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UI vs UX: What is the Difference?

UI vs UX: What is the Difference?

Simon Ingleson

June 16,2019

Talking with clients, the difference between UI and UX is one of the most misunderstood elements of software development. Clients are more likely to understand the difference between programming languages like PHP or .NET than they are to understand what the difference is between UI and UX.

But understanding both these terms, why they are completely different, is vital if you want to build a software application that is both beautiful and simple to use.

UI stands for User Interface. UX stands for User Experience. But….what are the differences between UI and UX?

1. UI and UX are Different Skills.

Whilst you will often hear software designers claim they are experts in both UI and UX, in my experience, this is rarely true as each discipline requires a completely different set of skills and persepctive.

UX designers are not interested in ‘beauty’ but are more more focused on ‘function’. They don’t care much for colours, fonts, logos etc but are razor focused on how the target user will think and interact with the software with the aim of making it as painless as possible.

As such, UX designers often come from a wide range of backgrounds outside software development including, visual design, programming, interaction design and even fields like psychology. UX designers have a deep understanding of people and can apply this to software.

UI designers, on the other hand, are focused completely on beauty and styl. They love playing with colours, fonts, icons etc to design software that is pleasing to the eye and builds a connection with users.

UI designers therefore tend to come from traditional design backgrounds and experience, even outside development, as a designer know what looks good be it a brochure, billboard or software interface.

2. UX Should Come Before UI

I am a firm believer in this one, even though many development houses and clients don’t always follow this approach.

Why? Well there are a few reasons.

Firstly, I find that UX design, which looks boring visually, is a great way to plan functionality and user flow without anyone getting distracted by colours, fonts and pretty things.

Secondly, reviewing and changing UX wireframes is a much quicker and cost effective way to pivot early on than needing to update UI design files. Often in the process of UX design, the whole flow will need to be adjusted and improved multiple times which is easy to do.

If these issues are not realised until the design phase, making changes to Photoshop design files is a much more extensive and time consuming process.

3. UX Helps Users Achieve Goals, UI Helps Create Emotional Connections.

Lets face it, people use software and websites to do things, be it to shop, see their upcoming shifts for work or find a new apparent to rent. For a platform to work well in this goal, it needs to be both helpful and appealing to us humans.

In the example of software for finding apparent for rent, a UX designer will probably start with researching the average target user, what is important to them, how they want to search, what information they want and don’t want etc…They may even interview people, ask questions and show early prototypes for feedback. Quite simply, UX designers want to create software that helps apartment shoppers easily find the perfect apartment to rent.

Once the UX designer has got the usability right….it’s time to hand over to an experienced UI guru.

According to renowned UI expert Aarron Walkter in “Designing For Emotion”, the job of UI designer is to create a beautiful interface that creates a pleasing emotional connection between your software and the user. Maybe the UI design makes the user laugh, feel calm or maybe even a little cheeky. Whatever the connection, the aim is to create a position emotion that will result in loyalty and keep them coming back. As Aaron states in his book, “People will forgive your shortcomings, follow your lead, and sing your praises if your reward them with positive emotion.”


UI are UX are not in competition. Both are needed to produce a software platform that is both functional and beautiful. But it is super important to realise that each discipline is different, requires different expertise and have different objectives.

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