Knowing the difference between UI and UX design?
‘UI design’ and ‘UX design’ are phrases you hear a lot in the creative world. But they’re often misused. Sometimes even by experienced creatives who should know better.
Don’t worry, though: we’re here to set you straight. Read on and we’ll explain the differences between UI and UX design, with as little jargon as possible
What is UX design?
UX design is short for user experience design. Quite simply, it’s about creating the best experience for customers when they interact with a product or service.
This includes both digital and physical products and services. So for example, a UX designer might consider the way a supermarket is laid out and its effect on the flow of shoppers around the store.
However, in practice most UX designers are focused on designing (or improving) digital systems. These may include apps, websites, videogame interfaces, streaming TV services, self-service checkouts and VR experiences, to name but a few. A UX designer’s role is to think how such systems make users feel, and how easy they are to use.
It’s a job that’s largely about understanding people and how they think. And it involves developing a broad strategic plan for a system, as opposed to the nitty-gritty of, say, whether a button should be red or green.
Typically, UX designers conduct customer research, analyse user data, and then design (or redesign) a system’s basic functionality. They then create a simplified digital version of this system, known as a wireframe, or a physical version using something like paper cards, and test it out with ordinary consumers.
Throughout this process, everything the UX designer produces should dovetail with the client or brand’s overarching values. Say, for example, you were planning a mobile game for visitors to download on entering Disneyland. The spirit of that experience needs to be totally in keeping with both the physical park experience, as well as the Disney brand as a whole… otherwise it’s going to be totally jarring.
Once a UX designer is happy with their basic designs, they’ll normally hand them over to a team of UI designers and developers to create the full version.
What is UI design?
After a UX designer has set out the overall purpose and functionality of an interface, a UI designer goes on to create its visual look and feel. They are, in other words, the exact person to decide whether a button should be red or green.
The UI designer creates visual elements such as icons and buttons, typography and colour palettes, as well as choosing illustrations and photography, designing the layout of pages, and deciding how they should adapt to different devices and screen sizes. UI designers don’t usually write code themselves, but work with developers to build out the finished interface.
Importantly, the work of a UI designer is not just about what “looks nice”, but what will make it easier for people to use the system. For examine, a UI designer might decide the button we mentioned should be green, not purely out of aesthetic choice but because customers associate the colour with ‘Go!’.
Plus as with UX, the UI designer needs to understand that interfaces don’t exist in a vacuum. In today’s world, they’re an integral part of how a brand exists across multiple devices and touchpoints. So a UI designer needs to have a clear vision for developing that brand look and feel visually and balancing these aesthetics with the need for usability.
UI designers also have to make sure that systems are inclusive and accessible to all people. So for example, they’ll be sure to avoid certain colour combinations that may make things difficult for colour-blind users.
Where things get muddy
As we’ve explained, UX design and UI design are two very distinct disciplines.
However, they do both focus on the same goal: helping to make systems user-friendly, accessible and in keeping with the overall brand of the company. So in practice, there’s a lot of crossover between the two.
While UX design is largely a strategic role, it does help if you have an awareness of visual design conventions. Conversely while UI design is largely an artistic and technical role, if you can understand the needs of users and the business strategy behind the interface, the better your designs will be.
To complicate things further, some companies advertise for a ‘UI/UX designer’, implying they want people who can do both. (And such people do exist, just as there are people who can both draw and write advertising copy, and photographers who also paint murals.) But it doesn’t mean you have to, and if you only want to focus on UI design or UX design, there will still be plenty of jobs to apply for.
Want to know more?
If you want to learn more about one of the latest, most in-demand forms of design then here, at Created, is a great place to start.
You can also read another of our articles, written with award-winning independent branding designer and Created mentor Ben Mottershead, on his top tips to make it as a Visual Designer. He’s worked with the likes of Coca-cola, Nike and the BBC, so he knows his stuff!
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