UI vs UX Design: Key Differences

June 26, 2020 by Hannah Wright

Figma interactive components

Design is such a broad term — one with many different associations and sub-branches. What do you first think about when you hear the word design? Some people may think of graphic design, while others may think about interior design. When thinking of UI vs UX design and their differences, remember that both are equally crucial to any good piece of design, whether it be graphic design or interior design.

For example, online clothes shops need to have appealing sites. If they fail to do this, chances are they won’t be as likely to convert customers. The same goes for businesses like interior and graphic design companies and plenty of other businesses, too. Sites and social media are the 21st century calling cards — they have to be curated in the way that attracts customers.

UX and UI are the central nervous system of the digital world. Every interface you see, every interaction, is the result of a UI or UX designer. Websites need to be functional and beautiful. These are key words in understanding UX and UI design. All other kinds of design rely upon them.

Whether you run an online shop or a business, you need a digital presence. And your digital presence has enormous competition.

You need to stand out.

And you need to do it in a good way.

At first glance, UX and UI design can be difficult to differentiate. This happens because people tend to merge them together. Companies often put out ads looking for a “UX/UI designer.”

It’s easy to think that these terms are interchangeable, but they are not. Both focus on creating a design that’s pleasant to use; however, they do so in different ways. It is necessary for both to work in sync with each other.

The difference isn’t even in which programs the designers use. There are many platforms suitable for both. Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD and Invision to name a few. While they all offer tools for both UX and UI design, the difference is that they work on two different aspects of the project.

So, we know that UX and UI are abbreviations…. but first, let’s clarify what those abbreviations mean.

UX stands for user experience design.

UI stands for user interface design.

We’ll take a closer look at both of them in the following section. After that, there will be a list of the key differences between the two. We’ll also take a look at their relation in practice. We’ll also be covering some general tips on UX/UI design.

What is UX design?

So, what does user experience design entail?

That might be a question that requires a few different answers.

It’s the human-first principle in product design. Human-first means that the product must be easy to use. All the refinements in the world won’t salvage a product if it’s confusing. Your project must have the user in mind at all times. This of course sounds banal.

But, companies may surprise you by how often they forget this (even large household names!)

UX design is really all about functionality.

It’s about how easy it is to perform a task. One difference between UX and UI design is that the user experience is important for any service — it matters in both brick-and-mortar businesses and digital enterprises.

Let’s put it this way: a good shop layout means that its customers will find whatever they need. The merchandise displays are neat and logical. The labels and pricing are clear and unambiguous.

Think about thrift-shopping. Part of its charm is that you never really know what you might stumble across. It’s fun and unpredictable. Sometimes you end up with something entirely different than than what you initially set out to buy. But, you do it when you have time to peruse every corner of the thrift shop.

Now, think about buying groceries on a budget and on schedule. You wouldn’t want milk to be in a different aisle from the other dairy products. You don’t want the labels to be handwritten or a little smudged. If they were, you’d have to look for a shop assistant to help you. And their job is hard enough without people asking questions.

All of this translates into the digital sphere: retail sites need to have logical sections. The best companies clearly explain the services they’re offering. Their pricing is clear. All of the controls work exactly how they’re presented.

Just imagine how chaotic online retail would be if the checkout button directed you back to the catalog!

The main job of a UX designer is to make sure every button does what is expected. They must also ensure that every interaction is easy.

The results of interactions must be logical.

Users have developed automatic responses to interactions with interfaces.

Our brains expect things to work the way we’re used to. Unexpected results to interactions create an unpleasant experience.

To sum up, the components of UX design are as follows:

  • It develops and improves the macro interactions between the user and the company
  • It isn’t strictly linked to the digital sphere
  • It’s based on the human-first approach to design
  • The focus of UX design is not the visuals
  • The goal of UX design is to make a pleasant  experience for the user
  • So, the primary focus of UX design is making sure everything works the way it should. If it doesn’t the user experience will fall short. UX design is what helps great websites run successfully. Good UX design is what makes them pleasant for the user.

    Now, let’s take a closer look at UI design so that we can better understand the differences.

    What is UI design?

    User interface design exists only in the digital sphere. The main concern of a UI designer is the look and feel of a digital interface. The goal of UI is to visually guide the user through the platform’s interface.

    Good UI design is instinctual. It must be pleasing to the eye, as well as logical. Coherency and consistency are also a huge part of UI. It’s confusing if parts of the same site use clashing color schemes.

    Color schemes are one of the most important elements of UI design. Our brain links some color schemes to certain things without our knowing.

    A good example would be pharmacies; most pharmacy signs appear in green and white. We associate these colors with these shops on a subconscious level.

    Designers should pay attention to color symbolism. For example, red is an energetic color. It symbolizes vigor and passion. It also symbolizes danger and even violence. As a result, red is difficult to pull off on a website for something like a spa center.

    In contrast, ivory and pale blue may not be the best options for an active-wear online shop. Colors like orange, red and black would create a much more dynamic experience.

    The takeaway here is to think about the kind of project you’re working on (and its audience) carefully before diving in.

    It’s always a good idea to use one neutral color for the main layout. Then, it’s easy to add pops of color for a fresh look. Some designers even use prints in their project. This lends even more dimension to the interface.

    Another significant element of UI design is the overall feel of the interface.

    Think about what emotion you are seeking to inspire.

    Spacing should also be considered. For example, busy-looking websites can make the user feel cramped. This can make for an unpleasant visit. UX designers deal with the layout for the most part, but they need to be in close communication with the UI design as well.

    Only by working in tandem do they get a viable product.

    The icons and buttons should also match the overall tone. Proper spacing between elements like buttons helps to minimize the possibility of clicking the wrong button. This ties into the principle of intuitive design.

    UI design runs on the principle of intuition. No one likes having to riddle out which controls serves which purpose. Icons and buttons must be familiar to users. It’s something we learn from the very beginning of our digital experience. X means cancel. OK means accept. You shouldn’t stray from these foundations. There are plenty of other ways to show your creativity. Fonts and colors are just two of the most obvious ones.

    Think of it this way: you mostly expect catalogs to be on the left side or at the top of the screen. The home button is usually in the upper left corner. You can make them any color you want, but you shouldn’t change their positions.

    Accessibility is also the concern of a UI designer. This is where color-schemes also come in play. Green and red designs can be very difficult to navigate for color-blind users. It’s something that UI designers should keep in mind. Voice activated controls are also a good idea for creating accessible interfaces.

    Let’s summarize the key elements of UI design:

  • UI design is exclusive to digital spaces
  • It serves as a visual guide through the interface for the user
  • UI design must be intuitive – actions shouldn’t require much thought on the users’ side
  • UI design should visualize the brand’s assets and enhance its idea
  • In conclusion, UI design deals in the visual aspects of design. It creates an interface that’s pleasant to look at as well as use. After all, a website that looks tacky doesn’t always look trustworthy, or may remind us of a scam.

    UI vs. UX in digital design

    In the interests of brevity, we will limit this part to the digital sphere. UX and UI design are most important in creating websites. There is an entire science on effective web design. UX/UI are at its very core.

    These two aspects of design exist in symbiosis. Even the most beautiful UI design won’t run without the UX elements working. Just as a site can run like clockwork but still be unappealing without proper UI.

    There has been contention as to which one is more important. Someone might argue that it’s UX. It’s, after all, what makes the entire project run. But let’s circle back to scam sites and trusting your gut. If something looks off about your site, users will be less likely to trust it. That’s the importance of UI. UI is what calms down the users’ spidey-senses. It says: “It’s okay! You can trust us!”

    In an ideal setting, designers develop both at the same time. This is not always the case. But, there needs to be clear and constant communication between them. Otherwise you end up with designs that don’t match. If the designs don’t match, it could jeopardize the entire project.

    It has happened to everyone. Sometimes there’s a cool app with great features… but, our enjoyment is all but removed when we see that it’s tacky.

    Then there’s the opposite: a beautiful website, but nothing works as it should. All the pretty colors and interesting visuals can’t make up for our disappointment.

    These instances highlight how important both UX and UI are. Neither can make up for the shortcomings of the other.

    Users in the digital world act quickly.

    It’s simple to exit an app or website if we aren’t happy with them.

    It sounds cutthroat, but that’s just it. The competition is vast.

    Let’s look at some of the most successful UX/UI designs. The mobile game 2048 is as simple as it gets. Its color scheme is neutral, earthy tones, nothing too flashy. The controls are basic. And yet, it’s one of the most addictive games of the decade. Its simplicity is what makes it so appealing. It doesn’t need pizzaz. It’s beyond that. Take it from someone who’s spent hours on it.

    Think about it: the iconic arcade games like Tetris or Pacman are as simple. They have a limited range of movements, a bit of color on a black background. And they provide hours of fun.

    Is this to say that minimalism is the way to go? Not quite. Different user groups have different tastes, and it comes back to knowing who you are designing for. Some people adore intricate details of well-rendered video games (as they should!). Video games are evolving at an incredible rate. The attention to detail that goes into them is staggering. But, a lot of people are as content with nostalgic 8bit graphics.

    They all have the harmony between the controls and the visuals in common. And that is all that matters, in the end. The main goal is to keep the user happy and engaged.

    Key Differences

    So, let’s take a look at what UX/UI designers do:

    UX Designers are responsible for the following tasks:

  • Research what customers want from the project 
  • Analyze what the competition brings to the table
  • Research the best strategies for content development
  • Contribute to wireframing
  • Make the prototype of the project
  • Test the project and make different iterations of it
  • UI designers, on the other hand, often:

  • Analyze what kind of visuals customers prefer
  • Research color schemes, fonts and icons suitable for the project
  • Keep the branding of the company in mind and translate it to the interface
  • Adapting the design to all screen sizes
  • Work on implementation along with the developers
  • It’s imperative that UX and UI designers or teams communicate. Both need to be clear on the idea of the project. The success of it depends on their collaboration. Failing to communicate can cause the brand to lose strength. This happens when the user experience doesn’t match the visuals.

    How can you avoid this? First, both designers (or teams) need to be clear about the idea. The brand must be visible in the design. This doesn’t mean just sticking a brand logo in there. It means the vibes have to match.

    Second, the interactions must flow. They have to be logical and unambiguous. But, they also have to match the general feel. This is why most companies look for UX and UI designers at the same time. They have to be in sync.

    Let’s summarize those key differences:

  • UX can relate to any product, digital or other. UI is a digital practice in its entirety
  • UX design focuses on problem-solving and functionality. UI is all about the creative, aesthetic aspects
  • UX gives the basic outline of the project. UI fills in the visuals and interactions
  • UX/UI design and you

    UX and UI designers must understand what the other is doing. So, it’s quite handy to be versed in both. That way, you’ll be able to contribute to both aspects of the project. It’s also important to know which ideas work and which don’t. Something might be a brilliant UX design. That doesn’t mean it will match the UI the company is going for.

    UX/UI designers must be able to think on their feet. An idea might be great in theory, but not in practice. When this happens, they need to think of an alternative. It’s best to have a few different plans. Then, you can be ready for anything.

    But sometimes, the best ideas come out of the blue. Don’t be afraid to test them out. It’s what makes UX/UI design so fun. You might end up with a design you never dreamed of. It’s kind of like thrift-shopping, right?

    We’ve already said that there are many platforms suitable for both. That’s not to say they’re all the same. Finding the right one is the first step. It’s best to use one for UX and UI. That way you can supervise the project in its entirety.

    The best way to go about this is to try several. Many platforms offer free trials. Some even offer free plans. This can help you get the general idea about the platform. Once you’ve found the right one, you can get cracking.

    The goal of UX/UI is to make the product stand out. Any idea is worth trying out. Sometimes a bad one turns out great in the project. It’s true vice versa. There are some general guidelines you should adhere to. Simplicity and logic. Natural human reaction. These are the things you should keep in mind.The rest is up to you and your creativity.

    Still, you must be sensitive to the client’s wishes. Try and include them as best you can. If you don’t, make sure you explain why.

    Any design job is creative. Creativity and innovation are what drive the digital era. The next big idea might be around the corner. If you come across it, harness it. Present it to the world in the best light.


    Some form of design is always around us. We see many every day. It’s in everything from clothes to book covers and brand logos. It’s something we don’t even think about most of the time.

    UX and UI design are both present in the entire digital world. They’re often discussed together. This makes it easy for people to merge them together. But, they represent very different aspects of digital design.

    The principles of UX design are applicable in a non-digital setting, too. Together, UX and UI are like a clock. UX is the little cogs that make the clock tick. It measures time.

    UI design is what makes a site or app approachable to the user. UI is like the clock’s face and handle; it’s what tells the time to the user.

    There are some rules to UX and UI design; after all, people are used to certain things in the interfaces. It’s not good to change something that has been widely accepted. It’s because the user should know how to use the interface from the start. Using the interface shouldn’t demand much thought. If that happens, the user can get frustrated.

    With that said, UX and UI design should be creative. There are lots of variations you can try. UX is what the bare-bones interaction process should look like. Then, you can customize it during the UI phase. You can play with colors, fonts, or even prints.

    The important thing is to always keep in mind the idea of the project. The work of UX and UI designers is to best translate the brand onto a digital platform. Now you know how much thought and care go into designing beautiful and useful interfaces.