UX vs. UI: the differences & application in your design

User Interface design & User Experience design, for most people, sound like “web design” and “web design”. At first sight, they look very similar, and almost nobody knows the difference. However, if you look at them closely, there are indeed differences to point out. Both have their own charms and qualities, but one can not do the job without the other.

In our today’s digital world, the competition is tremendous. Web designers have to perform magic and sell their soul to the devil, just to stay on top of the game, yet, clever developers know, that a big part of success lies in super-forces like UX and UI design.

Both disciplines sound very ‘2018’ and can undoubtedly take your product to a higher level. But, although the terms are often used interchangeably, the concepts that lie behind them are not quite the same, so it’s high time to find answers to some pressing questions:

  • What exactly do UI and UX design mean?
  • What are the differences?
  • Why are they relevant to the development of your product?
  • How can you apply them in your design process?

UI: The digital lick of paint

The UI of a website is, in fact, the point where the offered products/services and the potential customer (who would like to know more about it) — meet. It is an instrument with which you can present all the information you want to convey in bite-sized chunks. A “beautiful” interface is stimulating, holds the attention and invites the visitor to take action; after all, it is often the first (and sometimes the only) impression that he gets from your company.

The “wow” factor

UI design takes place in the foreground, is visible to the user and revolves around the “wow factor”. Sometimes, its’ charm is in the small details, such as the shape of a button or a breathtaking choice of typography. In any case, the style has to fit in with what you want to convey as a company. Are you a pioneer in technology? Then a sleek design is something for you. Do you organize neighborhood braziers? Then choose a theme that radiates coziness.

Case study: Bells and whistles are not always necessary for a successful UI design. Authentic Weather is a good example  – it is a stubborn weather app with the slogan ‘No bullshit, just the f*cking weather’. The app is designed in such a humorous way that you still want to check what kind of (f*cking) weather it is today. The design is simple,  straightforward yet very effective. The relatively bare layout fits well with the blunt language, without being boring.

The effectiveness of different UI elements can be tested easily with A / B testing. Does a red button produce more interaction than a green one? Are visitors more inclined to read a blog posts when you add images? Put together an experiment and let the data answer your questions. With that conversion data, you get an objective view of the behavior and the implicit preferences of your visitors. Most people think that A/B testing was designed for testing out the effectiveness of advertising campaigns, but in reality, it can (and should be!) used for testing the usability of your own web pages.

UX: An experience in itself

Now, let’s take one more step further and this is where  UX design comes into the picture. Contrary to UI, the user experience (UX) continues from the point where the screen stops. The emphasis is on what happens in the head of the user during the visit, the emotions that are evoked and the judgment he makes after the interaction.

UX design plays a bit more in the background and is mainly about functionality and structure. It is essential that the purpose of your website and the needs of the user are aligned. What does the visitor want to know or what does he want to do? Which functionalities must be offered to enable him to do so? Besides, it is wise to pay some attention to the way you organize information. Is all information gathered at one place where the user expects it to be? Are all pages accessible within a few clicks?

Ensure a natural user flow

A good UX design is all about a pleasant user flow. The visitor does not have to be handled like a screaming toddler in an amusement park but must be able to follow a consistently smooth path through the website, depending on what he wants to know or find. Such a natural walking path makes the interaction between you and your client practical and meaningful. The user must be able to reflect on his visit with a satisfied smile so that he certainly has a reason to come back in the future. On the other hand, as a web designer who crafts that “walking path” — your goal is to keep the visitors as long as possible on your website.

Case study: The UX design from IKEA. IKEA is a textbook example of an ingenious UX design. The products and manuals are perfectly coordinated, the manuals are simple, universal and recognizable. They are very detailed so that you can effortlessly choose the right one from those 25 seemingly identical boards. Should you still be unable to assemble your Kallax, then you can go to their website for even more support and encouraging words. The UX does not stop immediately after the purchase but continues until that bookshelf finally stands tall in your living room.

By actively evaluating your target group, you can gain insight into the average wishes and characteristics of your website’s visitors. You can then use that knowledge to pick functionalities and shape your design. The perfect UX design requires patience; more often than not, that cycle has to be completed several times before all parts fall into place and even then —  continuous A/B testing is still necessary for progressive improvement.

Can you “design” user experience?

By now, you may probably wonder whether this user experience can be planned out on paper… No. How someone interacts with your website depends on dozens of factors, which you do not have under control. A user who visits your page from a golden beach under a radiant sun will undoubtedly respond differently to someone who has just came home soaking wet from a strong storm. Visitor’s mood, lack or excess of free time, state of mind, weather and other facts may impact his behavior, so you cannot build your strategy from the comfort of your home before even launching your website.

As much control as possible

Although you may not be able to guarantee that your visitors will always load your webpage in a good mood, you can at least ensure that they do not get frustrated during their visit. You may not be able to secure a pleasant user experience, but an awkward structure or limited functionality will certainly damage that experience. You can build your website in such a way that all the ingredients for a positive UX are at least present and all possible obstacles have been eliminated.

Case study: Parxavenue Ltd. This is a Canadian-based web design company that offers only 2 main types of services – digital marketing and web design. Although this is basically all you need to get your product online, not every web design agency offers a fluent UX. Parxavenue have only one entry page where you can find all the information and services you need, without weighing yourself down by tons of useless information, prices, and 12 fake stock photos of “team members”.

Here comes your homework…

It is an absolute must to get started with UX and UI research. This way you can once again view your customers or users from a different angle and develop an even better experience based on their wishes and behavior. By involving your visitors in the design process (whether they are aware of it or not), you can better tailor your website to their needs.

Input from an expert can certainly help you build a more intuitive website design, provided that he does not just impose his own opinion. The only opinion that matters is that of the user. Copying web design elements and marketing strategy from your competitors may work as a good starting point but will not work in the long term, unless you continuously do split testing and optimize your website for YOUR users. What used to be “beautiful” or “in” mere 5 years ago is obsolete today. Bearing all this mind, try and test your website from different angles and remember, that web design, SEO and marketing work is never done. Good luck!