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UX vs UI: What’s the difference?

Georgia Cavanagh

Article by Georgia Cavanagh

The tech industry is full of buzzwords. There are loads that get thrown around in meetings; infamous phrases like blue sky thinking” and out of the box”. 

To the untrained ear, a lot of the more technical terms can be baffling and sound like another tongue. So you end up sitting there, nodding politely as an enthusiastic man talks at you about optimization and something something data.

It’s a common misconception that the terms UI and UX are interchangeable. There’s only one different letter, so they’re pretty much the same, right? There’re some great definitions here, but I’m a fan of how Sam Hulick, a leading UX designer and the brains behind User Onboarding Teardowns, explains:

Sam Hulick

User Interface (UI) design

is the visualisation of a brand through a website or app, for example. UI designers call the shots on ensuring elements like buttons, forms, typography, colours, layout, etc. guide the user through an intuitive journey and clearly represent the intention of an action.

User Experience (UX) design

revolves around how it feels to use and the impression it leaves on it’s user. UX designers imagine how someone might use the product and pre-empt hurdles by logically planning an intuitive flow from one step to another, based on known behaviour. This behaviour can be tested and measured, which provides the designer with reliable evidence of how people really use the product and what they want or expect from it.

While it seems that first impressions of a website are 94% design-related (Source), we can’t let the UI hold all the responsibility, with 88% of online consumers being less likely to return to a site after a bad experience (Source). So you can see how they’re not parallel concepts, but rather like a pair of tandem cyclists; reliant on the other to spin the wheels, to keep the user’s momentum going, otherwise it would soon topple over and someone ends up with a bruised arse.


Within the industry, particularly larger companies with dedicated teams, these can be separate roles. Smaller teams may be required to cover a more overarching approach, which I’ve personally found to give me a holistic approach to design and an understanding of all aspects of the user’s journey.

There’s probably more of a grey area when it comes to UX

When did this term become such a name dropper? The history of UX is a rapidly progressive story and dripping in industrial design quotes, particularly from Henry Dreyfuss, an American designer famed for writing Designing for People’ in 1955. He notes:

“When the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial designer has failed. On the other hand, if people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient—or just plain happier—by contact with the product, then the designer has succeeded.”

This still rings true and has carried across into the our hyper digital present. However, it can be tricky to accomplish: A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” (Steve Jobs). It’s no surprise that, 40 years later, Apple nurtured the first known employee to earn the job title of User Experience Architect, Don Norman, who’d been brought on to create human centered products, driven by his background as an electrical engineer and cognitive scientist.

Understandably, the biggest leaps in UX innovation have been the result of merging psychology with design. One such leap was the 1970’s Xerox PARC personal computer. These colossal machines were born from the collaboration of a research team of psychologists and engineers, who were also responsible for inventing the mouse and Graphical User Interface, which hints at the beginnings of our friend, UI design, and was the first of it’s kind created to make using these machines easier.

Xerox Alto

Nowadays, businesses are starting to see the pivotal role design (encompassing UI, UX, copywriting, branding, the whole shebang) plays in the success of their profits and the loyalty of their customers. It can’t be plastered with quick fixes and lazy assumptions either. In fact, you’re 279.64 times more likely to climb Mount Everest than click on a banner ad (Source), proving that shouty, poorly executed design only blinds your users. 

What will always inspire that unexpected joy is using a digital product that’s been designed with consideration, born from real data, simplified through user feedback and emphasised through meaningful visuals.