Coastal Media Brand

There are numerous design specializations:

  • UX designers
  • UX researchers
  • UI designers
  • Interaction designers
  • Information architects
  • Brand designers

It’s easy to get confused about the nuance and differences among these roles.

Let’s uncover them, starting with one of the most common questions: what’s the actual difference between a UX and a UI designer?

Why is the difference between UX and UI design important?

First, let’s unpack why it even matters. Although all roles contribute to the same outcome (that is, a solution desirable by users and viable for the business), specialists will contribute to it differently. Understanding the differences helps us in these ways:

  • Avoiding misaligned expectations regarding the job description and responsibilities
  • Understanding which profile of person and expertise best fits which role
  • Ensuring clear communication and that we come to the right people with the right topics

In short, clarity about who does what helps us work more efficiently, hire the right people, and avoid two-sided disappointments.

The core principles of UX design

A UX designer is a person responsible for the holistic experience the user goes through. They combine user needs, human psychology, and business needs to develop the most optimal solutions.

A UX designer’s primary objectives include designing experiences with these traits:

  • Desirable — address needs that users want to be addressed
  • Valuable — solves these needs in a way that also helps achieve business goals
  • Usable — are understandable for users

Responsibilities of UX designers include (but are not limited to) user research, solution ideation, developing user scenarios, wireframing, and information architecture. Let’s go in depth on these responsibilities so we can get a clearer picture of how UX design differs from UI design.

User research

Understanding our users and their needs, behaviors, habits, and expectations is an essential step of product development. UX designers ensure we have this clarity (either on their own or with the support of UX researchers) before we start creating solutions.

This research includes:

  • User interviews
  • Ethnographic studies
  • Market research
  • Focus groups

The outcome of this activity is usually a list of pain points and needs, a user persona, and a user journey map. This research informs our design decisions, so it’s important to establish a clear picture of our users.

Solution ideation

UX designers are critical in ideating solutions for the problems identified in the research phase. In this phase, they often work with stakeholders to understand business needs and objectives. After all, the goal is to solve user problems in a way that also solves problems for the business.

Usually, many stakeholders participate in deciding on the final solution. The role of a UX designer in this process is to represent user needs and ensure the company doesn’t choose a solution that is healthy for the business but harmful to the user.

Wireframing

After the solution is defined, a UX designer prepares a wireframe; that is, a high-level picture of how the whole experience should look from the product perspective.

They ensure that the solutions solve user and business needs while also including factors such as:

  • The intuitiveness of the solution
  • Its discoverability
  • The navigation
  • How the information is being presented
  • Impact on the discoverability and intuitiveness of other pre-existing solutions
Example of a low-fidelity wireframe.

User scenarios

UX designers also tend to design user scenarios — different paths users can take when using a product. What should the experience look like if the user uses the wrong password? What are the options if a user mistakenly adds an incorrect item to the basket or invites the wrong person to the shared file? These are user scenarios a UX designer thinks through.

By mapping out all possible journeys a user can take during the experience, the UX designer delivers valuable input for corresponding feature requirements.

The core principles of UI design

To some extent, a UI designer starts where the UX designer left off. They take the concept developed by a UX designer and refine it from the visual perspective. UI designers make these concepts:

  • Even more intuitive
  • Visually appealing
  • Joyful for user
  • Coherent with the brand and the product as a whole

UI designers usually focus on visual design, interaction design, branding, and adding joy to the user’s experience. Let’s go in depth on what these entail and how they support UX design and vice versa.

Visual design

Whereas a UX designer focuses on preparing an intuitive wireframe and meets the user and business goals, UI designers add aesthetics, details, and colors to make it more loveable and pleasing to the eye.

A Refined Wireframe
A refined wireframe.

However, they don’t focus only on the looks themselves. UI designers also consider other factors:

  • Usability: they ensure that visual details improve and make the functionality even more intuitive
  • Psychology: particular shapes and colors evoke different emotions, and they use them to make the experience smoother and more natural
  • Coherence: the product as a whole must provide a coherent experience. Thus, they ensure that the new feature doesn’t seem alien

Interaction design

Interaction design defines how different product elements should react to user actions. It includes how the buttons should behave once the user clicks on them; how the transition from one view to another should look; and how sliders, switchers, and other interactive elements should react when users interact with them.

While some companies have dedicated interaction designers, it’s often part of the UI designer’s responsibilities. Without interaction design, although the product would still be usable, the whole experience would be tiresome and bland. Users would miss some of the feedback conventions they’re familiar with, such as spinners to indicate loading and microinteractions when they click a button.

Adding joy

Products that are joyful and fun to use have higher chances of winning users’ hearts and retaining them in the long run. UI designers always look for opportunities to add some joyful elements that, although they don’t contribute directly to solving user or business problems, improve the satisfaction of using the product.

It’s all about micro-details, such as:

  • A high-five animation once you achieve a particular task
  • Eye-pleasing animations every now and then
  • Sparking some humor in microcopy

Mailchimp Error Page

Mailchimp’s 404 error page is a good example of this. Although it doesn’t add much value compared to the standard 404 error page, it creates a memorable and joyful moment.

The collaboration between UX and UI designer

Although both UX and UI designers are separate roles with different sets of responsibilities, these specializations don’t work in silos. They both contribute to the same outcome. They just approach it from a different point of view.

A healthy design process requires close collaboration between these roles. They should ideally interact with one another to polish user experience:

UX and UI Design Collaboration

On a high level, we could split the design process into three steps:

  1. First, a UX designer does their homework to understand the problem and users
  2. Then, both UI and UX designers collaborate to determine the best solution and high-level experience. Both roles bring invaluable expertise and perspective to the table
  3. Lastly, the UI designer polishes the experience by working on visuals, interaction design, and adding a spark of joy to the final product

It doesn’t mean that the UI designer can’t participate in the research phase or that the UX designer can’t help with instilling joy in the product. It’s more about who is the most competent to have ownership and the final say at a specific phase.

Should UX and UI design be separate roles?

Lastly, some companies don’t differentiate between UX and UI roles. They hire a multidisciplinary role, often called UX/UI designer or a product designer, to tackle both parts of the design process. Both approaches, separating or combining the roles, have their pros and cons. Let’s explore them briefly.

Separate roles

ProsCons
Professionals focused on a smaller, well-defined part of the job usually develop higher expertiseHaving two separate roles is simply more expensive to maintain
Having different people with different points of view on the team gives you more insights to work with and kickstarts valuable conversationsIt adds an extra overhead of communication and alignment needed between UX and UI designers
A separate UX designer role helps you accommodate more time for so-much-needed user researchSplit creates a risk of UX and UI being detached if these professionals work in silos or collaborate ineffectively
Separate roles give you extra redundancy. If one person gets sick, the other specialist can usually fill in for the person to keep things moving

A combination UX/UI designer

ProsCons
Having a UX/UI designer eliminates the cost of the extra roles and any additional overhead of having two separate rolesUser research often tends to be neglected when one person is responsible for the whole process
It also ensures that the UX and UI layer of the product is cohesive and conducted with the same visionParticular UX/UI designers usually tend to focus more on the favorite part of their process while neglecting the least favorite one
Building a genuinely expert-class expertise is difficult if one person focuses on multiple areas simultaneously

Conclusion

Although UX and UI designers share many similarities — the main component of them is contributing to the same outcome — they bring different skills and perspectives to the table. UX designers focus on solving user problems in a usable fashion, while UI designers ensure these solutions are joyful and visually appealing.

Ultimately, you need to cover both of these areas. You can cover them by having a singular, interdisciplinary individual or having two separate roles for both areas. However, both options have tradeoffs, which you must carefully consider when deciding on your ideal team setup.

Header image source: IconScout

The post UX vs. UI designers: What’s the difference? appeared first on LogRocket Blog.

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