There’s a lot of talk about “user experience” today, but I’m not sure we’re all talking about the same thing. I often find myself midway into a conversation about UX, only to realize that some participants are really talking about UI, or user interface. In actuality, while the two are related, and both are important, they really mean two different things.

The UI, from my perspective, is what you see when you first encounter something you’re about to use, whether that’s a piece of exercise equipment, a car, a toothbrush or a software application. When you look at a bicycle, for instance, UI encompasses the visuals of the frame color, pedal width and handlebar grips. From a software standpoint, it’s the fonts, colors, icons, animations, and other elements on the screen.

When we talk about UX, the conversation broadens to discuss not just the interface but also the entire experience of interacting with the product or service. On a bike, it’s the difference between test-riding the bike outside the store, and riding it on a mountain trail with friends on a brisk fall day, when the experience is imbued with emotion and excitement, and the bike’s interface elements can really show their stuff.

In the software world, it’s the difference between admiring a clean, compelling design and actually using it to get your job done. You might not be so impressed with that design if you had to click 12 times to complete a simple task. So, while UI addresses how a product looks or how appealing the interface is, UX is about how the user feels when using the the product, service or system. In short, UI is about the look, but UX is about functionality and satisfaction.

UX_vs_UI_blog_image_adi.png

Consider the simple act of drinking coffee. You can brew a cup at home for pennies, or buy a cup on the go for $1. But if you’re like the 60 million people per week who get their coffee from Starbucks, you can also pay $4 cup, while also soaking in the ambience and free Wifi. Essentially, the closer you get to provide an experience, the higher people will value it.

That’s why UX matters. A great user experience, whether at a coffee shop or in the workplace, equals higher value, which results in higher satisfaction. Higher satisfaction leads to loyalty and revenues (with customers) and cost savings and productivity gains (with employees). A great UI can lead to a great experience, but it takes an understanding of the human element to reach the ultimate goal of a really great UX.

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16 Comments

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  1. Joao Sousa

    Simplest way is to think of omnichannel. UI relates to a particular user interface, UX takes into account The cohesion of The experience across channels.

    You can have two great UIs but if information is not consistent, if the user needs to input The same thing twice, The UX is terrible.

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  2. Sergio Guerrero

    Adi,

    what a great explanation about the difference between two very important things in our lives. I had the opportunity to have to express this to a client who didn’t realize how important their UI wouldn’t be the same without the UX. I used a very similar example of cutting your own hair vs going to the barbershop. I like your visual here where you have ingredients, a dish, and the entire experience with a waiter taking an order.

    very well explained!

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  3. Mark Green

    Excellent explanation.

    So a great UI doesn’t automatically mean a great UX.

    I remember as a developer (many years ago now), never having to think too much about the UX. I’d just design a great UI to get the basic job done then show the users, who were asked to sign it off on the basis of how it looked, not felt. Users were not too demanding and were glad of any application to help them in their job and would rarely look for an experience. How times have changed.

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  4. Dwayne DeSylvia

    Great blog Adi.  I’m from Colorado and an off-road fan so I always use this example in my UX overviews:

         USER INTERFACE                              USER EXPERIENCE

    UI2.png          UX2.png

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  5. Sai Kiran Durgumahanti

    Nice blog Adi.

    It becomes all the more important from a developer’s perspective to make sure things are not just ‘put’ into place in cooking up a ‘usable’ UI for the customer, but also the User Experience is factored in bringing out the end product.

    Regards,

    Sai Kiran.

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  6. Patrick46 Lake

    Yes, UX and UI are pretty different concepts. Also, I could add, that UX may require even more creativity than UI. They’re in charge of creating an app concept from scratch. In its turn, the UI designer only has to work out the visible part of the application on the basis of a ready-made wireframe. Here is a good article about “How UX and UI fit together” – https://www.cleveroad.com/blog/debunking-stereotypes-about-the-identity-of-ui-and-ux-design

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