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Thought Leadership

What is UI Design?

What’s the difference between UI and UX?

At the most basic level, UI is made up of all the elements that enable someone to interact with a product or service. UX, on the other hand, is what the individual interacting with that product or service takes away from the entire experience. (via UserTesting)

“UX is focused on the user’s journey to solve a problem, UI is focused on how a product’s surfaces look and function.”

Ken Norton Partner at Google Ventures, former Product Manager at Google

Ken continues—”Start with a problem we’d like to solve. UX design is focused on anything that affects the user’s journey to solve that problem, positive or negative, both on-screen and off. UI design is focused on how the product’s surfaces look and function. The user interface is only piece of that journey. I like the restaurant analogy I’ve heard others use: UI is the table, chair, plate, glass, and utensils. UX is everything from the food, to the service, parking, lighting and music.”

“Common logic would suggest that, if you design the UI, and a person experiences a product through the UI, that makes you a User Experience Designer. However, this would also imply that designing your own home makes you an architect, and fixing a tap makes you a plumber.”

Andy Budd, Co-Founder, Clearleft

Andy continues—”Often the words used to describe a discipline end up being divorced from their original meanings. For instance architect literally means “head mason” and plumber means “lead worker.” Two names which clearly no longer articulate or explain what that profession does. In a professional context “User Experience Designer” has a specific meaning and set of skills, based on a community of practice reaching back over 20 years. In this world, a User Experience Designer is concerned with the conceptual aspects of the design process, leaving the UI designer to focus on the more tangible elements.

Jason Mesut best describes the difference (and the overlap) between UX and UI in his “double diamond” model. In this model, the UX designer has deep skills in strategy, research, information architecture, and interaction design. The UI designer (now fashionably rebranded as a digital product designer in Silicon Valley) also has skills in Interaction design. However, their focus skews towards areas like information design, motion design, and brand. While some people would claim deep expertise in all those areas, this is quite rare.

If You’re an Expert in Everything You’re Probably an Expert in Nothing

Since the mid 10s (2010—) you see a lot conversation in this spacing touting UI/UX expertise. The reality is that these skillsets are totally different. It is very rare that one person is in expert in both, (or should be handling both). Typically the talent and interest falls one way or the other. This is not to say that there are not experience designers who dig into both, there are and they are talented.

Both skillsets take years to become an expert.

What Makes Good UI?
Video of Design With Arash speaking about design principles

Considering accessibility as a huge factor in user-interface design, the government has a lot to say about UI in general, working towards usability for all. This should also be a goal for any design project.

“The best interfaces are almost invisible to the user. They avoid unnecessary elements and are clear in the language they use on labels and in messaging.” (this has since become

The best user interface design is:

  • Simple
  • Consistent
  • Purposeful
  • Strategic with color and texture
  • Strong visual hierarchy
  • Uses common patterns
  • Accessible

Many brands create Visual Identity Systems including both UI and UX patterns to be used by large teams for consistency, brand equity and simplicity. Using a system allows new websites, applications, marketing materials, and all user touch points to be created efficiently and effectively. This saves both time and money. Creating an effective Visual Identity System takes both time and money up front, but makes everything easier in the long term.

You can dig into this top more with Franke+Fiorella.

Related User Experience (UX) Resources:

Various terms are used in user experience design—UX (User Experience), CX (Customer Experience), and UI (User Interface). UX, UI, CX are interconnected and work together as a system to create exceptional digital experiences.

What is UX?

What is the Value of UX?