Career Insight

What’s the Difference Between UX and UI Design?

difference between ux and ui

If you’re a creative interested in the vast field of technology, chances are you’ve heard about User Interface (UI) Design and User Experience (UX) Design. But you may not know the difference between them as they’re sometimes used interchangeably. First things first, UX and UI are not the same. However, they do work together to create pleasant and engaging experiences for humans navigating the digital world. 

Today, we’re unpacking these terms to help you get a better understanding of what exactly UX and UI are and which role you might be better suited for you as you weigh your career options. 

Here’s what we’ll cover: 

  • What is UX Design? 
  • What is UI Design? 
  • What’s the difference between UX and UI?
  • Which pays more, UX or UI? 
  • How are UX and UI related to graphic design? 
  • How can I become a UX or UI Designer? 

Let’s get into it. Here’s what you need to know about UX and UI Design. 

What is UX Design? 

User Experience (UX) Design is the process of making products, websites, apps, and services enjoyable and easy to use. Every product we interact with has a user experience that accompanies it. A UX Designer’s job is to make sure that user experience is a good one. What qualifies as a good user experience? It’s pretty simple— a good user experience will have a mix of desirability, usability, and usefulness. A talented UX Designer will possess traits like empathy and creativity to put themselves in the shoes of the user. They’ll also be an excellent critical thinker. The day-to-day tasks of a UX Designer can include: 

  • User & product research
  • Information architecture
  • User flows & wireframing
  • Prototyping
  • User testing 

What is UI Design? 

User Interface (UI) Design is the process of designing user interfaces. User interfaces are the point of interaction a person has with a digital device, app, or website. UI Design is a strictly digital practice, meant to visually lead a person through a device or app’s interface. UI Designers work to make user interfaces enjoyable and easy to interact with through the use of aesthetics. These creatives will work to ensure a person has a positive and intuitive interaction with a website, app, or device’s interface. A career in UI Design is perfect for those who are imaginative, empathetic people with strong communication skills. The responsibilities of a UI Designer often include: 

  • Competitive analysis on look & feel 
  • Visual design – typography, buttons, colors, etc. 
  • Interaction design – animation, interactivity, prototyping 
  • Implementing cohesive branding across design elements
  • Front end development 

What is the difference between UX and UI Design?  

Now that you know what UX and UI are, let’s go over their differences. 

Infographic showing the differences between UX and UI

Look & Feel 

UX is the “feel” of a product, app, or website, while, UI is the “look” of a product, app, or website. UX and UI Designers work together (usually on the same team) in the product design process. Often, companies will hire one person to do all of the UX/UI work so it’s important to understand both disciplines. This is also why the terms tend to get confused or used interchangeably. UX Planet’s Lakshman Sharma compared the 2 fields to the experience of riding a horse. He said, “UI is the saddle, the stirrups, and the reins. UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse.”

A UI Designer focuses on the visual elements and how pleasurable and functional they are for the person using them. Meanwhile, the User Experience Designer focuses on the broader experience a person has with the product, app, or website. User interface design is often compared to graphic design as it prioritizes the visuals (though it is not exactly the same as graphic design either). 

How They Work Together

The disciplines work together to create an intuitive digital experience that’s aesthetically pleasing and easy to use. Typically a UX Designer will start a project off, working on some of the tasks we mentioned above like user research and information architecture. Then, they’ll hand it off to the UI Designer who will complete the more granular, visual elements of the project. UI/UX Designer Jesse Showalter put it beautifully when he said, “A UX Designer is going to pass off the skeleton and a UI Designer is going to put on the skin and the clothes and dress that thing.” 

Digital vs. Physical Mediums 

Another major difference between user experience and user interface is that UI Design is a digital-specific discipline. User interface refers to the point of contact between a user and a digital product or device. Whereas UX is part of any product or service a human would interact with, even beyond the digital world. You can have a user experience using a coffee mug, for example. Is the mug designed to keep your coffee hot? Does it burn your hands? Is the handle easy to use? Those are all questions a UX Designer would ask when creating the mug to ensure people have a good experience using it. 

Who gets paid more, UX or UI Designers? 

The answer to this question will largely depend on your experience level and the city you live in. But, on average, User Interface Designers will make around $76,115 a year in the U.S., (according to Glassdoor) while User Experience Designers will bring in around $85,277 a year. It’s important to note here that oftentimes companies will merge the two roles. Glassdoor lists $85,277 as the average for designers who do both UX and UI. It’s helpful to research salaries by state to get a clearer understanding of how much you could potentially earn as a designer who specializes in user experience, user interface, or both. 

Which one is right for me? 

There are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine if you’d be better suited for UX or UI. Of course, we encourage you to do further research to determine if you might enjoy working in tech in the first place. 

  • Are you an analytical person? 
  • Do you enjoy thinking about the psychology of how humans interact with the world around them? 
  • Are you a problem solver? 

If you answered yes to these questions, a career as a User Experience Designer could be a viable option for you. 

  • Are you a creative thinker? 
  • Do you enjoy working in the digital world? 
  • Are you detail-oriented? 

Answer yes to these questions? You may be a good fit for a User Interface Design role. For further reading on UX/UI work, check out these articles: 

  1. How to Build a Strong UX Portfolio 
  2. What Does a UX Designer Actually Do?
  3. What is Design Thinking? 
  4. Why You Should Consider a Career in UX Design
  5. What is UX Design?
  6. UI or UX Designers: Which One Do You Need to Hire? 

What’s the difference between graphic design & UX/UI Design? 

Another common misconception is that UX and UI Design are the same as graphic design. While there are some similarities, especially between UI and graphic design, they are not the same. Here’s why. 

Graphic design is the art of designing visual elements, usually for branding purposes. A graphic designer’s job involves deciding how a visual element will look. They’ll choose typography, colors, and other visual elements to create a finished design product (similar to a UI Designer). However, a major difference between graphic and UI Design is that UI Designers’ work is limited to the digital world. While graphic design work can appear both in the physical and digital worlds. While graphic design is focused on visual impact through aesthetics, user interface design is more focused on intuitive use, guiding the person interacting with it. 

How can I become a UX or UI Designer? 

Now that you know all about User Interface and User Experience Designers, you should have a better idea of if you want to become one. Below are a few paths you can take to become a UX or UI Designer. 

Bootcamps & Programs

If you’re ready to start designing the look and feel of products, apps, and websites, you should consider signing up for a bootcamp or course. At Kenzie Academy, we offer a part-time UX Design Career program. We crafted this program for career-changers looking to join the growing tech industry, as well as for tech professionals who want to begin working as UX or UI Designers. 

In the course, you’ll gain valuable design experience in both UX and UI so you can launch a successful career as either a UX or UI Designer. You’ll graduate with a portfolio of design projects that you can showcase to potential employers. All you need is 1 year of professional experience (in any industry) or a college degree to join our next cohort. The program is 6 months in length and part-time so you can continue working and living your life while you get trained for a career in user experience. 

Kenzie’s UX Career program is comprehensive, covering both UX and UI Design, so you get the best of both worlds.

Self-Study Resources 

While it’s always best to get some formal training or a certificate for a career in UX/UI, it can be helpful to do some independent study on the field if you’re still deciding whether you want to commit to a program. We’ve pulled together some classic UX and UI resources to aid you in your decision-making process. 

User Experience Resources 

Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things

This book is one of the seminal texts on UX Design. Originally published in 1988, the book is chock full of design gems and is still widely beloved despite its age. Aspiring designers will get an in-depth look at how to optimize the relationship between user and object and how to make these interactions pleasurable. 

Susan Weinschenk’s 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

Susan’s book will help you answer many common questions about how people interact with the world around them. You’ll come to understand what holds people’s attention, what motivates them to take action, and more. The author brings a wealth of experience from a background in psychology and behavioral science to the table in this essential book. 

Leah Buley’s The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide

Sometimes UXers have to work alone, especially at smaller companies. If this is the case for you, Leah Buley’s The User Experience Team of One can help you learn how to get quality work done in a timely manner. Chapters cover topics such as design, research, and testing methodologies. Each section ends with a “if you only do one thing” section so you can find all of the key takeaways in one spot. Reviews of this book say it also serves as a good introduction for newbies or non-UX professionals who collaborate with UX Designers at work. 

User Interface Resources 

Everett N. Mckay’s UI is Communication

Published in 2013, this text is a great introduction to the world of user interface design. It presents user interfaces as a conversation between the user and technology. Readers will learn how to bring this human-centered thought process into their work as designers. The book promises to remove the complexity from user interface design work so readers can walk away with a clear understanding of what UI is and how to be better UI Designers. You’ll also gain practical tools on how to solve everyday design problems. 

Jeff Johnson’s Designing with the Mind in Mind

Curious about the psychology behind common design rules and principles? Author Jeff Johnson explains how the human brain interacts with different design choices to give UI Designers a better understanding of why some things work and others don’t. The new edition includes chapters on human choice and decision making, hand-eye coordination and attention, and more. You’ll gain valuable insight into the cognitive psychology of design and be able to make better decisions for your users. 

Jennifer Tidwell’s Designing Interfaces 

This book is a treasure trove of user interface design best practices. In it, you’ll learn design patterns for apps, websites, and desktop software. The author includes full-color examples of each pattern and practical tips you can apply to your own design practice. You’ll also learn how to gain understanding of your users and about the connection between design and usability. 

Want to learn more about careers in UX/UI Design? Attend one of our upcoming webinars on UX Design. Or, contact us and we’ll help you determine if a role in UX or UI is right for you.  

Ready to jumpstart your career as a UX Designer or Coder? Learn more about our 12-month Software Engineering and 6-month UX Design programs, or check out our free beginner’s coding program Kenzie Free.

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