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9 Things to Know: Understanding the Distinction between UX and UI Design

In the world of digital design, the terms UX and UI are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion among beginners and even professionals. While both UX (User Experience) and UI (User Interface) play a crucial role in creating a successful digital product, they are not the same thing.

UX design focuses on enhancing the user’s overall experience while using a product, whereas UI design concentrates on the visual elements of the product such as layout, color, typography, and more.

In this blog, we’ll explore the differences between UX and UI design and provide you with nine essential things you need to know to understand the distinction between the two. Whether you’re a designer, developer, or someone interested in the world of digital design, this article will help you gain a deeper understanding of UX and UI design and how they work together to create exceptional digital products.

What is UX design?

The primary objective of UX designers is to craft products that provide relevant, meaningful, usable, and enjoyable experiences for users. They adopt a holistic approach to product design and prioritize meeting the users’ needs. By following a process called “user-centered design,” UX designers ensure that the product is both easy to use and engaging. In fact, UX design practices can even turn an otherwise frustrating bureaucratic process into a pleasurable one – now that’s something to imagine!

Much like how interior designers and architects create physical spaces that are comfortable and easy to navigate, UX designers do the same for digital spaces. To create the best possible user experience, designers take into consideration the context in which users will use the product – for instance, whether they’ll use it while on the move – and design around the device the product will appear on or the time of day when it gets the most usage.

Accessibility, information hierarchy, and navigation flows are all essential aspects of UX design that require frequent collaboration with UI designers to ensure the product works for as many users as possible. The ultimate goal of UX designers is to minimize “friction” – a term used to describe unnecessary difficulty or stress when using a product.

What is UI design?

UI designers specialize in creating interfaces for digital products or services that prioritize both aesthetics and functionality. Unlike UX design, which takes a broader approach to product design, UI design is exclusively focused on the elements that users directly interact with, such as buttons, icons, and other visual components. However, it’s worth noting that UI isn’t limited to just visual interfaces – there is also voice- and gesture-based interfaces that require the same attention to detail.

While there may be some overlap between UI and graphic design, there are significant differences between the two. While graphic designers tend to focus on creating static elements like logos and header images, UI designers are responsible for crafting interactive visual elements such as buttons, screen animations, and layouts. It’s important to note that a user experience is made up of several user interfaces that work together to create a cohesive product.

Examples of UX vs UI

User experience is a user’s overarching, all-embracing, holistic experience. It encompasses everything the user sees and feels, including the problem the product is trying to solve and where a product is used.

User interface refers only to the screen, buttons, or other things that make up the interface.

UX stalwarts Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen illustrate the distinction between UX and UI with this example:

“It’s important to distinguish the total user experience from the user interface (UI), even though the UI is obviously an extremely important part of the design. As an example, consider a website with movie reviews. Even if the UI for finding a film is perfect, the UX will be poor for a user who wants information about a small independent release if the underlying database only contains movies from the major studios.”

From the moment you step into a grocery store to the moment you walk out with your groceries, you’re in the store’s user experience. Everything you see is designed with purpose, from the aisle size to the organization of the shelves, even the temperature. All of this forms the user experience.

If you’ve gone shopping at your usual store, but instead of paying via a cashier, you opt for self-checkout, the interface you use to ring up your items and pay is part of the user interface.

In summary, UX includes UI, and UI is part of a user experience.

Illustration of an iceberg that depicts the various layers that make up user interface design and user experience design
Like an iceberg, visual design is only the surface of a user experience. Underneath, there is much more, including a skeleton, structure, scope, and strategy. These layers influence each other, so are by no means independent. Decisions taken on one plane can affect other layers. New issues or opportunities could arise, which might impact the experience. For example, if the team encounters technical challenges or budgetary constraints during development, they might have to revisit some design decisions.

If you have the store’s app on your phone or visit its website, that is part of the user experience. To fully enjoy that experience, the user interacts with the interface.

UX design decides what features are going to be in the app. Will it have a loyalty program where you gain points for each purchase? Will the user be able to track the points on the app? Perhaps the app allows you to shop online or see the current specials on offer—all of that is part of the user experience. However, the typeface, layout, icons, spacing, and visual style are all decided by user interface design.

UX is more abstract. It incorporates a user’s environment, mood, and context. UI, on the other hand, is more tangible—you directly interact with the UI.

The table below shows the most significant differences between UX and UI design.

UX Design UI Design
Focuses on the holistic experience of the user Focuses on the specific visual touchpoints of the user
Centers on strategy, structure and interaction design Centers on surface-level aspects of design, including visuals
Involves studying the user’s journey and designing information architecture Involves designing the tangible elements of the experience such as visual style, e.g., color palettes, typography, and layout
Outputs include personas, user journey maps, wireframes, prototypes Outputs include mockups, high-fidelity layouts, animations, and imagery


These are the main differences between UX and UI:

  • The goal of UX design is to identify and solve user problems.
  • The goal of UI is to create attractive, interactive, and intuitive interfaces.

Generally, UX designers handle the initial steps in the product development process, followed by UI. The UX designer maps out the skeleton of a user journey. Then the UI designer creates the visual and interactive elements.

UX and UI Design: How Do They Work Together?

As you now know, UX and UI overlap but are distinct disciplines. UX is the umbrella, and UI falls under it. Both are needed for a product to succeed—if you’ve got a website with an attractive interface but it’s hard to use and navigate (a bad user experience), the website won’t succeed. An old-fashioned, unappealing website that’s straightforward and easy to use is not as much of an issue, but it can still affect a user’s enjoyment of the product. They might prefer a competitor’s product, one that’s just as useful but much more aesthetically pleasing.

To illustrate how UX and UI work together, let’s look at Shazam. Shazam identifies music playing around you. This app solves a real-life problem: how often have you heard a great song on the radio, at a shop or bar but couldn’t identify it? This user experience solves this specific problem.

Now you can not only identify the song, but you can also store that song for future reference. Shazam connects to music streaming apps like Apple Music or Spotify and creates a playlist of all the tracks you have ‘Shazamed.’ The UI is simple and clean because that’s what the user requires.

Imagine you’ve just turned on the radio, and the song that’s playing is trailing off, coming to an end—you have just a few seconds to get your phone out. The app caters to this exact issue, as the interface is paired back, with just one large button on the screen. That button is animated to signal to the user to press it, with a line of text saying, “Tap to Shazam.”

Animated gif of the app Shazam
The animation, the icon, and the text are all part of UI design and add to the positive user experience. It demonstrates how UX and UI can and should work together.© Shazam, Fair Use

UX vs UI Design: Which Career Path Should I Take?

UX and UI are intertwined. That’s why so many job ads are for a UX/UI designer. If you’re doing UX design, it would be helpful to have some UI skills, especially for projects with low time and resources. In an ideal world, however, the jobs would be separate, and the UX designer and UI designer would collaborate.

Having UX and UI design skills is beneficial, but you don’t have to master both. Decide which path you would like to take and focus on building your skills and experience in that area. You’ll likely pick up something about the other as they’re interconnected. UX and UI design are in high demand and are generally well-paid, so this is the opportune moment to investigate a career in either of these disciplines.

Let’s look at what you would be responsible for in each role to put yourself in the best position to decide which path you’d like to take. See our responsibility comparison below.

Illustration of a responsibility comparison between a UI designer, UX/UI designer and UX designer
© Workable, Fair Use

The soft skills you need for both roles are virtually the same and would be beneficial in both jobs. The hard skills are more distinct for each role. This list is not exhaustive but highlights some of the key soft and hard skills for UX and UI design.

UX Design

Soft skills Hard skills
Empathy Prototyping
Communication User research techniques
Strategy Analysis
Problem-solving Wireframing
Collaboration Information Architecture


UI Design

Soft skills Hard skills
Empathy Prototyping
Communication Animation
Creativity Color theory
Adaptability Typography
Collaboration Design patterns


Part of what makes UX and UI design so appealing is there are so many transferable skills. Some of them are:

  • Graphic design
  • Project management
  • Research
  • Marketing
  • Customer service

What Does a UX Designer Actually Do?

UX design is varied and multi-disciplinary. You’ll conduct user research through interviews, usability tests, and card sorting (among other methods) to discover user behavior, needs, and pain points (the users’ problems). To develop products, you’ll conduct competitor analyses and craft product strategies. You’ll also develop content, wireframes, and prototypes. You can learn more about being a UX designer in this article.

What Does a UI Designer Actually Do?

If you’re more interested in design’s visual and creative aspects, then UI design may be for you. In terms of aesthetics, you’ll develop a visual design, including graphics and typography. You’ll focus on the interactivity of a project. You’ll ensure layouts work well, look good on various devices, and create animations and UI prototypes. As a UI designer, you’ll work closely with a developer so that your designs come to life exactly as you envisioned them.

UX vs UI Salary: Who Gets Paid More?

As with any career, various factors influence salaries, such as location, experience level, industry, project type, and education, not to mention economic factors. For this reason, you should use Glassdoor and Indeed to know what to expect.

Generally, UX and UI designers get paid almost the same, so it’s a matter of which role you prefer. As we mentioned, you might see a position for “UI/UX designer,” so you may find yourself doing both at some point.

How Do I Start Specializing in UX or UI?

Suitably intrigued? Well, we can help you get started.

The Interaction Design Foundation has the world’s most extensive open-access design library. You’ll find an article on pretty much every aspect of UX design.

Now that you have even more knowledge, you can proceed onto something a bit more substantial. An IxDF membership gives you access to over 35 UX and UI design courses. Simply head to the course page, and choose your path.

The Take Away

UX and UI design go hand in hand but are also separate disciplines. UI relates to the surface-level interactive elements. UX encompasses all aspects of a product, service or experience.

While there is overlap between UX and UI designers, there are various distinct skills, tasks, and responsibilities for each role. Which tasks and skills you ultimately perform boil down to the specific requirements of the job. So, remember to read the job description carefully. Whether you become a UX or UI designer, you can expect similar remuneration. If you’re serious about pursuing a career in this exciting field, there are many free resources to get you on your way.

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