It’s impossible to go to Hawaii without first being on the planet Earth. And it’s impossible to be on Earth without living somewhere, like Hawaii, or wherever you find yourself.
That, my friends, is the perfect explanation of the difference between UX and UI.
Thanks for joining me today… I’m out of here!
No, but seriously
Joking aside, this is truly an acceptable metaphor for the difference between the practices of user experience and the user interface, otherwise known as UX and UI. They are joined in so many ways, yet are nowhere near the same thing.
What am I talking about? Well, the idea of having good UX and UI are both things we discuss with clients on a regular basis. Especially when it concerns the effectiveness of their website in reaching its audience.
Knowing the difference between these two-lettered, vowel-sharing acronyms is vital. It’s a crucial step in solving the challenges of your business’s online success.
What is UX?
User experience is Earth. More importantly, it’s a world of empathetic design. A happy planet. Imagine this scenario: you get up in the morning and brush your teeth. You choose the cold-water knob because it’s clearly labeled. You glide down a flight of sturdily built stairs with proper lighting. You drive to work and arrive quickly because the same roads you took yesterday were still there today.
Now imagine the complete opposite scenario, resulting in a blistered tongue, a back-breaking fall, and a time-wasting drive though unfamiliar roads.
That’s user experience, for the good and bad. Can you see the parallels to your online presence? UX is a holistic world of functionality. Rules that guide people through a positive experience with your brand. It involves informative design hierarchy, visual cues for improved understanding, decluttered states, and contrasting color patterns that keep your brain happily on-task.
UX promotes successful activity.
What is UI?
UI is one part of the UX planet. It typically enters discussions of websites and apps. The UI is a feel-good design. It’s the polish on the doorknob. It’s the shine on your shoes that get you from here to there. It’s the allure of good things to come.
But UI does more than give you warm fuzzies about your experience. It communicates goals and ideals. Brand colors. The attitude. It’s the message and emotions all wrapped up with a tight bow.
UI makes you feel.
Why does this matter?
There’s a point in all this, otherwise it’s a lot of self-serving words to justify my Hawaii/Earth analogy. I know it. But hopefully I put a note in your mental recall.
I want you to come away smarter in the language of website design. You can go make good with this because the person next likely does not know the difference. It’s a commonly misused and misunderstood situation, UX and UI, so be gentle with your superiority.
It will help you navigate the challenges of your website or app, and pinpoint what works and what needs improving in your UX and your UI.
There are also maybe some of you seeking a design career and be considering which path to take. Both disciplines have strong opportunities for specialization.
There’s more to learn
Here’s some more good reading on the topic:
- Our Senior Art Director Lacey wrote an excellent UI-focused article called Create Golden Nuggets: The Importance of Design in a Multichannel Experience
- A good UX primer from yours truly called Die Hard UX Design - How to Keep Your Customers Alive
- Here’s a good UI lesson from our Graphic Designer Alyssa titled How to Expand Your Brand’s Color Palette for Stronger Website Design