Breaking News: UX is not UI. And that isn’t a bad thing!

Last Modified: Jan 14th, 2021 - Category: Blog Articles About UX, UI, Research and Development, UX, UX Theory
Breaking News: UX is not UI. And that isn't a bad thing!

Let’s say it now: UX is not UI. Period.

We can usually find (especially in job offers) a search for “ UX / UI Designer ” or “UX / UI Developer”

And, of course, there are thousands of designers and developers trained in the UX area who are looking for work. Because of this, there are many applications for these positions.

However, a UX / UI designer (or developer) makes no sense. It would be the same as saying mason / engineering

And in any case, it would be a unicorn: it may exist, but there is no evidence of its existence.

Breaking News: UX is not UI. And that isn't a bad thing! 1

Of course, the preceding paragraph is an exaggeration!

I know that there is some people who can use that denomination (modestly, I consider myself one of them and I don’t carry a beautiful horn on my forehead)

The important thing is to know is: you can expect that a UX ( UXD ) designer designs User Experiences.

And UI (UID) designers to design User Interfaces!

But if you’re looking for work and they ask for an UI/UX designer, or UX/UI or whatever, just go ahead and say “yeah”!

Otherwise, the expectations of the employer who used those acronyms “because they are fashionable” are going to be severely frustrated at best. 

Or you will have huge losses at worst.

OK, so UX is not UI. But why?

So now we know UX is not UI. All of the above is useless if we don’t know the difference. A very simple way to explain it would be:

UX contains UI, and UI does not contain UX.

And someone can say:

I am a User Interface Designer and I use User Experience Design knowledge and concepts constantly

And that can be really true. But the key is to “use concepts”. 

A user interface designer does not create personas nor a theoretical framework.

Normally, he doesn’t do prior research, or tests with users.

Usually, she doesn’t handle deep concepts of psychology or even biology, neither handle data flow or information architecture… 

Sometimes s/he may do wireframes or mockups; but even those “visual oriented tasks” are not that common.

In short, there are many things that don’t make him/her a User Experience Designer

But of course, if that person did all of that or at least some of the tasks, we would be in the presence of a UX / UI Designer (aka Unicorn, or UXnicorn!), without a doubt.

As we said, that would be the simplest way to explain the difference. 

For the definition of User Experience Designer, I am not going to extend this time, since you can see it in detail in the User Experience Definition post.

UX is not UI: UI designer working on UI within a UX process

The definition of User Interface Designer is also very complex and extensive. We’ll start with Wikipedia’s definition of  User Interface Design:

User interface design (UI) or user interface engineering is the design of user interfaces for machines and software, such as computers, home appliances, mobile devices, and other electronic devices, with the focus on maximizing usability and the user experience.

Here we see that this definition has more to do with engineering and physical interfaces, which is absolutely correct. 

However, it is more common for a User Interface Designer to refer more specifically to designs in web or mobile formatsIf we consider this, we can say that:

Interface design is involved in a wide range of projects from computer systems, to cars, to commercial planes.

All of these projects involve much of the same basic human interactions yet also require some unique skills and knowledge.

As a result, designers tend to specialize in certain types of projects and have skills centered on their expertise.

Clarification: a User Interface Designer is not only web or mobile designer, but differs in the multidisciplinary approach and a much richer and broader theoretical base than a web designer would use. 

In the same way that UX contains UI, UI contains Web Design.

So … UI is less than UX?

Incredibly, there are people who think that UI is less than UX. That is why they add the UX particle to their speciality: they seem to think that if they don’t do UX they are less important, or they will get less work.

It’s like saying that a doctor adds to his title Engineer: obviously he will be able to heal a leg… but he can hardly build a bridge!

In the same way, UIDs will probably fail when asked to do the work of a UXD. And a UXD won’t be as proficient as an UI Designer when trying to build interfaces.

In short: UX is not UI and UI is not UX. And that’s perfect!

In real life, both UI and UX goes together and are perfect matches.

But it is more common to find User Interface Design celebrities than a UXD star, for the same characteristics of their work: the work of a UXD is (or should be) invisible. 

The exact opposite of the work of a User Interface Designer!

More UX & UI Reading

Ubiquitous Computing: UX when there is no UI – M. Resnick (PDF)

Designing Connected Products: UX for the Consumer Internet of Things – C. Rowland, E. Goodman, M. Charlier, A. Light, A. Lui 

Basics Interactive Design: Interface Design: An introduction to visual communication in UI design – D. Wood

Disclaimer: This content was translated to English from the original we wrote in Spanish, available in UXpañol

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