When people talk about UI and UX design, they tend to use the two terms interchangeably, to the point that the term UI/UX design exists. While the two are closely intertwined, they are entirely separate, and cover different scopes.

A lot of people tend to mistake one for the other, which is somewhat understandable. Though, for those looking to get into the field, or those just curious, there are key differences between the two, which is actually not that hard to see when you finally see the complete picture.

What’s the difference?

At the simplest level, UI handles the surface; the things that the user interacts with to use a product, service, or communicate, while UX handles has a wider scope, as it tackles everything involved with the user’s interaction with the site itself. The former is what the user interacts with, while the latter is what they take away from that.

The reason the term UI/UX design exists, is because UI accounts for a large part of the UX, they’re separate. For example, even if the UI is perfect, if there are some flaws with the whole experience, then then UX will take a hit.

Google is a good example. The UI is simplistic, but the UX delivers quite nicely. If the UI stayed the same, but issues with the server resulted in results taking 10 seconds to load, then UX suffers. UX covers more; UI is only a part of it.

Experts’ words

Naturally, experts in UI/UX design understand the difference, putting them in a good place to explain things.

Google Product Strategist Scott Jenson

  • Jenson says that the distinction isn’t too big most of the time, but it’s still important to know. UX, to him, is the user’s journey through the product, or the service, while the UI covers the specifics of screens, with a focus on aesthetics, guidelines, labels, and structure.

Google Ventures Partner, Ex-Google Product Manager Ken Norton

  • Norton describes UX as the things that affect how a user solves a problem, whether positive or negative, covering onscreen materials as well as off-screen ones. UI, meanwhile, is how everything looks and functions as a whole.