How did the controversial acronym UI/UX originate? The definitive answer

ui/ux cover image

We got used to seeing this acronym UI/UX. For anyone who is related to the world of design, marketing, and especially the development of websites and mobile applications, this acronym became common.

However, as can be seen if you investigate a bit (you can see it even on this site, in the article UX is not UI), this acronym not only does not exist, but it does not make any sense.

UI, or User Interface, is just one of the many branches that exist in UX or User Experience. And there are more than 100 different branches!

Saying UI / UX is the equivalent of saying surgery / medicine or calculation / engineering. It is to mention a branch (and sometimes just a tool) of a science.

But also, if we talk about UI, we talk about UX by definition. There is no UI without UX (although there is UX without UI).

What does UI/UX mean (supposedly)?

As mentioned earlier, the term ‘UI/UX’ is not recognized and does not make logical sense. There is no bibliography, academic papers, or reputable UX agencies that acknowledge its use. Simply put, it does not exist.

However, the number of people using this incorrect term far exceeds those using the correct terms to refer to what they mean when they say ‘UI/UX’.

Illustration about how UX/UI outweights proper denominations
A lot more UI / UX calling than proper denominations

And just in case you’re wondering: there’s not UX/UI either.

How do you explain the existence of a UI/UX agency or UI/UX designer?

Well, the term somehow became popular with small web design agencies, students, and hobbyists or amateurs. If you ask most of them, “Do you do UI?” most likely, they will answer, “No, I do UI/UX.”

Among all those I’ve asked, they feel that adding UX to UI gives them more prestige.

This creates a strange situation: if we go to a person knowledgeable about the subject, he or she will likely consider that we do not know what we are talking about.

On the other hand, suppose we are a “UI/UX agency” and we say to the client (who also doesn’t know about it), “We do UI/UX.” It would be the same as saying, “We do IUDFIHSDFUIG,” because in any case, the client does not know what we are talking about.

And to be honest, none of the “UI/UX designers” we asked could explain what the term means. But when they try to explain it from their work, we noticed that most use UI/UX as a synonym for mobile design, and a smaller part of these designers use this acronym to refer to website design.

So UI / UX is website design or mobile app design?

Again, neither of them. As we already said, the acronym does not make sense in this context.

To understand it better: web design refers to the design applied to a page viewed on the web.

Similarly, the design of mobile apps pertains to the design used in a mobile application.

But UI Design or UID is the design of an interface based on both aesthetic and scientific principles. It’s not about using any element we want or placing elements randomly.

On the contrary, User Interface Design is a discipline grounded in a deep theoretical framework. This framework is tested with users and adjusted based on the results obtained, a process known as data-driven design.

And then we come to UX: UX represents an experience. Or more precisely: the measurement of a subjective experience.

This is not something mystical; it is the very definition of user experience!

User experience (UX or UE) is about how a user interacts with, and experiences, a particular product, system or service. It includes a person’s perceptions of utility, ease of use, and efficiency. User experience is an important concern to many companies when creating products, as negative user experience may decay profitability. User experience is subjective.

from Wikipedia

In other words: if there is no data measurement with real users, we cannot even start talking about UX.

What does this mean? Let’s see the following image:

UI/UX, web design or mobile app design? Capture from Dribbble shots
UI/UX, web design or mobile app design? Your call
PS: You’ll see the dreaded UI/UX term is nowhere to be found on Dribbble.

As we can see on this Dribbble page, we have some beautiful designs, there is really nothing to object at first glance. However, as long as these designs have not been tested with users, we will not have a measurement of the experience, therefore no UX (even though some of these designs might have been built using UX principles).

Furthermore, some of the designs are literally impossible to implement or are unusable (which, like UI, is also part of the UX disciplines: interface development, accessibility and usability).

So what is UI / UX?

Well, here we can already provide a formula for those hesitant to admit they create UI and label it as UX: among all the UX disciplines, there’s one that directly encompasses UI but is significantly broader and therefore more important: HCI, short for Human-Computer Interaction.

HCI is the closest thing to what many refer to when they think they are discussing what they call UX/UI, and it is precisely the discipline that examines the interaction of humans with computers through… user interfaces!

Note: HCI is the “state of the art” as of this writing, but our CEO Fabio Devin has developed the concept of XCI within the Quantum UX paradigm, where the X in XCI is any biological, mechanical, or cybernetic entity.

How did the term UI / UX originate? A theory about the origin of UI/UX

Here comes the interesting part: how did a misnomer come about and how did it end up getting popular?

The reality is that we do not know for sure. But speaking with colleagues, and arguing among our team members, we believe that there is a fairly plausible theory.

UX is the realm of acronyms. There are probably very few sciences or disciplines that have that many acronyms. And this is part of the history of UX from the beginning.

Many times when we work on a project, we ourselves send notes, memos, or updates that include these acronyms. For example: “UI development starts tomorrow” or “We need to revisit the ideas on CX strategy” or “Pass me the book on HCI” or “Let’s talk to the IT department.”

In other words, we naturalized that way of speaking, which is very typical of the technological field in which we develop our work.

So it is possible that at the beginning of the “UX fever” (when HCI-based UX became popular, around 2008-10), project managers or stakeholders said things like “we must work on UI” and then “we must develop the UX” , which was simplified as “we must work the UI and UX“, simplifying as “we must work the UI / UX”.

We do not know if this is the reason, but it is a theory as valid as any other. And if we think about it, it makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? I mean: why else would a non-existent and illogical term have been created other than by accident?


So now you know that UI/UX doesn’t exist, and why you shouldn’t use that term. You can call yourself a UI designer, or a UX designer, or a UX researcher, just don’t call yourself a UI/UX designer or UI/UX agency, you’ll be doing a disfavor to yourself.

If you want to shock your clients and friends with a more sophisticated term, just use the proper one: HCI

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