6 min read

UX and UI: understand the differences and the application in projects

The rise of digital has redefined the way companies operate concerning their customers. Now, words like experience and usability are part of the corporate vocabulary – and more industries have realized the importance of building better consumer experiences for their audience.

The return of this type of action is evident. Amazon, for example, has built a real empire from the perspective of customer needs and satisfaction. So did Netflix, which still evolved this vision and incorporated the user experience into the core of its work processes, generating links with customers.

With the emergence of new business models and the acceleration of companies’ transformation process, so-called user-centric strategies have become popular. All aspects of the business are structured with users’ needs as the centerpiece.

In this movement, two disciplines emerged to act as engines of change and facilitate this process: UX and UI.

But what are they, what are their differences, and why are they essential to your organization? Keep reading and understand once and for all when to use UX and UI in your projects!

What is UX Design, and how does it work?

UX is an abbreviation for the term user experience. UX Design, or User Experience Design, is essentially about how the user feels when performing a particular task in a physical or digital context.

The user experience reduces friction for the user to reach a particular objective in the simplest possible way, generating a positive feeling during this process. For this, the discipline considers usability, value perception, and efficiency in the execution of tasks, among other variables.

The user experience, however, goes beyond providing customers with just what users want. UX is about building the most fluid experience during the journey of end-user interaction with a company’s products and services.

UX is a business vision, a belief. Thus, we can define the user experience as the search for maximum synergy in all the company’s points of contact to collaborate towards the business objectives.

UX is not just about emotions. It’s about business.

UX is today the central pillar of all companies’ digital strategy that perform well in the digital context. Because user experience is essentially about understanding and anticipating user needs to offer more adherent business solutions. 

Of course, it is proven that a good experience builds an “emotional bond” between brand and customer. In a business context in which acquiring customers’ cost is 5 to 7 times higher than retaining them, this makes a real difference.

However, anyone who explains UI and UX in a simple way ignores all the work of information architecture, research, interviews, usability tests, and much more. Before the emotion comes the strategy.

What is UI Design, and how does it work?

The acronym UI stands for user interface. Therefore, UI Design, or User Interface Design, can be defined as the discipline that studies how users can interact with a specific application, monitor, device, or software.

Interface design is responsible for guiding user interactions during a task’s performance through visual communication on an interface. This dynamic can happen through buttons, menus, voice control, and even gestures.

UI design is related to the interactions between the interface and the user. We can say that UI works with the best practices of interface/screen design and usability to make the UX strategy tangible. It is considered the bridge between UX and the user.

Despite dealing with the visual issue itself, interface design is not essentially about appearance. It is about clearly signaling to the user the simplest way to fulfill the interaction’s objective through visual elements.

UI is inside UX, but it is no less important. 

It is a well-accepted theory that UI design is within UX design. In various Internet representations worldwide, you can see the user experience at the top, like an umbrella. 

However, although the UI has the function of making the strategy tangible, the interface design has its own performance indicators to achieve, in principles such as harmony, layout, navigation, signaling, among other elements. 

It is much more than creating beautiful screens (although this is also a requirement). Therefore, UI directly affects UX. And it requires a set of specific knowledge and good interdisciplinary practices to achieve its objective.

UX and UI: what are the differences?

UX and UI have many similarities.

Because they are disciplines from the same area of ​​knowledge, considered complementary, easily integrated into teams, and used together in business strategies, there is confusion surrounding the non-specialized public’s minds regarding experience, interaction, and usability.

After all, what are the differences between UX and UI?

We know that discussions of usability and experience can get a little too hybrid- and it’s not uncommon to mix them. It turns out that user experience and user interface also have some important differences.

The Web Design Depot blog has an accurate analogy to explain the difference between user experience and user interface:

UI is the saddle, the stirrups, and the reigns.

UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse and rope your cattle.

Legend: in literal translation, “UI is the saddle, stirrups, and reins. UX is the feeling that you have to be able to ride the horse and rope your cattle.”

We will quickly try to illustrate this difference with practical examples:

User Interface

For example, a website, or rather, a landing page, aims to convert. The moment someone enters that site, a series of actions that that person needs to take are designed based on a business strategy.

For the user to reach the desired outcome, it is necessary to guide him. In this more physical context of interaction, the UI enters, designing and styling the interfaces that this user will use directly.

UI works visually on this page, being responsible for controlling that user’s actions up to the goal with the least number of frictions possible. In this way, the UI designer uses color contrast, highlights, and even white space to show which actions are allowed.

User experience

We can define UX as how user-friendly an interaction will be and encompasses all aspects of a product development process, such as information architecture, usability, and content.

Still, on digital, let’s talk about e-commerce this time. Think of the following scenario. During the home office period, you decide to organize a workspace at home and search for a computer chair.

The item you want is sold out in most stores. When you find it, you see a less reliable customer satisfaction index than recommended. Even so, you decide to purchase and, when placing the item in your cart, it has a price about ten times higher – and the item repeated ten times.

And then, you encounter a message saying that there is a minimum quantity to buy. You contact the store. After explaining the situation, the attendant tells you that it is possible to buy the unit and tells you the problem will take 48 hours to be resolved.

After 48 hours, you go back to the site, try to buy the item, and the price is different – much higher for being unitary. After deciding to pay more because you need the chair, you return to the site, and ten units appear in your cart when selecting a chair.

After the three failed attempts, you will likely give up buying on the website and go to the competition. This was definitely the end of your journey with them, and it is because of a bad experience. But in addition to your dissatisfaction, the store’s lack of investment in UX threw away a sales opportunity.

Now that you understand what they are and how they complement each other, let’s list the main differences between the two concepts. And for that, we brought a mini-glossary about UX and UI to make sure that you can locate yourself when you hear one or another keyword. Take a look!

UX Design

  • Information Architecture
  • User research and definition of needs
  • Scenarios
  • Analytics
  • Interaction design
  • Wireframes and prototypes

UI Design

  • Identity and style guide
  • Colors
  • Graphic design
  • Layout
  • Typography
  • Visual design

Why should we use UI and UX in projects?

Well, here we have two views to explore. The first from the point of view of the integration between UX and UI. The second, the return on investment in UX.

UX and UI integration

The truth is that it is much easier to integrate UX and UI than to use them separately, especially in the digital context, where it is necessary to have an interface as a means of carrying out actions. Also, it seems unlikely that UI and UX professionals will not align. 

UX and UI are approaches that do not compete, on the contrary, complement each other. It is the union of the two fronts that will compose the final user experience. This construction is not a linear process and requires frequent review. Therefore, there is no choice between one and the other. Use both!

The ROI of the experiment

In our Closing the gap between UX and development webinar, we discussed the importance of synergy between UX, UI, and development professionals.

There is evidence that inserting UX practices into the development process as soon as possible, such as research and usability testing, eliminates rework, reduces development costs, and continues to generate long-term savings.

Some scholars claim that allocating 15% to 20% of a project’s total budget to UX can guarantee a better ROI, whether this amount is dedicated to the research or prototyping stage, for example.

Yes, investing in UX research is likely to result in a higher initial cost. However, the long-term benefits can be much more significant. In our blog post about the ROI of UX, we showed that companies that consider the user experience as one of the pillars of the business perform 228% more than the average.

We face a new paradigm: companies have come to see their customers as their most valuable asset. Thus, it is necessary to nurture a constant search to know the user in-depth to meet their needs.

UI and UX are part of a business strategy that has grown a lot with digital and user-centric models. The result of this is the emotional link (guided by a strategy) between product/service/brand and customer through the creation of good experiences.

This is of great importance in how users start to see companies, as is the case with the resounding success of digital banks and fintechs in the last decade. The goal? Make user life easier and more convenient – the inheritance of product/service design. A legacy that also happens to be UX and UI.