UI vs. UX: Understanding the Difference

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Good UX and UI are essential for creating a positive user experience, improving user engagement, and, ultimately, ensuring the success of a product or service. We experience their effects daily as we navigate the web, but the ever-evolving nature of these terms can lead to confusion. What do UX and UI actually mean, and where do they overlap or diverge in terminology and practice? How do they impact the world of ecommerce? Read on to learn more about how UI and UX differ yet relate.

What is UX?

User experience, or UX, refers to the totality of a person’s experience with a product or service—the user journey from start to finish. UX aims to design intuitive, user-centered, and aesthetically pleasing products and services.

In an ecommerce setting, the term “user” refers to the customer interacting with your company website or shopping app, for instance. “Experience” refers to both the micro aspects (such as the size of your shopping cart icon) and macro aspects (such as the feeling of your checkout flow) of the interaction between your website and said user. 

UX seeks to assess the entirety of an end user’s interaction with your company. Optimizing a customer’s experience across all touchpoints in a company app or website, and even when interacting with materials like product packaging, is the focus of the UX design process.

What does a UX designer do?

UX designers plan, develop, and refine products with the primary goal of addressing user needs. They often apply methodologies like design thinking, systems thinking, or lean UX to design an experience that provides simple solutions with minimal friction and cognitive load (mental effort and resources). 

UX designers’ design process and responsibilities often include: 

  • Developing strategy (such as how to measure the success of a design)
  • Conducting user research
  • Creating information architecture (organizing and labeling content to make it easy to use)
  • Structuring and iterating the user journey
  • Wireframing
  • Testing 

What is UI?

User interface, or UI, refers to the visual elements users interact with, typically within a software application or digital product. Although UI and UX are interrelated, UI is a component of UX that focuses specifically on the design and presentation of the interface. 

UI encompasses how a product looks, feels and is used to help users to accomplish tasks efficiently. By applying design principles such as graphic design, branding, typography, color theory, and other aesthetic practices—as well as user research—UI can facilitate a delightful and intuitive user experience. Common UI elements include icons, search fields, buttons, and progress bars, though they can comprise other interactive components like animations, sounds, and feedback messages. 

What does a UI designer do?

UI designers create websites, mobile apps, and software interfaces that are visually appealing and easy to use. While UI designers may collaborate with developers and front-end engineers to implement the interface, their primary role is to design and define the interface. User research and user interface principles, like consistency, hierarchy, clarity, and user control, guide their design process.

After receiving user personas and wireframes, a UI designer’s work may begin with creating interactive visual aspects like menus, widgets, sliders, page navigation, or brand illustrations. UI designers are then responsible for arranging these elements for various screen dimensions. Creating compositionally adaptive designs across devices is called responsive design

The relationship between UX and UI

Understanding the impact that UX and UI can have on your product or business begins with understanding where the two disciplines diverge and overlap. 

How are UX and UI different?

UX and UI have different scopes and applications, and they occur at different points in the product development process.

  • Scope. The main difference between UX and UI is their scope: UX is more general, dealing holistically with users and each facet of their product experience, while UI is more specific, narrowing in on the style and function of on-screen elements. 
  • Medium. Whereas UX can apply to a range of products, services, or experiences, UI is specific to digital products and experiences.
  • Sequencing. User experience design is also typically first in the product development process, followed by user interface design. The UX designer maps out the user journey and passes the blueprint to a UI designer who builds visual and interactive elements. 

How are UX and UI similar?

UX and UI are both user-centric design disciplines. They both aim to create positive experiences for users; both require an understanding of user needs and behavior. Both rely on research, empathy, design methodologies, collaboration, and prototyping to achieve a common goal of user satisfaction with digital products.

The role of UX and UI in ecommerce

The correlation between strong UX and UI and ecommerce success cannot be overstated. When your customer can effortlessly browse or purchase items via desktop, mobile, or app, they’re more likely to be a repeat customer and tell others about their positive experience. 

Global consulting firm McKinsey & Company studied the business value of design and concluded that design-focused companies earn revenue faster than their industry counterparts. Prioritizing your company’s user and interface experience can significantly differentiate you from the competition and increase vital business metrics like conversion rate, average purchase value, purchase frequency, and customer retention period.

Some best practices for UX and UI in ecommerce include: 

  • Intuitive navigation. Group products in clear categories and include filtering and sorting features so visitors quickly and easily find the items they’re after. 
  • Simple checkout flow. Simplify the purchasing process by decreasing the number of clicks and inputs required to fulfill a task. System responses like green check marks to confirm inputs and automating information based on customer preferences also reduce their cognitive load and, as a result, cart abandonment.
  • Accessibility. Provide accessibility features like font adjustments, color adjustments, animation controls, content highlighting, and audio muting to facilitate an inclusive user experience and reach a wider audience. 


Can UI and UX be used interchangeably?

No. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably because they overlap in some ways, they do not mean the same thing. UX involves every aspect of a user’s journey, while UI pertains to the visual design of a product and how a user interacts with it.

What’s the role of research in the UX/UI design process? ‎

Research frames the UX/UI design process. When applying a framework like design thinking, research is the first step toward effective products. A qualitative research approach could be a user survey or user interviews to gather information about improving a specific product feature, whereas a quantitative research approach could be A/B testing two versions of your company’s landing page to determine which version has higher click-through rates. With any method of UX research, the goal is to understand user behavior and apply findings to decisions that optimize their user experience.

Is there such a thing as a UI/UX designer?

Yes. Both UI and UX designers are distinct, professional roles. In some cases, the responsibilities of both are absorbed into a single position.

How can I improve my UI and UX design skills?

There are many options for growing and refining your UI and UX design skills, including formal degree programs, boot camps, and online courses that provide education and training. There’s also an expansive offering of design books and podcasts. Engaging with product design in your everyday life is another way to familiarize yourself with UI and UX; you can take this further and practice by redesigning your favorite app screens, and user flows.