UX vs UI design: What’s the difference?

It may seem like UX and UI are buzzwords in the design field, but both practices have actually been in existence for a long time.


Yet despite their prevalence in this digital age, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding them; particularly when it comes to website, application and other software design projects. In truth, even some experts have difficulty defining the terms and differentiating them from one another.


But one thing that is universally agreed upon is that both practices complement each and are integral to the success of any design project.


If you were to read every article ever written on UX and UI design, your head would be spinning, so allow us to fill you in on the basics.


What is UX Design?


UX design refers to user experience design, a term that was coined by cognitive scientist Don Norman in the early nineties. Simply put, UX design is the process of creating products that provide meaningful and satisfactory experiences for the end user. This is achieved this by improving the usability, accessibility and pleasure provided from interaction with the product.


It’s not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and yes, beauty to people’s lives.
– Don Norman


UX designers are focused on understanding the user and creating an experience that is relevant and engaging. It’s their job to question who the user is, what they want, why they want it and how they want to get it.


Through a series of UX methods and techniques, UX designers identify and empathise with the user. Only then can they enhance the product’s usability, which could be anything from a children’s toy to handbag. In our case, our UX team work on websites, apps and bespoke software.


The process of UX design is somewhat of a science and it encompasses many different dimensions; integration design, information architecture, visual design, usability and human-computer interaction.


A number of techniques are employed by the UX designer to enable them to design the user flows, wireframes and mock ups,  and once these have been achieved, it’s time for the UI designer to shine.


But before we jump into user interface design, let’s touch on some of the UX techniques performed during the research and testing process.



Different UX techniques


User Personas


A user persona can best be described as a fictional profile of a target audience. It highlights the demographics, goals, needs and observed behaviour patterns of that audience and in doing so, enables the designer to understand what the customer wants.


User Journeys


A user journey is essentially a diagram that marks the user’s interaction with the product, from start to finish. It explores the multiple ways a user might engage with a product and allows the UX designer to frame the user’s motivations in every step of the journey.


Stakeholder interviews


Stakeholder interviews are scripted interviews with internal and external stakeholders on a project. The answers provide the UX designer with personal perspectives on a product which in turn, helps them prioritise key features.


Card Sorting


Card sorting is a user participant technique designed to make sense of a customer’s behaviour. Users are asked to group pages or categories together based on their understanding of their relationship to one another and the exercise can either be closed, where predefined categories are provided; or open, where users are asked to come up with their own.

This technique is part of the information architecture phase and it should result in a better navigation structure – which is especially beneficial for eCommerce websites with vast product catalogues.



Content Inventory


Performing a content inventory also falls under the information architecture phase. This technique involves listing all the content that is available on a website and as an exercise, it helps the designer see the website in its entirety and define the content strategy.


User Testing


As the name suggests, user testing is a process whereby a real user, as opposed to a designer, tests the usability of a product. This method is great for obtaining instant user experience feedback and identifying problems.


Focus Groups


Focus groups are a tried and tested method for exploring a user’s thoughts and feelings on a particular product. However, they do not work as a standalone exercise for evaluating interface usability.


What is UI design?


Hopefully by now, you’ll have a better idea of what UX is all about. So let’s move on to UI, which refers to user interface.


The term UI harks back to the 1980s, when a group of computer scientists invented the first personal computer with graphical user interface (GUI). Having a GUI meant a user no longer had to be a whiz at code in order to work a computer. Eventually, the need for specialist designers was realised and thus the UI designer was born.


Today, UI design is a process which basically involves visually guiding the user through the product’s interface. In contrast to UX design which is about the overall experience a user has with the product, UI design is primarily concerned with how a product looks, feels and functions.



Presentation is a key component of the UI design process. Buttons, text fields, drop down lists, tags and search fields are just some of the interface elements that UI designers use to enhance the user experience. Creating an interface that reflects a brand’s strengths and visual assets is also part of the process.


A UI designer’s role is primarily related to graphic or visual/ front end design and throughout the UI journey, their responsibilities include prototyping, design research, branding, graphic development and style guides and implementation with the developer.


As a design principle, UI is constantly evolving and current UI trends include illustration, animation, immersive full video screens and transitions.


So what’s the difference?


UX and UI design share the overall objective of improving customer satisfaction and enhancing user interaction with the product. Where the practices differ is in their approach towards achieving this objective.


UX design is a conglomeration of activities focused on optimising a product for effective and enjoyable use. It transcends products, services and interfaces across various fields, and is focused on how the user will feel when interacting with the product.


UI design on the other hand pertains to interfaces only and is more concerned with the means by which a user and a product interact.


Ultimately, UX design is about making a product useful, understandable and usable while UI design is about improving the overall feel of a product and making it aesthetically pleasing.


UX vs UI – which is more important?


Ah, the million dollar question. Well, unfortunately, there is no right answer to that question.


From what you’ve read, you may assimilate that UX design is more important given the in depth user research process it involves. In fact, many regard UI design as a subset of UX design, as it’s typically the final step in the UX journey. But that does not make UX more important than UI; nor does it make UI, UX.


Confused? Allow us to illustrate the difference with an analogy (of which there are many). We’ll go with a fancy restaurant. The UI in this case is the table, the chair, the cutlery, Essentially the functional aspects that the user interacts with. The UX, on the other hand, is the food,the waiting staff, the ambience; the elements of the restaurant experience that will elicit feelings, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. Remove either UI or UX from the scenario and the user will be left with a very basic and underwhelming experience.


You see, UX and UI design are interdependent, complementary disciplines. It would be unfair to declare one superior to the other. And when it comes to design projects, both should be given equal merit.


If you have a web, application or software design project in the pipeline and would like more information on how we can help, please email communications@softwaredesign.ie or call 01 522 7690.