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GuidesUser experience (UX)UX vs. UI design: here's the difference

UX vs. UI design: here's the difference

Last updated

27 February 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Katie Reed

Abbreviations UX and UI look similar and sound almost the same. Some people even use them interchangeably. In reality, they stand for two different concepts that complement each other on a product’s journey to customer satisfaction.

User experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design work to achieve the same goal. However, they do so in two different ways. Like yin and yang, they work in tandem to help you achieve various business goals related to sales, marketing, retention, and brand awareness.

Let's look closely at UX and UI design, their differences, similarities, and cooperation on the road to a company's success.

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UX design

UX is the experience that a user goes through when interacting with a certain product. The product can be either physical or digital.

Physical

For example, when a person uses a washing machine, they have a specific experience that may be good, bad, or ugly. The washing machine may not have a special cycle for sneakers (hence, bad experience), or it may have a built-in dryer (good experience).

Digital

The same works for a website. In a digital realm, the user can also have various experiences. The website takes too long to load (ugly experience). The app offers valuable solutions that address the user's pain points (good experience).

UX design is the process of designing useful and functional products. This process can vary depending on the approach the designer takes. Ideally, it should:

  • Enhance the experience of interacting with the product

  • Demonstrate the product's value

  • Keep the user with the product longer

Excellent UX design doesn't just fulfill the needs of the user; it exceeds expectations with effectiveness and value. As a result, it provides significant benefits for the company.

5 "Ss" of UX design

What do UX designers actually do? They follow a comprehensive design process based on five main elements: strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, and surface.

1. Strategy

The first stage involves evaluating the company's and users' goals that define the design. Company goals are determined through stakeholder interviews, while user goals are identified through user research.

Since these goals are often different, incorporating them into one product is challenging, especially if budget limitations are an issue.

2. Scope

At this stage, UX designers identify the product's features to determine its full functionality. They work closely with the development team to determine possible technical constraints.

These features should contribute to the user experience at each stage of the product's operation without being overwhelming and hard to understand or use.

3. Structure

Next, UX designers identify all navigation elements and build the product's information architecture. Simply put, they figure out exactly how the user expects to interact with the product and design an effective way for the product to respond.

4. Skeleton

At this point, designers create a product skeleton containing a rough map of where navigation and functional components should appear. The research method at this stage is often paper prototype testing.

UX designers create interactive elements like buttons or links when building a skeleton. The main goal is to provide maximum functionality without complicating the experience.

5. Surface

Once the functional part of the product is ready, designers turn to user experience on the surface. At this stage, they focus on interactivity, ease of use, and simplicity of access to the necessary solution. UX designers run sanity checks to determine if all features work as intended. 

With the right approach, UX design can generate an impressive 9,900% return on investment (ROI).

UI design

UX design is the design of an interface that improves the way a user interacts with the product. UI focuses on visual and aesthetic appeal, making the interaction simpler and more gratifying. UI design needs to be enjoyable, functional, and intuitive.

Simple

Ideally, for the customer, using your product should be like brushing their teeth.

When people wake up in the morning, they rarely think about finding a toothbrush, squeezing the toothpaste, and pressing the brush against their teeth. The process is so intuitive and automatic many people never remember it. However, they feel the result (fresh breath) and enjoy it.

The same works with UI design. When a customer uses the product, the process shouldn't require effort. Everything needs to be intuitive. The result should come easily and provide enjoyment or satisfaction.

Enjoyable

Besides being easy to use, high-quality UI design needs to be enjoyable. A personalized experience coupled with a dash of immersion sprinkled with gamification can keep the customer returning for more.

While the product provides a solution to the problem, the UI design makes using the solution fun.

High-quality UI design is what makes a brand stand out from the crowd. It communicates the brand mission, streamlines brand awareness, appeals to the customers' values, and drives the user's trust.

5 key elements of UI design

What exactly do UI designers do? They build a user interface by leveraging key elements that improve the user's interaction with the product.

1. Typography

Typography is a crucial part of UI design. It is used to design and arrange text to look clear and visually appealing to the reader. It involves choosing the font type, font size, text placement, white space arrangement, and more.

2. Colors

Choosing the right colors to improve the product's visual appeal isn't just an art. It's a science. UI designers need to adjust the color scheme to make the product visually appealing while maintaining brand uniqueness and ensuring clarity for users with disabilities.

3. Navigation

Simple navigation is the pillar of successful UI design. The designer needs to determine the optimal way to arrange website navigation by making it easy to find the right buttons, links, and tabs.

4. Interaction elements

Choosing the right interaction elements can improve UI design and streamline the user experience. Buttons, links, forms, tabs, icons, text fields, and data fields are crucial to helping users receive value from your product.

5. Images

Images can serve many purposes. They simplify navigation, provide valuable information, and diversify the design. Implementing them can improve user interface, increase brand awareness, and cement user loyalty.

In simple words, UI design should be consistent and easy to use. Around 75% of consumers judge the website's credibility by its appearance. Crude UI errors turn into lost customers.

UX and UI design: key similarities

UX and UI aren't like two peas in a pod. However, they do come from the same garden. These designs have numerous similarities, allowing product and website owners to improve user satisfaction, drive conversions, and streamline retention.

The main similarities between these two concepts include the following:

Same goal

The main goals of UX and UI design are achieving customer satisfaction and meeting business objectives. They aim to please the users while guiding them to take specific actions that work to achieve the product’s goal. While UX works on functionality, UI simplifies access to it.

As a result, users get the solution they want without any struggle. This doesn't just make the user happy. It drives customer loyalty and eventually encourages word-of-mouth marketing.

Branding

Besides ensuring excellent user experience, UX and UI design work on making the brand stand out. Both help create a unique product that stays on top of the user's mind even when they don't use it. This streamlines brand awareness, generates leads, and powers conversions.

User needs

Both UI and UX designs focus on the user's needs. These needs are often above the needs of the business. Such a user-oriented approach has an impressive ROI. Eventually, the focus on the user translates into benefits for the company.

UX and UI designers start their work by figuring out how users think, act, and feel. This defines the functionality and appearance of the product.

The tandem

The key similarity between UX and UI is that they don't exist without each other. The user needs to see a stellar UI to take full advantage of all the UX benefits. Without UX, UI is useless.

UI vs. UX design: main differences

It's easy to confuse UX and UI design. While some people use these terms interchangeably, others say "UX design" when discussing the combination of UX and UI. Learning the difference between the two is crucial to a project's success.

2-in-1

UX designer and UI designer can be two different people. These two experts have different skill sets, duties, and goals. Accordingly, you may need to hire two professionals to complete a project. 

To do their jobs, UI designers need to have a full understanding of UX. Meanwhile, UX designers always keep UI in mind. The fees and salaries of these specialists depend on many factors. However, the ranges are similar. Finding a professional who fulfills both roles may be possible if you are on a tight budget.

Look vs. feel

When designing a product, UI focuses on its appearance. The designer works on how a product looks, its aesthetic appeal, and how it appears to the user. One look at a product could turn a user away even before they start figuring out how it works.

UX focuses on how a product feels to the user, its functionality, value, and interactivity. Successful UX design creates a perfect intuitive feel that makes users happy with interaction results.

Results

While UI and UX design work to achieve the same goal, they produce different results. High-quality UI increases the user's satisfaction by delighting them with the product's aesthetic appeal.

Meanwhile, UX improves user satisfaction by delighting them with the product's functionality and effectiveness.

Application

The application of UX design is more versatile. It applies to both physical and digital products. Meanwhile, UI only works in the digital realm.

UI and UX design: the burger and fries for customer conversion

While better UI can improve the product's conversion rate by 200%, they can increase it by 400% together with better UX.

UI and UX complement each other, allowing the product to achieve the company's goals and improve user satisfaction. One doesn't work without another, and vice versa.

Case #1

Let's say a UI designer created a  beautiful website with balanced colors, excellent accessibility, and perfect CTA buttons. A user visits the website. They love the design and stay to look for more information.

When they click the perfectly designed button to "learn more," they are suddenly redirected to an unrelated page or, worse, to a 404 error. Their next step is to leave the website. In fact, 88% of online consumers don't return to the website after just one bad user experience.

Case #2

The company spends significant time and money creating a highly functional app for its clients. The application solves major consumer pain points to drive conversion, loyalty, and retention. The UX designer did an excellent job of delighting the consumer with effectiveness.

The user opens the app and sees wild colors, hard-to-read fonts, and 10 CTA buttons. They close the app and leave without discovering how wonderful it is. In fact, almost 40% of users stop engaging with the website if they don't like the layout.

Understanding the importance of UX and UI design

Both UX and UI designs are equally important for the product's success. Their high ROI stems from the benefits such a user-oriented approach can provide.

  • Higher customer satisfaction 87% of consumers with excellent user experience will likely make another purchase.

  • Word-of-mouth marketing72% of consumers share positive experiences with five or six other people, bringing new customers or clients to your doorstep.

  • Brand consistency – By implementing consistent UI and UX design, you can increase revenue by 20%.

When you invest in high-quality UX and UI design, you save time and money. They streamline customer communication, improve the interaction between the client and the company, decrease customer service expenses, generate better reviews, and much more.

If you haven't given these two design elements enough thought yet, it makes sense to start now. They can become a major contribution to your company's bottom line.

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