What is the difference between UX and UI?
More than one letter
Posted by Mac on July 15, 2014
We have a healthy habit of sharing interesting articles with each other at modern8 and earlier this week Randall sent me an excellent article describing the differences between UX and UI designers.
I found it particularly interesting as I’m a self proclaimed UX designer and deal directly with UX/UI as one of my main responsibilities here at modern8. It is also an interesting topic because the titles are often misunderstood and mistakenly interchanged within the industry. Imagine how difficult it must be for a client to understand what you do when your peers aren’t really sure themselves. So, I thought I’d try to lay down my take on the fundamental difference with the hope of clarifying the matter even further.
Basically there are two different kinds of design. Actually, there are several definitions for “design,” but for the sake of simplicity (I often oversimplify) let’s focus on only two different types. Allow me to introduce the first definition by quoting our old friend, Dr. Watson, famous side-kick of the one and only Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Watson begins to suspect the behavior of Mr. Barrymore in the Hounds of Baskervilles (hey that’s a font!) and asks himself,
“Was he the agent of others or had he some sinister design of his own?”
In this case “design” can be replaced with “plan” or “intent.” Like UX, the first definition of design is used in the context of a plan. A designer of this sort could be thought of as a planner in the way that an architect designs and makes building plans.
Sticking with the theme, the second definition of design is also illustrated in a classic novel. When the unfortunate Morrel encounters the Count of Monte Cristo, his state of mind is described as:
“A change of ideas presented themselves to his brain, like a new design on the kaleidoscope.”
First of all, I didn’t even know they had kaleidoscopes back then. Secondly, “design” cannot be replaced by plan or intent in this case. That wouldn’t make sense. You could, however, substitute “design” with elements of UI design, like pattern, shape or color. Just about any visual element of design would work in this sentence. And that’s the key to the second definition: it is strictly a visual product. I would label this “classic design.” This is what most people think of when they think of graphic designers: logos, posters and even websites.
The first definition of design deals with processes and making plans. It is the big picture to a specific solution. The second definition deals with producing a visual product. It is a detail in the larger scheme.
And that’s the fundamental difference between UX designers and UI designers. The UX guy is concerned with planning out the best experience for end users. The UI guru is worried about making the visual aspect of that plan as detailed and aesthetically pleasing as possible.
To eliminate confusion, several UX specialists are dropping “designer” all together and replacing it with “architect.” They feel more closely related to the creative process of an architect rather than a designer.
I should also mention that this is only a oversimplified, fundamental explanation of the differences between UX and UI designers. Many designers today are asked to fulfill both roles. The article I mentioned above along with this excellent article by Erik Flowers list more specific responsibilities these designers may encounter in the current workplace but rarely are they as clear cut as they are presented online.
However, the fundamental principle leads us back to our upheld belief that truly inspirational work is the combination of good strategy AND good design.