UI vs UX Design (an overview)

Jesse Showalter
9 min readNov 11, 2018


What’s the difference between UI Design and UX Design? Are they the same thing? Are they different things? Which one’s right for you? How do you learn it and what the heck are they?

UX stands for user experience design and UI stands for user interface design. They’re both design disciplines and they’re related to one another although they are very very different in their nature. UX design is a little bit more analytical and UI design is a little bit more visual and more closely related to something like graphic design. Though the two are similar in some ways they are also very very different. You will find them usually working together inevitably on the same team or the same person having to wear both hats, but they do use different tools, different skills, and they approach the problem in a different way.

If you’re still confused, let me break it down with an analogy like this.

A user interface without a user experience is like a painter, just throwing paint randomly at the canvas, hoping that it looks good.

A user experience without a user interface is like a sculpture’s frame that doesn’t have anything to cover it and actually define its purpose.

UX Design

Okay, so let’s start with user experience design. What is user experience design? Insert Cheap definition 👇🏼

User Experience Design UX or UXD is the process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product.

Okay, so let’s look like define that in more layman’s terms. User experience design is making something more enjoyable and usable between the product, (whether that’s a phone or a table or a website) and the user who is using it. I’m sitting on a chair right now and somebody had to put thought into how it would be a better experience for me to sit in this chair.

One of My Fav Books

I really feel like the term user experience design was adopted by the tech community in the 90’s, when Don Norman who’s a famous author of one of my favorite books called the “Design of Everyday Things.”

He started referring to user experience design as relating to companies and their products, and that was kind of during the digital boom. So, it makes sense that nowadays when we talk about user experience design, it’s mainly spoken about within the tech industries of websites and applications (not always bu mainly). Although it’s been adopted by the tech community, it has a larger place in design as a whole.


Ok. So, what does a user experience designer do? What are the responsibilities of a UX designer? A large role of the UX designer is strategy and content. Content is king on the web and so strategizing how that content is applied and how it’s received and interacted with best plays a big role for user experience designers. User experience design is a user first kind of discipline where we think about the user, always thinking about the user.

A UX designer would do

  • competitor analysis
  • a customer analysis
  • overall content structure
  • strategy
  • help developing the content so it best fits the user.

I think other big responsibilities of a UX designer would also be

  • wire framing
  • prototyping

All of those things are in the realm of user experience designer, because they’re trying to find what structure works the best so that a user can receive or take in that content as needed.

I think a good UX designer is also really concerned with the execution , feedback and analytics of the product. So the UX designer coordinates with the UI designer/Visual designer. They also coordinate with the developers to make sure everything is being implemented smoothly.

A UX designers job is never really done, because a project has a life of it’s own, and as it lives and breathes and works in the real world. People are experiencing it interacting with it and they have opinions with it and that might change dependent on time, or user base, and so they’re constantly looking to make sure that that thing is a well-oiled machine. They’re almost like a mechanic after the car leaves the shop. They’re there to make sure that it stays on track depending on what type of roads you’re driving on.

Ultimately the goal is to connect the businesses needs to the users need. If the users needs are to take in content, to purchase some sneakers, to book a reservation… The user experience designers making sure the shoes that are being promoting are easily accessible and the experience of purchasing is a delightful one.

It’s a complicated role

  • It’s Part designer
  • Part strategist
  • Part marketer
  • Part analytical investigator
  • and Part QA Tester

It’s a really interesting role to play and it’s definitely not just visual based. It’s much more analytical and “puzzly”. All design is coming up with solutions to problems, this is just a different facet of that discipline.

How do you know that you’re a good fit to do user experience design?

How do you know that this is something that would interest you, and you should pursue?

  1. If you’re a problem solver I think user experience design could be for you
  2. If you’re a little bit more cognitive I think user experience can be for you
  3. If you’re more analytical and you’re interested in what people are thinking and feeling while they’re doing something (almost psychological in nature) then maybe it’s a little bit more for you
  4. If you’re more inclined to make something more usable and feel good rather than look visually pleasing then maybe it’s for you.

Where do you learn it?

A lot of times there will be really good boot camps in your area if you live in a larger city. If not there’s lots of stuff online that you can look up and you can take UX design courses. I think a good place to start would be to read Don Norman’s design of everyday things, and then if you’re interested in UX design specifically in the tech space or website design I think don’t make me think by Steve Krug is there another really good place to start so check those out.

Is UX Design a viable career for you to pursue?

When it comes to a job and making an income in user experience design it’s going to require that you do more than just dabble in user experience design. If you want to be nothing but a user experience designer you will have to be very proficient in UX. It’s more likely that you’ll get a job designing in some other way (whether that be graphic design or web design or interface design) and also find yourself using some of those UX skills.

The compensation for something like a UI designer or web designer or a UX designer is probably fairly similar but that depends on your experience what is common in your area. A little bit of research will take you a long way, unfortunately I just cannot give you the best answer with that many variables.

User Interface Design

Where user experience design is all about the user experiencing the product and having a delightful interaction with it. User Interface Design is its visual cousin so to speak. UI Design is all about the look and feel and the interaction and the presentation of the product itself. Some of you might be saying…

doesn’t that help me have a better user experience?

Yes…yes it does, and that’s why there’s some crossover and some gray area in these two but UI design is more closely related to the visual communication arts like graphic design (as in picking colors and typography and making things really beautiful and aesthetically pleasing).

If you look at job posts for UI designers the responsibilities that you’ll find they are more related to graphic design to web design to maybe even branding design and also at times front-end development because having a good understanding of code can help you to design for the medium more effectively.

User Interface Design is almost completely spoken about in the digital kind of sphere nowadays although there is such a thing as interface designers for things like cockpits inside of airplanes, but mostly it’s used under the umbrella of digital design nowadays (like websites and applications).

A UI Designers purpose is to receive all of the needs and the structure and content and put that into an attractive and aesthetically pleasing platform to be received by users. Let me make this even simpler…

A UX Designer is gonna pass off the skeleton, and the UI Designer is gonna put on the skin.

What responsibilities does a UI designer have?

  • Look and feel
  • Design research (competitive analysis)
  • Wireframes
  • High Res Mockups
  • Design Deliverables ready for pass off

Numero uno and the biggest bread-and-butter is the look and feel of the product. A UI Designer will do a good competitive analysis of what’s going on in that same market (What’s the standard? What’s a good look and feel).

He/She is gonna do all the design research to make sure that the product makes sense (not designing a children’s application that looks like a blog for a law firm)

Then that designers gonna do all of the graphic and visual design for the project. If it’s an interface for an application or a website we’re talking

  • color palette
  • typography
  • buttons
  • interactions
  • animation
  • prototyping

A UI designer also adapts their designs to fit every screen size and resolution so whether the website design is being viewed on a desktop or a mobile device it will look good in all of those different screen sizes.

Also a good UI designer is responsible for interacting with the developer and making sure that things look and feel and work the way that they should. This is when the development and the UX and the UI team all come together to make sure the project is looking and functioning as planned.

A UI designer is not necessarily a branding designer although they are closely tied to the brand of a company or product. They need to implement that brand through the design of the interface. So if it’s Bed Bath and Beyond they need to make sure that Bed Bath and Beyond mobile website absolutely expresses what Bed Bath & Beyond is all about.

So how do you learn UI design?

Similar to UX design there’s probably some great boot camps in your area if you’re near a large city if you’re not in your large city then there’s plenty of resources online I would say even more resources to learn UI design and visual design then there actually is for something like user experience design.

Is it a good paying job?

There’s lots of great jobs especially in the tech industry for great User Interface Designers. I would say that the pay is commensurate with your experience (sorry to sound like a job application). If you’re new to the whole thing, you might be able to get an internship and then maybe a junior designer position after which you can move your way up.

If you’re transitioning over from Web Design or even more traditional Print Design you might want to take a few courses and do a little bit of brushing up and studying on the best practices of user interface design and spend some time honing that craft because it is very very different (although it uses a lot of those basic design principles which I just love and think are just the best thing ever)


So there is some Similarities between UI design and UX design but also some serious differences. One is more cognitive and more analytical while the other is more visual and aesthetically driven.

I hope that helps to kind of differentiate and make sense of the two and hopefully help you out if you’re looking into the two fields and figuring out which one is right for you. I hope you’re making amazing things and I’ll talk to you guys next time.


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Jesse Showalter

Digital Creative, Pixel Master, Code Warrior, Speaker, Writer, Youtuber.