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UX vs. UI: What is the Difference?

UX stands for User Experience and UI stands for User Interface. So what's the difference between these concepts and how are they related in the tech industry? We'll answer these questions and more in this comparison post.
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Art, technology, and design all intersect at careers in the User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) fields. Professionals in these roles are behind the beautiful and intuitive design and core user functionality of the websites, apps, and digital products we use every day. Although UI and UX are often used interchangeably, the role of a UX Designer versus that of a UI Designer differs in several material ways.

The UX Designer focuses on the experience a user has with a product or service, with an emphasis on research, strategy, and understanding the user journey

The UI Designer is responsible for the visual and aesthetic aspects of a product, with a focus on interface, typography, colors, and design decisions.

Here’s a table breaking down the primary functionalities of both roles:

 User Experience (UX) DesignUser Interface (UI) Design
ApplicationPhysical and Digital ProductsDigital Products
FocusAll-encompassing experience: from user’s first to last contactVisual Touchpoints that user interacts with
CreatesStructural design solutions removes barriers to pain pointsVisual interactive elements: buttons, icons, typography, responsive design and more
Overall GoalAnticipate Users NeedsAnticipate Users Needs
ResultsProducts that delight users with their effectivenessProducts that delight users aesthetically

As you can see, UX and UI Designers work closely together with the same end goal in mind: delighting users with amazing products. These roles must work in tandem if a digital product has any hopes to be functional and successful. Designers collaborate at each step of the process—handing off responsibilities at critical junctures of the product life cycle like research, development, prototyping, and testing. 

In this article, we’re breaking down the key skills and responsibilities of professionals in the UX and UI spaces. Learn the industry tools to master and the salary you can expect in these varied and fulfilling roles.

 

What is User Experience Design (UX)?

User Experience Designers are responsible for considering a product from start to finish. This refers to both the product lifecycle—from conception to launch—as well as all the ways a user will ultimately interact with it. This includes all elements of the product: performance, design, accessibility, comfort, and utility. Essentially, their role is to answer the multi-pronged question: “what drives people to think, act, and feel the way they do when using our products?”

The answers to these questions are derived using a variety of scientific methods and tools. UX Professionals start at the planning and research stage, utilizing quantitative and qualitative methods to determine what user problems need to be solved. This information-gathering stage might use tools like A/B testing, focus groups, or surveys to collect data-driven insights. Oftentimes, within the research and development phase, the UX team creates personas that reflect the wants, needs, and attitudes of the average user and provide real-life context for designers as they build the product.

Next, comes creating the user flow. As the team moves closer to the final product, UX Designers play a key role in mocking up wireframes and prototypes. Continued testing leads to multiple design iterations and close coordination with the UI team to remove pain points. Once a product is released, the UX team either oversees updates and implements user feedback or might move on to the next project in their portfolio. 

So, what does this look like in action? Think about the last time you purchased an item online. Were you able to find what you needed quickly and easily? While clicking around the webpage, did you add an item to a cart and have it shipped to your home? What about social media apps—have you ever taken an image, edited it in the app, and uploaded it to your feed? If you’ve completed these experiences seamlessly and with pleasure, thank a UX Designer! 

 

Top Skills and Tools Needed for a UX Career

A career in UX could mean using a different skill set and area of the brain each day. These individuals work cross-functionally with specialists in design, marketing, development, and more. People in these roles must master a full suite of creative and technical skills.

Critical hard and soft skills for UX Designers include:

  • Ability to conduct qualitative and quantitative research, including familiarity with attitudinal and behavioral research methods
  • Owning budgets and timelines for research projects and development
  • Recruiting research participants and conducting a wide range of studies
  • Understanding and applying the practices of Information Architecture and Design Thinking 
  • Working with industry-standard prototyping and wireframing tools, like InVision and the Adobe Creative Suite 
  • User and usability testing
  • Project management and business acumen skills
  • Ability to present to stakeholders and work alongside cross-functional teams

UX Career Salaries

The many hats of this highly skilled position often come with a competitive salary offer. As companies large and small ramp up their mobile app and web efforts, demand is expected to remain high for UX specialists. CNNMoney listed the position among its 100 Best Jobs in America list, with a predicted 19 percent growth rate by the year 2027.

Here’s a breakdown of average salaries for job titles within the UX world from Indeed.com:

 

Job TitleAverage U.S. Salary
UX Designer$89,321
UX Manager$88,060
UX Researcher$136,858
Information Architect$134,254
Product Manager$95,534

What is User Interface Design (UI)?

Unlike UX, the practice of User Interface Design focuses solely on digital products and how they can be made more visually and aesthetically appealing. While some might group the process of UI under UX, the field encompasses its own unique set of responsibilities and expertise. With a user-centric approach, UI specialists design product interfaces that contribute to a positive overall experience.

The primary focus of the job is on any element a user might physically interact with. Think of things like typography, color schemes, animations, and any interactive features, like buttons, icons, or search bars. Alongside graphic designers, they play a major role in crafting the look and feel of products, while incorporating all branding elements. Utilizing findings from the UX Team, UI Designers also implement user best practices and ensure products are adaptable to all devices, from phones to computers to tablets. 

 

Top Skills and Tools Needed for a UI Career

An eye for great design and a passion for creating an excellent user experience are precursors for any budding UI Designers. But on top of those, here are some of the most vital hard and soft skills any professional in these roles should have:

  • Ability to create style guides, pattern libraries, and components to create a consistent visual look
  • Visual branding skills: typography, color theory, graphic development
  • Comprehensive understanding of design process including storylining, UI prototyping, and testing
  • Mastery of user-centric design thinking and responsive design principles
  • Knowledge of animation and interactivity and the ability to adapt designs across devices and operating systems.
  • Presentation and communication skills 

UI Career Salaries

The design world is rapidly evolving as jobs move from the print and newspaper space into the digital world. This is great news for UI specialists, who have seen their position increase in demand over the past several years. 

Here’s a breakdown of average salaries for job titles within the UI world from Indeed.com

 

Job TitleAverage U.S. Salary
UI Designer$78,739
UI Architect$104,736
Product Designer$98,321
Graphic Designer$50,329
UI Developer$102,911

Which Path is Right For You?

When it comes to UX and UI design, you can’t have one without the other. A beautiful website is great, but users will quickly click out if they can’t figure out the navigation. On the other hand, an intuitive experience means nothing if those it’s designed for can’t read the text or buttons don’t function properly. The two practices simply must align.

So which path is right for you? Ask yourself what you’re naturally good at and how you enjoy spending your time. If you lean more towards the creative side, with an eye for aesthetics, UI might be for you. If spending days immersed in research and presentations sounds more interesting, then UX could be your calling. 

Of course, roles are not always so clear-cut in the real world. This is good news for those who want to test out a little bit of both in their profession. Many organizations will seek to fill positions with candidates who possess an understanding of both UX and UI. Both jobs require at least some knowledge of design thinking, user research, and product design. There’s a good chance you could find overlap, especially among smaller companies.

One of the best ways to decide on your professional path is through education. Start by exploring the wide variety of free courses and video tutorials available online to beginners. Then, you might consider attending a UX/UI Bootcamp. These programs teach students the core components of both subject areas and allow them to build a portfolio of real-world projects that can help them identify areas of strength and land them their next role. Bootcamps can often be taken on a part-time or fully online basis, providing an opportunity to make a career pivot efficiently and at a relatively low cost. 

Beginner a Career as a UX or UI Specialist

There’s never been a better time to enter the field of UX and UI, as more opportunities than ever present themselves across a wide array of industries. Building out your professional skillset and going through the job application process can be lengthy and overwhelming, but luckily, we’re here to help! Check out a sampling of the resources for budding UX or UI designers available in our resources section:

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