Yes, we’ve all seen these titles tossed around in the web, making good content for sarcastic tweets and humorous memes, but “UX vs. UI” is still an unanswered topic.
On one side, the trend to joke about this topic can help a developer or designer rant to their virtual audience. Oh, there’s also a wholeTumblr page dedicated to the topic. But on the other hand, this storm of confusion about UX and UI may cause further intimidation and frustration in beginners, and that’s a pity considering the relatively low barriers to entry. So let’s help each other out and clear up some of this mess.
UI is the acronym for User Interface. It’s what users interact with, what they see, feel, or hear when engaging with a software or website. It’s the beautiful surface layer – the controls. Currently, due to the nature of devices with are engaging with, UI design largely has to with visuals, even though voice and writing are gaining popularity due to the rise of voice assistants and chats.
UX is for User eXperience. It’s a general term which includes every touch point a user has with the product. When talking about a digital product, this doesn’t just mean the front-end of the product, it encompasses customer service, branding, the whole technical setup, communication and so on. UI is a subdiscipline of UX, therefore a UX designer is by nature also a UI designer. All those job listings with UX/UI designer is redundant, as every UX designer must have a specific field of work, the contrary is rare.
The issue with UX/UI designers
There are three main problems with the title:
- It’s confusing for all parties – developers, designers, employers, etc. But, everyone is doing it and the practice is becoming increasingly popular, so it’s understandable it enhances one’s title and everyone wants to look like they have a wider skill set.
- It perpetuates a made up career path when “UI designer” doesn’t seem like enough anymore. There’s nothing more to a “UX/UI” designer versus a “UI” designer.
- It undermines the importance of “UX design,” everyone’s total work.
UX vs. UI
To put it simply, the user interface is the outer layer of the product, where a user engages with the program. Although this layer is very important, it’s still only a layer of the whole user experience package, which including multiple areas.
The stream of memes pitting UI and UX against each other is not helpful in clearing the confusion and only make UI designers’ work seem worthless since users use the product in a whole other way. Designer Sebastian de With expresses the frustration towards these memes in his tweet.
When did UX gain popularity?
UI is an older term, used since the earliest days of programming, while UX gained momentum later on.
UX became widely known in the mid-1990s due to Don Normal, one of the initial founders of the Nielsen Norman Group and author of the book “The Design of Everyday Things”. UX, since the start, had a well-defined meaning, Mr. Norman even releasing a whole video explaining the specifics of the issue.
When referring to interfaces, we typically speak of graphical user interfaces or GUIs. Virtually all devices and programs today are engaged with by users within a specific set of models: windows, navigation bars, buttons, etc.
But UI and GUI have been used almost synonymously, as users today don’t have to interact with a code-based software in their everyday use. But, this doesn’t mean UI is still just GUI.
Now, the whole UI vs. UX topic is not hurting anyone and can be good fun at times, as long as it isn’t taken too far. It’s good to know one’s title within a company, but this shouldn’t prevent departments from helping each other out and for designers to contribute to areas outside their own.