This is a topic many people have discussed before — the difference between UX and UI. We have all fallen into the trap at one point or another. I often times use the two terms interchangeably to tell my family and friends ‘what exactly it is that I do.’ Sometimes it just seems easier.
But, if you know me in a professional sense, you’ll know that I’m passionate about creating seamless holistic experiences that cross all mediums, platforms, channels etc. One of my biggest pet peeve is when a UXer is encouraged (often times naively) to be an ‘interface designer’ or to take on both roles at the same time.
I recently read The Best Interface Is No Interface by Golden Krishna and even had a chance to speak with him at a group discussion at Cooper. In chapter 4, Krishna writes about this very topic. He hit on something that I have been simmering on for a while now:
"Somewhere along the way, we confused the two. And instead of pursuing the best, more creative, inventive, and useful ways to solve problems, we started solving problems with screens because that was a job description. When we saw problems, we slapped an interface on it. UX stopped being about people, and started being about rounded rectangles and parallax animations."
Let’s set the story straight and talk about the differences here:
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines UI as “a computer program designed to allow a computer user to interact easily with the computer typically by making choices from menus or groups of icons.”
User Interface designers focus on the relationship between elements on the screen. They convey the messages and interactions of the interface. They create a visual language that helps to communicate product value and instills brand experience values.
But, this doesn’t discuss the ongoing relationship between the interface, the user, and the product value.
The Nielsen Norman Group says “user experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
A positive user experience is the goal of a designer. UX Designers focus on aligning the interactions within and across interfaces to streamline and simplify the experience to meet the user's mental model.
Why does it matter?
These roles have very different goals in mind that require different skill sets — rarely all found in one individual person. When companies combine these tasks into one job description, they are compromising the overall experience of their products.
There are many other roles that help support a positive user experience such as product designers, information architects, interaction designers, service designers, and user experience strategists.
It is important that you focus on the needs of the role (e.g., design direction, conceptual work, detailed visual design, journey map, etc. ) to determine exactly what type of designer you need for the job — and, so that your designer can make a greater impact.