What is the difference between UI and UX?

Although UI and UX are commonly discussed as critical to the success of Web 2.0 applications, people often have difficulty differentiating between the two.  We turned to our panel of Zintro experts and asked them to share their thoughts on the matter. Here’s what they had to say:

Theo Mandel, author and international expert in Web usability and interface design, acknowledges that there has been much discussion and debate about the terms UI and UX. Mandel says that UI describes how users view, navigate and interact with a particular product – including everything the user sees and interacts with on the screen and uses as a device. On the other hand, UX is the overall experience a user has when working with a product, extending beyond the user interface. Mandel furthers this explanation by stating that the User Experience includes many other things that users do in the course of performing in their natural routine and environment, including interactions with other people, other systems, and their physical surrounding. Thus, the User Experience can be “expressed by the user’s enjoyment, satisfaction and even social aspects of working with products.” Mandel gives the example of the company Apple, which typically focuses on the entire user experience of purchasing and using its products, while many other devices and Windows-based products only focus on the user interface of their product.

Katie Albers, with 15 years of consulting experience in companies ranging from startups to Fortune Global 500, says that UI (User Interface) works as a subset of the overall UX (User Experience), which is a fundamental requirement of the creation of any website or software application. In effect, UX is everything that goes into “creating the User’s effective and delighted interaction with the site or software or tool or toy.” Albers clarifies that UX often starts with research and continues after release with further testing and feedback analysis, and a good UX strategist understands how to use them to benefit a business while keeping the users happy. Michael Longe, with decades of experience with startups and fast-moving divisions of hi-tech companies, describes how UX has come to be known in the present era of human-computer interaction as the ability to incorporate user perceptions and context of use in addition to usability. Longe explains that depending on the speaker, UI can either refer to User Interaction or to the User Interface; these elements of the overall User Experience “may be the focus of professional designers.” However, Longe warns that although UI development tools have made it easier to build interfaces that use standard components and conform to UI guidelines, this does not necessarily facilitate an effective or enjoyable User Experience.

Vijay Kumar, a software engineer with specialization in web design and development, explains that we can understand the differences between UI and UX by our ability to “pass judgement even before we know how they work or respond.” Simply by looking at the layout and display, an individual can know whether the application or system in question is a good fit. Kumar envisions the process like how a store displays its items through lighting, shelf height and width; it isn’t necessary to know the prices and return policy at first glance. In other words, UI is simply the surface details. Like the other experts, Kumar defines UX as the user’s experience.

Kumar furthers this by comparing when an individual “feels” or “suspects” something to the idea of UX; it is the “same UI, same interaction, yet, you ‘experience’ different things, feelings, emotions, moods, and so on.” Two separate stores can have the same shelves, staff, and services, yet the experiences at both can be entirely different.

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