I can’t even begin to tell you how many people ask me what the difference is between UX and UI (or what they are in general). It is almost a monthly thing, even from people in the world of technology design. In fact, I was asked that question twice in the past two weeks from people in my own design program (don’t worry, they are not in the UX or design track) but clearly, the answer isn’t obvious. As a graduate student at the University of Colorado who has spent the past year evenly among UX classes and UI and design classes, I feel that I have the credibility to give you a crash course.
UX stands for User Experience. UI stands for User Interface. Both UX and UI work closely together. Some companies make both pieces of this design puzzle one role, while others keep the two roles separate. In my UX classes we learn about strategy tactics, best practices for web, mobile, and tablet structure, how to research what users want and need, and how to convert customers to your product. My UI and design classes are all about typography, color theory, making quality mockups, brand design, and how to create visually pleasing digital layouts, icons, buttons, ect.
So what is the difference? To put it simply in my own words, UX is the research and strategy that goes into designing an interface that will give a customer the highest quality experience when interacting with your app or website. UI is the design of this strategy as we typically think about “design”; meaning the pretty part. UI is the brand’s identity and the visually appealing layout, so think colors, typefaces, icons, ect. Put these two pieces together and you have yourself a quality product that will keep customers coming back again and again.
Ideally, I would love a career that allowed me to do both UI and UX. However, they say that a person is usually not excellent at both. Since these two pieces of design are very different, people in the world of tech call someone who is amazing at both a “unicorn”; meaning they don’t exist. UX is very analytical, while UI is very artistic. If I had to choose, I admit that I prefer UI. Creativity and design come very naturally to me, so I would say that is my “best” skill. However I also love UX research, working with the users, and making something they will love. I’ll keep you posted on where I end up in my career but until then, at least you know what UI and UX are.