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UI vs. UX: What’s the difference?

Corey Hutchison,

Visualize this: You’re standing in line at Starbucks and to your right you hear a group of millennials and gen Z-ers talking quietly. You glance over and see them huddled behind their laptops, nodding and pointing at their screens, notebooks, and post-its. 

It might sound like they’re secretly planning the heist of the century — their notepads and laptop screens show diagrams with boxes, lines, Xs, and arrows. But then you hear: “Let’s nail down the UX of the app, so we can get to the A/B testing sooner, then tackle any UI or API issues or concerns.” 

Another language; so you go about your day.

Has this ever happened to you? Maybe not, but I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard the terms UI or UX. And, not to sound presumptuous, you may not know what they mean, much less the difference between them. 

Understanding the difference between UX and UI can be tough. Sometimes the terms are interchanged and the meaning can get lost between the two. But I promise you: They’re widely different. 

Simply put, UX is an acronym for user experience and UI refers to user interface. They have a close relationship (bringing the best out in each other; awe) but serve different roles — UX is how things work; UI is how things look. We consider UX a process, while UI is more of a deliverable. 

Steve Jobs famously said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” This is a perfect example of why you can’t have one without the other. UI and UX are the most powerful tag team in a world of consumers.

Let’s dig a little deeper into UX, since that typically comes first in the design process. Head over to YouTube, search “what is UX” and watch a video. You’re welcome — see ya.

No, kidding. You came here for an answer. 

User experience is the process teams use to provide meaningful, intuitive, and relevant experiences for website users, app users, and more. This involves researching, developing, and refining all aspects of a user’s digital interaction with a company/brand. A UX designer is responsible for meeting the user’s needs.

Image credit: Career Foundry

Now for user interface; an experiment. Go to your favorite shopping website — whether Amazon or other major eCommerce site — and interact with it. Take note where everything lies on the page, such as the search bar, account login, favorites, recommended products, etc. Go on, I’ll be here…

Ok great, you’re back. (Mildly concerned you’d given up on me.) 

Now that you clicked around the site — and maybe spontaneously purchased something because you have a shopping addiction that I unintentionally fueled — think about how easy or hard it was to find what you were looking for. This is the work of a UI designer.

UI is More Cosmetic Than UX

Earlier, when I said UI is more of a deliverable, I mean that UI is responsible for the presentation of an end-product as well as the correlation of on-page elements. A page’s visuals, such as icons, images, buttons, and how you interact with the product, fall under the UI moniker.

UI goes beyond design — it harmonizes with content and follows SEO best practices to better the user’s experience (UX). And this is more important than ever. This year, Google will consider page experience as a ranking factor in search. If your website isn’t keeping users engaged (i.e. showing high bounce rates, exit rates, quick page load times, etc.) it will hurt your overall SEO, and in turn, losing you business. 

What Does This All Really Mean?

TL;DR, UI and UX work hand-in-hand to shape your entire experience of a product. Without a proper solution to the problem and a well-thought-out wireframe of a product or service, users might become frustrated and shift to a competitor (the horror!). 

Not properly investing your time and money into UI and UX will prove to be far more costly down the road. Don’t underestimate the power of a beautiful, cohesive layout of content and imagery. UX and UI complement each other, and getting both done right is a must in this digital age. 

Image credit: Career Foundry

Not sure if it’s time to invest in a new design? Keep in mind: your website or app shouldn’t remind you of dial-up. Call Rebel to learn more about our UX and UI design capabilities — just make sure your phone line is cleared.