Explainer - What's the difference between UI and UX?

Laura Heine

It’s fair to say that there’s a lot of jargon in every industry, but the web seems to have plenty. The misunderstanding about the user interface (UI) versus the user experience (UX) highlights the confusion we often come across in our work. Sometimes customers ask us to build user interfaces, but they haven’t considered the impact on user experience.

The UI is the user interface - a digital or physical thing. The UX is the user experience, a holistic term that encompasses user behavior and the resulting impact on your business’s bottom line. 

In this quick article, I’ll explain these terms and why this difference matters.

The UI is the user interface, and UX is the user experience - but what does this mean exactly?

The user interface refers mainly to the physical or digital elements that are available to users. In the context of screens like the one you’re on now, the interface includes text, headings, media, forms, and buttons to tap (or click, depending on where you’re reading this!) And we’re just talking about the page that is loaded in the browser. 

The user experience refers to the overall flow of user activity across a website or application. How many steps do they need to go through to complete a task? How difficult is it for them to find relevant information? These experiences could determine whether users continue to come back to your product, whether they seek alternatives, or whether they stick around to learn more.

User Experience Design results in User Interfaces

Although they both share the word user, a user interface is something you use, a user experience is something you have. When you describe a user interface you’re describing the form and function of each element, when you describe a user experience, you’re talking about the emotional state and response of a person. 

The user experience is how you qualify whether an interface is having the impact it’s designed for. A user interface could be full of every feature and function a user could ever want, but the user experience is likely to be pretty awful. 

When designers create a user interface in an application or website, they have to think about how these elements work, how they appear consistently across the app, and how users interact with them. We need to consider all users - including permanent, temporary and situational disability. The user interface needs to be accessible for people relying on assistive technologies. 

The way we go about making those design decisions at b13 is through user experience design.

Can you skip this user experience design step?

No.

At b13 we’re known for our technical expertise, but there is a lot of design and conceptual work going on behind the scenes before we even get to the technical solution. 

We had a customer who came to us for a specific technical solution. We told them before we could start designing, we needed a discovery workshop, and one participant was not looking forward to it. At the start, they didn’t see the value in what I call “concept work”. The design process takes into account who will use what you’re building and their end-to-end experience. Even from the earlier stages, we’ll be looking at ways to leverage a design system to adapt to their content design needs. We also take into consideration the business plans so what we build is adaptable and scalable. 

They were completely surprised by how much we got done in the workshop. We had uncovered many open questions they had not considered. 

Afterward, the one skeptic we had was so positive about the workshop, they were the most vocal in their praise. They realized that, had we started building based on their initial ideas, we would have created the wrong product. 

Of course, we weren’t surprised by how much we got done. It’s just part of our process of drawing out goals and ideas with a team and bringing them to life.

User-driven design

Customers may come to us because they just want us to “build it,” but we need to know who they are building for, and what business impact they want to have. We provide the technical expertise on how to make the designs useful, scalable, accessible, and enjoyable. 

You could spend a long time building an interface that could fulfill every business requirement. But is it a joy to use? Are users confused? Are they closing the site before they complete tasks? You can’t design a great user interface without considering the user experience. 

Getting the UX right means satisfied customers and long-term savings.

Need help optimizing your UX?

We provide UX audits to help you identify ways to improve your user experience.

Let’s connect!