX may come before UI, but neither is more important than the other and any modern development professional should have a firm understanding of the fundamentals of both UX and UI design.