UI and UX and How They Play Off of Each Other

I’m about to criticize myself along with most of the UX writers out there with what I am about to say. The constant comparison of UI and UX either as the same thing or disparate things, are both unfounded and wrong. I am guilty of it, and so are a lot of UX professionals who publish. Now, it’s not because we were doing something careless, or that we were perpetuating damaged information.

No, it’s just that the relationship of UI and UX is such a unique one that it’s hard to put it into words clearly, unless one dedicates an entire piece to it. So, I’m going to do just that because heck, someone has to. So, let’s get the blaringly obvious things settled first. UI is not the same thing as UX, if they are to be viewed as separate terms and definitions. As I’ve actually said once or twice out of contrition, UI is in fact a part of UX. However, it’s not all of UX, which entails much more than just designing the interface.

With UX, you also have other sciences to work with, such as flow and layout, which contribute to UI but are not all there is to UI. You have to work out the way you need your demographics to think, and to work to match their basic thought patterns which you cannot invariably change, as well. UX also includes the level of learning necessary to master a program. Good UX can create a usability model in which powerful and intricate things can be done by experts, but novices can do simple yet useful things without being encumbered.

Once more, UI contributes to how this is approached in the UX industry, but UI isn’t all there is to that. However, I’m going to say that UI is one of the biggest subsets in UX, and one of the most concrete, because of obvious reasons. UI, from the perspective of the user, is the program. In reality, the UI is a language, one which speaks to the user in a simple but effective way, and allows the user to speak back to the program. Users don’t see it this way, though.

A user sees the UI and they think “the program” when they look at it. So, everything that program is, its functionality, engineering and its identity to its users, is summed up by how the program works and looks from a UI standpoint. As a result, UI will be one of the biggest parts of a UX process when designing something. UI doesn’t shape how UX is approached. It’s quite the opposite. Designing competent and maybe even exemplary UI is all about working in conjunction with the navigation, mindset and complexity of the program which it will represent.

You can have UX without UI (though this is rare), but you can’t really have a well-adjusted UI without a good sense of UX. This is a problem encountered by a lot of programmers, though it’s hardly their fault. Programmers aren’t UX people. This is why large teams employ artistically-trained and sociologically-trained people to work alongside those brilliant engineers. They create something wonderful, which allows users to truly experience and embrace the magic they have constructed.

UI and UX are not one in the same, but really, they’re ubiquitous to one another on so many levels.

Bo Amidor
Boaz Amidor is Head of Corporate and Marketing Communications at WalkMe and Contributing Author to ux blog