Differences between UX and UI

Hello again.

Can we talk about the term user experience design? It is rapidly becoming one of the most tortured, twisted titles in the world of design, and enough is enough.

It leaves clients confused, UI designers undervalued, and makes moving into UX design unnecessarily complicated.

The lack of clarity over the role of UI and UX designers is so damaging that I’m toying with the idea of running an online workshop on how to transition from UI design to UX. What do you think? Is it worth doing? Would you pay £250 for 6 hours of training helping you transition into UX design? If so, let me know by clicking here.

My problems with the way UX design is presented are threefold.

  • UX and UI design are often referred to as if they are the same thing.
  • UX design is nothing like the way it is usually described.
  • UX design is often treated as superior in some way to UI design.

Let me unpack these a little more.

UI Design and UX Design Are Not the Same

If I see one more job advertisement for UI/UX designer, I swear somebody will get punched. I trained as a UI designer and did the role for probably over half of my 27-year career. I am now a UX consultant. Yet, despite all those years of experience in both roles, there is no way I could fulfill both roles effectively. You can’t be a great UI designer and a great UX designer. That is because they are two different jobs and you cannot be skilled in both!

The problem is that many people (especially employers) don’t understand what a UX designer is, which brings me to my second problem.

UX Design Isn’t Just Wireframing, Workshops, Testing, and Research.

So many people think that UX design is just a set of methodologies that sit on top of the work of a UI designer. That UX design means you do some upfront user research, run some workshops with lots of post-it notes, and test a few wireframes before producing the final design.

Yes, a UX designer does those things. However, suggesting that this makes you a UX designer is like saying I am a surgeon because I wear a mask and wash my hands! Yes, a surgeon does those things, but so do a lot of people!

A good UI designer will produce wireframes, care about user research and test their designs. These are not exclusive tools of a UX designer.

While a UI designer is a specialist in the interface, a UX designer has a broader remit. They care about the copy, the site performance, the supporting email marketing, the PPC campaigns, the SEO, and every other aspect that forms the user experience.

Unfortunately, we talk about UX designers, and many people associate the word design with solely visual design. That means copywriting, marketing, psychology, research, business, and numerous other areas a UX designer has to be experienced in is not seen as ‘design.’ That is why I call myself a UX consultant.

This limited vision of design is why UX design has become seen as simply a more advanced or better version of UI design, and that is, to be quite frank, insulting to UI designers!

UX Design Is Not Better Than UI Design

Perhaps you recognize these two images that regularly do the rounds explaining UX and UI design differences. I hate these images because they are bollocks!

These images imply UX design is simply better UI design and that is not true. UX is a completely different role.

Think about the implication here. According to these images, UI design is bad design, and UX design is good design. That is not true!

A UI designer will consider user behavior to ensure the path is in the right place. A UI designer will also think about users’ pain points when designing a ketchup bottle. In fact, a good UI designer will put more thought into the interfaces they create than a UX designer will because that is their specialty! As a UX designer, I cannot match their depth of knowledge.

It All Leads to Chaos

The result of all these myths around the role of UX design is chaos. Designers feel they have to become a UX designer to be seen as an expert. Job descriptions are impossible to live up to, and many call themselves UX designers when they are not (and probably wouldn’t want to be)!

Don’t get me wrong. Being a UX designer (or consultant) is amazingly rewarding, and I would never go back. But it is not for everybody. However, if you would be interested in transitioning into UX design, let me know, and I might put together a workshop to share with you how I made the switch.


Paul Boag
Boagworks Boagworld