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UX and UI design: What’s The Difference?

UX and UI are acronyms that are often used together. As a result, some people think they refer to the same or similar areas of design. This is not true. While UX and UI are complementary, they differ in many ways. So what do they mean, and where does usability fit in?

UX and UI design: What’s The Difference?
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What is UX design?

UX stands for user experience. In practice, it is the feeling users have when interacting with a particular digital product, such as a website or application.

UX design is a diverse discipline that draws from many different fields, including psychology, marketing, market research, design, business and technology. It combines all these and tries to create an appealing and practical result for the customer.

UX design can be applied to both digital and physical products. However, it is often combined with website design. A well-done UX design will ensure a clear website where customers can find what they need in minutes. As a result, they are less likely to leave and not complete their purchase.

The term “user experience” dates back to the 1990s. It was coined by Donald Norman, a cognitive scientist at Apple.

Interestingly, however, the first hints of UX can be traced back to the 1950s, when the American industrial engineer Henry Dreyfuss appeared on the scene. He became famous for designing machines and improving their usability. His ideas aimed to make individual products serve people well and be as easy to use as possible.

Walt Disney was also responsible for a significant shift in UX design. Experts consider him the first UX designer. He was obsessed with creating magical, immersive, and perfect user experiences in his fairy tales.

Let’s not forget the 1970s, which ushered in the era of personal computing. UX design began to expand, but it didn’t have a name. It wasn’t until Donald Norman gave it a name.

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Key principles of UX design

When you say “good UX design”, everyone thinks of something different. That’s why there are a few key principles that clearly define it.

  1. Always put the user first

UX design prioritises the user. This may sound simple and obvious, but due to various factors, such as the client’s perception, it can be forgotten by the designer.

An excellent UX design serves the users and helps them solve their problems in the easiest and fastest way. An e-shop is a clean website where the products are divided into a few main categories. There is a search bar and, of course, a simple payment process.

The UX design should not create additional problems. Otherwise, it may discourage a person from buying or browsing the site and cause them to miss out.

  1. Simplicity, hierarchy and consistency are key

Simplicity, hierarchy and consistency allow users to find what they need in seconds and do what they came for. Each of these features does this differently:

  • Simplicity – a site doesn’t have to have the most original design to be easy for a user to navigate. Simplicity is more about limiting unnecessary elements and steps that complicate the user experience.
  • Hierarchy – the appropriate placement of colours, fonts and other elements will ensure that users can navigate the site easily. They will find everything they need very quickly, automatically increasing their chances of making purchases, subscribing, etc.
  • Consistency – using the same colours, fonts, and other branding-related elements across all the platforms you use to communicate with the user also enhances and encourages the user experience.
  1. Functionality first, design second

UX design aims to make individual activities, such as finding products or shopping, easier for users. While the look and feel of a digital product are important, functionality always comes first.

  1. Inspiration should come from the familiar

Many UX designers often create unconventional and over-the-top products that people do not know what to expect. This creates unnecessary obstacles for them, eventually leading them to abandon the app or website.

In other words, good UX design should be based on established design frameworks. Users should know these frameworks and be able to navigate them easily.

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What does UX design solve?

UX design covers several areas, including:

  • Interaction design – also known as IxD, is the process of discovering how a person interacts with a product to simplify the process and provide the best experience. In addition, interaction design is about observing how the product behaves when the other party uses it, that is, what feedback it provides and how a person might react.
  • User research – you can use it to understand users and discover their problems. Based on this information, you can design effective solutions to adapt your product to make it easy to use and practical.
  • Information architecture – is used to help users navigate the products and information you provide. In particular, it focuses on the efficient organisation and structuring of content.
  • Web adaptability – ensures that the user interface displays well on various devices, from desktop to tablet to mobile.
  • Content – the content on the site is also important for UX. Articles, product descriptions and other text significantly impact the user’s experience. So, it is important to check that the text is appropriate for the location, relates to images or other visuals, and is relevant.
  • Creating personas – UX designers can use the information they gather to create personas for which they then design websites, apps and other products.
  • Other areas – UX encompasses dozens of different areas, such as usability, accessibility and virtual reality.

Expert advice

In UX and AI, a persona is a character that represents a particular group of people’s needs, goals, and behaviours. It helps to understand users and create more valuable and better content.

What is AI design?

UI is short for “user interface”. This area of design focuses on the aesthetics of a product and its graphics. UI includes everything you see on a website or application, such as images, text, banners, buttons, etc.

UI is vital because it can persuade users to stay on the site and make a purchase. It also significantly influences UX because it can improve it. A beautiful and functional site will make people feel much better than a cluttered one where one element is layered on top of another and doesn’t relate to the whole.

The history of UI began in the 1970s with the introduction of the Xerox Alto computer, the first to have a sophisticated user interface. This is also known as a graphical user interface or GUI.

The Xerox computer had overlapping windows, pop-up menus, and icons or buttons for each function, which meant it could be used by people with no special IT training.

This change made computers accessible to a broader range of people and improved the overall user experience.

Types of UI design

UI design has a few basic types, which are:

  • Graphical User Interface (GUI) – is one of the most common types of interface used to create websites and applications. It allows users to interact through handy icons and buttons they click with a mouse or trackpad. A good example of a GUI is the home screen or desktop.
  • Voice user interface (VUI) – also known as speech user interface. Its job is to recognise speech in order to understand voice commands. It is currently widely used. Examples of VUIs are popular voice assistants such as Siri, Google Home, or Amazon’s Alexa.
  • Menu-driven interface – We can also refer to this as a menu-driven interface. Within it, users interact with a program or system through a series of menus. These menus are options or commands selected using a pointer, touch screen or keyboard. Menu-driven interfaces can be found in ATMs, for example.
  • Command line interface – is a text-based interface where you type commands. The commands then interact with the operating system. This interface type was prevalent in the past, but you will still encounter it today, for example, when using Node.js.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) – Virtual reality creates the illusion of the real world. It’s still in its infancy but developing quite rapidly, so you’ll be seeing it more and more as an AI designer.

Did you know…?

The voice UI was used by AI designers long before the voice assistant boom. They used it to optimise websites for people with disabilities.

Key AI principles

There are a few key principles that characterise good quality AI. These are:

Simplicity

This is the same as UX. A simple UI design makes it easy for users to navigate a website or app so they can focus on what they’re there for.

A great example of a simple UI is Google Home. You will find only the search bar, buttons, and some extra information.

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Consistency

Using elements that are the same or similar in some way makes it easier for users to get used to the design and anticipate what will be on the next subpage. This speeds up the purchase of products or services, for example.

The Facebook website is a good example of consistency. The top bar and the sidebar are very similar and always present, giving users quick access to different sections, no matter where they are.

Visual hierarchy

This is where the UI and UX come together. By arranging elements correctly, you can direct users’ attention and make navigating the site or application easier. You can also use hierarchy to highlight specific information and ensure visitors don’t miss it. In the case of an e-shop, this might mean placing discounted products at the top of the main page.

Feedback

Users need immediate feedback when interacting with elements of a website or application. This gives them a sense of control and reassures them that what they do has an effect.

Feedback can be in the form of visual or audio cues. Some apps, such as Messenger, even use a combination of the two.

Accessibility

Good AI should also ensure accessibility so that a person with a disability can use the digital product.

Accessibility should include factors such as adjusting colour contrast or font size. In addition, consider incorporating voice reading or keyboard navigation into the website or app.

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Clarity

This is about presenting information in a clear way that your target audience can understand. If you have an e-shop or a website aimed at the general public, opt for simple language, easy-to-read fonts and colours that don’t get in the way of browsing the content. A light background with a dark font is ideal.

Aesthetics and visual appeal

AI focuses mainly on the look and feel of the product, which significantly impacts how a person feels when using it. Therefore, as a UI designer, you will be concerned with creating an attractive, engaging, appealing interface that aligns with the brand or its branding.

Customisability

This point focuses on adapting the website and app to different screen sizes. This is a key feature of AI design in today’s world, where people use various devices, from mobile phones to tablets to computers.

Did you know…?

The ability of a website or app to adapt to different screens is also called “responsiveness”?

Elements of UI design

UI design works with several elements. The most common ones you will come across are:

  • Colours – there is no need to overdo it. If you combine them, use similar shades to avoid creating aggressive contrasts.
  • Font – it needs to be legible so it doesn’t make it difficult for people to interact with the app. Feel free to use more than one within the UI design. However, make sure that all the fonts you choose work together.
  • Images can be photos, various graphic elements, or infographics. They enhance a website or other digital product and provide additional information.
  • Animations and effects – these are an interesting addition to a website or application and can draw attention to specific information. However, be careful not to make them distracting and unpleasant when choosing them.
  • Minor graphic elements – these include buttons and forms that break up text, attract attention, and make the page easier to navigate.

What is the focus of UI design?

The job description of a UI designer typically includes:

  • Analysing users and their preferences
  • Finding out how users feel about the products (website, application, etc.)
  • Prototyping user interfaces
  • Creating and using interactive elements and animations
  • Adapting the product for all screen sizes
  • Implementing design solutions

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The differences between UX and UI design

The main difference between UX and UI design is that UX focuses on the user’s overall experience when interacting with a product. Conversely, UI is all about visually presenting a website, application or other interface.

UX also looks for and solves people’s problems when using the product. UI then builds on the UX solutions and tries to make them aesthetically pleasing, exciting and intuitive.

Throughout the design process, UX comes first. The UI comes next once the designer has identified the problems and devised solutions.

And remember that you don’t have to use UX only in the digital realm. It also has its place in the design of physical products. On the other hand, UI only applies to the digital world, i.e. websites, mobile apps and so on.

Differences between UX and UI designers

The skills required of a UX and UI designer are minimally different. Both need to collaborate, communicate and be open to new ideas. They should also be comfortable researching user behaviour and creating and testing prototypes.

Some differences include the fact that a UX designer should be a critical thinker and understand information architecture. A UI designer, on the other hand, must have a creative mindset and knowledge of responsive design.

A UX designer focuses more on usability and practicality, while a UI designer focuses on interactivity and branding features (fonts, colours, etc.).

UX and UI design tools

As a UX and UI designer, you have several tools to speed up and streamline the entire process and ensure accurate results. Some of the most popular include:

  • Figma – a powerful tool you can use for both UX and UI. It is a cloud-based platform that enables real-time team collaboration and has dozens of features for designing, testing and prototyping designs.
  • Adobe XD is ideal for design and prototyping and can be easily extended with other Adobe tools. Benefits include ease of use, high performance, clarity, and real-time collaboration.
  • Maze – An advanced user experience testing tool that helps you gather quantitative and qualitative data about your users. It’s especially useful when you need quick feedback to validate the designs you’re about to implement.
  • Sketch – a tool designed specifically for the MacOS operating system. It focuses primarily on vector graphics but has dozens of other features. You can also easily integrate it with platforms such as InVision, Zeplin, or Abstract.
  • Webflow – a popular tool for web design and development. It allows you to create responsive and visually appealing websites without writing any code. Key benefits include a visual editor with intuitive drag-and-drop functionality, tools for creating engaging animations and fast, secure hosting.
  • InVision – another advanced tool for prototyping and collaboration. It has dozens of features that allow you to use it throughout the design process – from the initial concept to the final product. InVision is simple to use, easy to understand, and customisable to suit your needs.

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What is usability?

It is a characteristic that describes how a person can use a product or service to achieve their goal. Many people often confuse it with UX design because it falls under that umbrella. However, they are not the same thing.

The difference between the two concepts is that UX is a complex whole that focuses on the user’s entire interaction with the product. Usability, on the other hand, focuses only on whether the product is easy for a person to use and whether it meets their expectations.

A design’s usability level is based on how its features meet people’s needs. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, this feature is the second most important within UX and UI, just after usability. So don’t take it lightly.

The essential elements of usability

Usability is characterised by several essential elements, such as:

  • Efficiency – a design that meets usability requirements and allows users to perform individual tasks easily, quickly, and without obstacles.
  • Engagement – usability motivates people to enjoy using a digital product and return to it regularly.
  • Error tolerance – the user interface should be clear so that the user makes as few mistakes as possible. These can prolong the process of buying or using an application and lead to frustration.
  • Memorability – usability makes it easy and quick for a person to learn how to use a system, website or application. This way, when they return, they will have no problem making a quick purchase or using some of the features.
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