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The Difference Between User Experience and User Interface

An article by Pegah Mirzadeh, UX Designer at ELCA

Have you ever found yourself lost in the maze of UX and UI design, without understanding their differences? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Although they are often used interchangeably, they describe very different processes.

In this article, we revisit the essential difference between UX and UI design, so you can benefit from both expertise in your project to create a successful user-friendly product.

History of Digital User Experience (UX) Design

Despite the long history of user experience in product design, the emergence of digital user experience overlaps with the blooming of the internet in the last decades. During this time, the importance of usability grew alongside the increased accessibility of software and technology to the public. Principles were established, highlighting the necessity of prioritizing the end user when designing digital products. Subsequently, the advancement of technology and the internet sparked a new era of UX design. Its focus was to enhance web usability and emphasize human-centric design (HCD) and user-centric design (UCD).


Since then, UX has become a crucial point for IT businesses, and they have started acknowledging its pivotal role in developing successful products. The proliferation of smartphones and mobile applications prompted the field to expand its scope to include various platforms. This trend resulted in the emergence of responsive design and the creation of multi-device experiences while integrating elements of psychology, design, and technology to deliver seamless and user-friendly experiences across a wide range of digital interfaces.


Creating a well-received product often necessitates a combination of strong UI and UX. Consider a banking app, for instance. While a visually appealing interface (UI) is crucial for user experience, complicated user-friendly navigation and cumbersome money transfer process (UX) or the slow loading speed of the system (technical) can overshadow its visual appeal. In such cases, users are unlikely to engage with the app. Conversely, a website might offer valuable and well-structured content. Yet, if it appears outdated or lacks seamless screen transitions and easy navigation, users are inclined to leave the site rather than explore further.

But what is UX? and what is UI?

It is common to hear UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) design interchangeably or, sometimes, incorrectly. So, let’s have a basic definition of UX and UI:

At the most basic level, the user interface (UI) is the series of screens, pages, and visual elements — like buttons and icons — that enable a person to interact with a product or service. User experience (UX), on the other hand, is the internal experience that a person has as they interact with.


Today, we’ll dig a bit deeper into UI and UX to get a better understanding of the differences between them.



What is UI?

In basic terms, the user interface (UI) encompasses all user engagement elements while utilizing a digital product or service. This includes everything from screens and touchscreens to keyboards, sounds, and even lights. To understand the evolution of UI, however, it’s helpful to learn more about its history and how it has evolved into best practices and a profession.


A brief history of the user interface

You may still remember the earlier generation of computers or have seen them in museums. To be able to interact with it, you had to use the command line interface. Any communication with the computer was done via programming and coding, which required infinite lines of code to complete a simple task. By the early 80s, the first generation of graphical user interfaces (GUI) was developed. This groundbreaking innovation allows users to interact with their computers using icons, buttons, menus, and checkboxes.


Later, in 1984, Apple Computer introduced the Macintosh personal computer, featuring a revolutionary point-and-click mouse. The Macintosh marked the advent of the first commercially successful home computer to incorporate this user-friendly interface.


With the rise of the new era, the need for a user-centric interface design was more pronounced. Without user-friendly interactions, computers would struggle to sell in the market. Consequently, this demand gave birth to the role of the GUI (graphical user interface) designer. Nowadays, UI designers work not just with styles, colors, and typography on GUI and computer interfaces. They also look at mobile phones, augmented and virtual reality, and even “invisible” or screen less interfaces (also called zero UI) like voice, gesture, and light.



What makes a good graphical UI?

Due to this emphasis on merging aesthetics with usability, UI designers need a comprehensive grasp of visual design principles. This expertise enables them to craft visually captivating, user-friendly, engaging products, thereby minimizing cognitive strain and ensuring uniformity across the product’s visual aspects.


Ironically, although it refers to what you can see and where you interact with a product, each button, link, and image seamlessly guides the user from one point to another. When executed skillfully, no extra thought or analysis is required.


In the mind of the user, it just works.



What is UX?

As the UI has mastered the visual aspect of the digital product, the need for having an elevated user experience beyond the graphical component was clear. Once there was something for users to interact with, their experience, whether positive, negative, or neutral, how satisfied they were during and after using the interface and how users reached their goal changed how users felt about those interactions.

Bad UX vs Great UX illustration

The term “user experience” was first used in the 90s by Don Norman, a cognitive scientist at Apple, and it is defined as: “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”


This broad definition encompasses every possible interaction a person could have with a product or service, not just a digital experience.


To understand what makes an experience good, Peter Moreville developed a great visual highlighting the values that can be achieved by incorporating an effective UX design.

Values that a good UX and UI approach will add to the product:


Different UX methodologies have become the foundation of best practices for UX professionals to help guide their efforts across multiple touchpoints with the user, including:

  • How users would discover your company’s product,
  • The sequence of actions users take as they interact with the interface,
  • The thoughts and feelings that arise as users try to accomplish their task,
  • The impressions users take away from the interaction as a whole,
  • UX designers are responsible for ensuring that the company delivers a product or service that meets the customer’s needs and allows them to achieve their desired outcome seamlessly.


In normal practice, UX designers work closely with UI designers, UX researchers, marketers, and product teams to understand their users through research and experimentation. They use the insights gained during user research (testing sessions, surveys, and interviews to design user journeys, scenarios, site maps, and end-user experiences based on quantitative and qualitative user research) and continually iterate and improve experiences through usability testing.

How Are UI Design and UX Design Different From Each Other?

The importance of the distinction becomes clear when two pioneers of UX, Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen, summed it up nicely: “It’s important to distinguish the total user experience from the user interface (UI), even though the UI is an extremely important part of the design. As an example, consider a website with movie reviews. Even if the UI for finding a film is perfect, the UX will be poor for a user who wants information about a small independent release if the underlying database only contains movies from the major studios.”


Another example is the Google search engine. Nearly any information a person has ever wanted can be retrieved in the blink of an eye, setting Google apart as one of the few surviving search engines today. It is known for its minimalist interface, demonstrating that a superb experience doesn’t require extravagant features or UIs. However, while their interface design is beautiful, that is not the only ingredient to success. Google focuses on the users. They know that users look for quickly and efficiently provided information. They minimized distractions on their UI but also understood that that was not enough. Imagine you go to Google. The interface’s beauty was beyond compare, but to even start the search, you would have to click several times. The process would be incredibly complicated and annoying, and the loading time would take ages. After 15 seconds, you would finally see some chaotic results. Now, be honest. Even with a stunning interface, would you still want to use Google if your experience was that bad? Probably not. That is the difference between UI and UX. UI can be pretty, but it does not necessarily mean the user experience is good. Google has reached the Olymp of search engines due to its outstanding performance and UX. The widespread use of ‘Google’ as a verb demonstrates the company’s successful delivery of elevating experience and user expectations.

Reference: “UI vs. UX Design: What’s the Difference?”, Coursera Staff, Link here


Read article also on medium.com here: UX vs. UI; The Difference Between User Experience and User Interface

Pegah Mirzadeh

UX Designer

Meet Pegah Mirzadeh, our Designer specializing in UX. Contact Pegah to discuss how he can help propel your UX initiatives forward.

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