Difference Between UI and UX? Which Comes First?

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March 29, 2022

‘Star Wars or Star Trek?’, ‘Pepsi or Coke?’ There are countless unsettled debates in the physical world. But in the world of design, there’s no greater debate than ‘UX vs UI’ and which comes first.

UI and UX are some of the most confused but overused terms in the design industry, and debate on these has been going on for as long as these terms have been around.

People tend to use them interchangeably, and that’s where the problem lies. The meaning and use of these terms may overlap, but UI and UX differ greatly in terms of their implications.

We know that UX refers to the User Experience while UI refers to the User Interface. But that does not produce a lightbulb moment of understanding, right? Let’s break it down further.

Both UI and UX are crucial to product and website design and should work closely together. But they come from slightly different places. UI design focuses on the look, feel, and presentation of a product. In simple terms, it’s about visual appeal. However, UX design is about how effective and enjoyable a product is to actually use.

The two are different in terms of what the user sees (UI) vs what the user experiences (UX).

Confused? Here are Some Analogies

Before we get into more technical details regarding the two, let’s take a look at these simple analogies to better understand the concept of UI and UX.

Think of a restaurant or a coffee shop. As soon as you enter, you will see tables, chairs, cutlery, etc. Here you are looking at the user interface. Whereas, the ambiance, the music, lighting, and most importantly, the food make up the user experience. If you leave the coffee shop with a smile, you just experienced a great UX.

Still confused? Don’t worry, here’s another example to help you understand the concept!

Suppose you’re designing a house. The components that make up the functionality of the house would be the UX. These would include the electrical system, HVAC system, plumbing, determining how each room links together, etc.

Once the foundation of the house is in place, you can focus on the interior design (UI). The paint for each room, the furniture, windows, faucets, doorknobs, etc. is how the homeowner interacts with the house – the UI.

Let’s further dissect UI and UX before we talk about how they differ from each other yet work together.

What is User Interface (UI)?

User Interface or UI refers to the specific visual touchpoint or asset the user interacts with. In simple terms, it refers to anything that a user may interact with while using a digital product. When we are talking about the UI, we are referring to the look, feel, and interactivity of a digital product.

User interface design involves transforming wireframes into user interfaces that are easy to use and aesthetically pleasing. As the UI is the point of interaction between the end-user and the product, UI design focuses on the interactive components of the product interface.

We can call it the cosmetics of the experience. The typography, color, spacing, buttons, icons, navigation bar, grids, basically everything that is there on the screen, to audio, keys, and even lighting, all come under the UI.

UI design is about using interactive features to guide users through the interface of a website – a more technical approach to optimize the interaction between people and digital devices/ products.

For UI design, you can download elements for free from resources online – can you do the same for UX? Nope!

What is User Experience (UX)?

User Experience (UX) is a human-first approach to designing digital products and services. The term “user experience” was coined by Don Norman, a cognitive scientist and co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group Design Consultancy, in the late 90s while working for Apple. Here’s how he describes it:

User Experience encompasses all aspects of the end-users interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

UX is a broad term that applies to anything that can be experienced, be it a website, a mobile application, a coffee machine, or a visit to a restaurant. In simple terms, UX is what the customer personally feels and experiences while using a product’s interface.

For instance, let’s say you’re using an e-commerce/ retail website or application. The user experience in this situation depends on how easy it is to find and buy a product through that website/ application. If you find it difficult to navigate through the website, find your desired product, and cannot find the ‘Checkout’ button on the screen before scrolling all the way down or make a guess through the icons on the buttons, it all adds to a bad user experience.

Understanding the demands of the user and increasing the customer’s ease, usability, and overall experience when interacting with the digital product is the primary goal of UX design.

Difference between User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX)?

To help you differentiate between UI and UX, we are back with another famous analogy by a web developer, Dain Miller, for you!

Think of riding a horse: the components that make up the whole riding experience fall under the category of UI. In this example, the saddle, stirrups, rein, etc., make up the UI. UX is the feeling you get when you’re riding a horse.

In general terms, UI refers to all the components that enable a user to interact with a product or service. While UX is what the user while interacting with the products, takes away from the experience.

Key Takeaways

The basic differences between UI and UX:

What Comes First? UI or UX?

Well, another confusing question that might have crossed your mind. And here’s your answer – the user experience (UX).

While working on a digital product design, take UX as the parent and UI as the child. The UX team must carry out a lot of observations, research, and surveys to identify the needs of the target audience before moving on to the UI design.

Though both UI and UX are interdependent on each other and have to work closely together, UX has a slight upper hand. A good UX design creates a positive experience for your user by satisfying the user’s needs. Any successful product, such as a website or a mobile application, requires a good UX design for customer satisfaction and loyalty. Without a good UX, the user will leave your site frustrated, feeling bitter about your services – and that’s how you lose a client.

In short, a great product begins with a great UX design, followed by a great UI design.

How Do Both UI and UX Work Together?

Both UI and UX are crucial to product success. Something that looks great but performs terribly is an example of a great UI and poor UX. While something that has great usability but looks terrible is an instance of a great UX but poor UI.

UI and UX go hand in hand. Rather, let’s put it this way: UI (how something looks or feels) plays a great role in the UX (the overall user experience). Here’s another example (which is my favorite to quote while explaining UI and UX and how both have to work together for a successful product).

We all are familiar with the original glass Heinz bottle which is a great example of UI design. But the experience? Struggling to get the ketchup out of the bottle by smacking and shaking it (because of its narrow neck) doesn’t sound like a great experience.

In the last few years, Heinz came up with an upside-down, squeezable bottle, with a wider top. Since the new bottle does not only look great but is also easier to use, it is a great example of UI and UX working together!

By now, you should have a clear understanding of the UI, UX, and how they’re different from each other. While UI focuses on the look and feel of the product, UX is about the user’s overall experience with the product. To say how they are different or which one is more crucial is kind of like asking ‘what is the difference between yellow paint and the chemicals it is made of?’

Both UI and UX, despite being vastly different, complement one another and go hand in hand!

At CitrusBits, we have some of the best UI/UX experts and visual designers in our arsenal to design human-centric and interactive mobile and web interfaces and provide you with the ultimate design experience. Looking to get a mobile app designed and developed? Check out our portfolio and ping us here to connect.

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