UX vs UI explained

Although often used interchangeably, there are specific nuances within User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design. Although they are related, they are not twins and do have some unique aspects that set the two apart. Throughout this article, we at Cybernews Academy will guide you through the different UX and UI design aspects by exploring the similarities and differences between the two crafts. We will also provide a comprehensive guide on pursuing UX or UI design at an academic and professional level.

UX design

UX stands for the term ‘user experience,’ which pertains to the experience that end users have when interacting with products and services. UX designers are involved in designing interfaces that are easy and interesting to use. Their responsibilities range from constructing the product to integrating software. UX design aims to create an efficient, relevant, and incredible experience for the end user. This role relies heavily on research, data analysis, and test results rather than aesthetics.

UX skills

As UX design is a predominantly human-centric, research-based profession, some core skills are needed to succeed in UX design.

There are a range of other skills that are essential if you are planning to break into UX design:

  • Coding and development - as the tech industry is rapidly expanding, the demand for those with coding, programming, and development knowledge is increasing daily. Understanding tech lingo for UX designers is vital in making the collaborations between designers and developers seamless. Creating developer-friendly designs will make the product closer to the initial blueprint. Certain programming languages like HTML, CSS, and Javascript can help develop excellent prototypes of products or services.
  • Wireframing - wireframes are the blueprint of a digital product, this could be a website, application, or other pieces of software.
  • Prototyping - a prototype is a simulation or sample of the product that can be tested.
  • Written communication skills specific to UX - this is the language you choose to present within the product. This can be the language of error messages, instructions, captions, and other writing you see on websites or applications. The way this language is communicated may be crucial in navigating the interface.
  • Research skills and analytics - UX designers heavily depend on research to make decisions about the product. The study will focus on their target audience, similar products, and the interface's performance. UX designers conduct this research through questionnaires, interviews, and by using online analytics software like Google Analytics.
  • Visual communication skills - as UX-ers design the product, they need to have brilliant visual communication skills and be able to look at things from an aesthetic and technical point of view. Knowing what looks clickable and appealing is a favorable quality in UX design.
  • User testing - understanding how users interact with the service is vital in creating a quality product. Observing how a user interacts with the design and what parts they favor and parts of the product are unfavorable will help UX designers improve and create valuable iterations for the customer.

Although a UX designer may not necessarily need to know how to code, having a solid fundamental understanding of how software and websites are built is crucial. To create a robust digital product, UX designers must understand the technically complex aspects of the design. With a solid knowledge of programming concepts and languages, a UX designer can communicate and collaborate with developers who will handle the technical stuff.

UI design

Unlike UX design, which encompasses the whole scope of interface design, user interface (UI) design focuses on style and aesthetics to build interactive interfaces in software or digital devices. Like UX designers, UI designers also focus on creating easy-to-use, pleasurable interfaces that end users can navigate. UI design pertains to graphical user interfaces like websites and applications and voice-controlled or gesture-based interfaces. GUIs or graphical user interfaces are commonly found on smartphones, tablets, and computers. Examples of GUIs are desktops or home screens, which are the interactive visual components of the system. Voice-controlled interfaces, or VUIs, are those familiar features within Apple and Amazon products like Siri or Alexa —these interactive interfaces can be controlled with your voice alone. Gesture-based interfaces like virtual reality, where participants engage with 3D designs through physical movement.

UI skills

UI designers employ various technical, creative, and design elements to create an appealing interactive environment for end users.

Here are a range of skills you need if you want to break into the world of UI design:

  • Wireframing and prototyping - like UX design, UI designers also implemented wireframing and prototyping to demonstrate the product and identify any issues in its design.
  • Principles of interaction design - UI designers must follow the directions of interaction design to achieve a product that end users will value. These principles are visibility, feedback, consistency, mapping, and affordance.
  • Aesthetics and branding - as UI design focuses on the aesthetics of the interface, UI designers need to be technical, creative, and collaborative. This focus on aesthetics and branding sets UI designers apart from UX designers.
  • User research and testing - like UX, UI designers must also gather information about their users to create a product that will be well received. They take information from the internet, interviews, and other areas of interest.
  • Collaboration - like UX designers, UI designers must collaborate with others while sharing this human-centric attitude to design. Working with UX designers and developers is vital in UI design.

Think like a designer

UX and UI designers implement the design thinking process to achieve end users’ needs while tackling technical and business feasibility. The Interaction Design Foundation states, “Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions to prototype tests.” As UX and UI design is predominantly human-centric, designers often refocus or reframe issues that seem impossible to solve, are incomplete, or influx. These are often called ‘wicked problems’ which require a deep understanding and an innovative problem-solving approach. That’s where design thinking comes in.

The design thinking process involves five phases:

  • Empathize - relates to thoroughly researching what a customer/user wants from the product. Empathy lets us momentarily put ourselves in the user's shoes and consider their needs. This characteristic is essential in undertaking a human-centric approach to design.
  • Define - once the information has been gathered and assessed during the empathize phase, you can begin defining the core issues you have analyzed from your findings.
  • Ideate - once you have identified the issues gathered from the define and empathize phase, you can now come up with ideas on how to solve these problems. This is where the phrase ‘think outside of the box’ will be most applicable as you must collate a range of alternative methods that could help you solve the user's problems.
  • Prototype - the subsequent phase involves assembling a prototype to address the user's issues. This prototype should be a smaller, scaled-down version of your end product. Through this step, you should see what works and what could be improved.
  • Test - this is the final phase that requires rigorous prototype testing that allows designers to uncover potential pitfalls in the design. Issues often occur during this phase, so the design thinking process undergoes many iterations. It’s a wash, rinse, repeat process.
Image by Shutterstock

UX vs. UI

As you may have noticed, UX and UI are extremely similar in how the two crafts operate, the processes used to design a product, and how they get from A to B. However, the main difference between UX and UI design is that one (UI) is about the interface's appearance, interaction, and aesthetics. In comparison, UX design is about the overall, holistic interface experience. The beautiful colors, typography, buttons, and icons you use on websites and in applications are created by UI designers. In contrast, UX designers drive the interaction between the end user and the website or application. UX and UI designers are combined in the industry due to the similar nature of job roles. We will examine the academic and professional avenues you can take when breaking into UX and UI design.

UX and UI at university

You can take various avenues when embarking on your UX or UI journey. Many universities offer BSc User Experience Design courses where you learn about creating websites, applications, digital products, services, augmented, virtual, and mixed reality experiences for end users. These degrees usually encompass UX and UI design principles and teaching. However, if you are not interested in taking a degree strictly in UX design, you can take the following courses to help you break into the field.

  • Computer Science
  • Computer Programming
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Information Technology

These programs will encompass many skills required in the UX/UI industry. These skills include collaboration, coding, and understanding fundamental computational concepts and programming languages. These degrees, specifically Information Technology, may also provide keen insights into the fundamentals of business and the relationship between business and computation. This awareness will allow you to assess the market and gain insight into consumer demands. These degrees will teach you the core soft skills needed to enter the industry. Critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills are essential in the UX/UI industry. A degree in information technology or computer science is a good option that can propel you toward many different careers while also allowing you to follow the path of a UX/UI designer.

Careers in UX/UI

If you want to pursue a career in UX and UI you will need to do the following things before you start:

  • Get a degree in the relevant Computer Science and Information Technology fields.
  • Read up on UX and UI design.
  • Stay-to-date on the latest trends in UX/UI.
  • Learn the key principles of UX/UI design.
  • Learn about the key methods and process of UX/UI design.
  • Take an additional UX course.
  • Build your portfolio.
  • Gain experience.
  • Practice and develop your skills in UX/UI.

Depending on your professional seniority, level of experience, and degree level, the salary of a UX designer may vary. The average wage in the U.S. in 2023 for UX design is between $76,000-$123,000 per year. The salary for UX/UI designers is over $85,630 per year, depending on the company, level of experience, and various other factors. The salary for a UI designer is approximately $89,676. Due to the versatile nature of the craft and the demand for UX/UI designers, the wages for both professions are very reasonable.

So, is there a difference between UX and UI design? The answer is both yes and no simultaneously. UI designers focus predominantly on the aesthetics of interactive interfaces and design products and devices based on the features. Whereas UX designers have a broader influence on the interface design as UX designers focus on all aspects of the end-users interaction with the interface. There are many similarities between the two disciplines: the design process, the research, and the skills needed to become a UX and UI designer. However, both careers have unique aspects, making them appealing professions. If you are considering pursuing a career in UX/UI design, consider taking the academic and professional steps necessary to kick-start your UX/UI journey.