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UI vs. UX: What’s the Difference?

By: Mary Barbour

Although the terms UI and UX do have some overlap, it’s important to understand why they are not the same thing. Yes, they both start with the letter “U.” And yes, both disciplines involve some of the same skill sets. But despite their similarities, the fields are substantially different in objective and scope – and both are incredibly important to the presentation of your product or service on the web.

User Interface is the part of the product that faces the user when they look at the site, and the User Experience is how they feel when they look at the site. In other words: UI is what people use to interact with the product.  UX is how it feels to have this interaction.

Many people have questioned what feelings have to do with a 2D website. The answer is simple: EVERYTHING. If you are trying to get conversions, if you are trying to get people to be fascinated by your product or blog, if you are trying to get people to understand you, if you are trying to get people to listen to you, if you are trying to get people to spread your message, if you are trying to get people to do pretty much anything then yes, the users feelings (i.e. experience) matter very much.

Let’s look at Mint.com for example.
Mint offers an amazing UX because it makes something that can be scary and stress-inducing (maintaining your finances), feel calming and placid. They use things like color schemes, layouts, wireframes, and guided path experience to instill in the user a confidence in Mint’s online system, but also, convey that Mint is invested on a personal level. Mint wants you to avoid late fees, pay off your debt, and save for that trip to Italy next summer. They have tapped into their users feelings.

This is the real challenge in what UX designers do. They do more than just give your site a pretty ambiance. They can literally create an entire emotion around your product. The effect of this, from a marketing standpoint, is priceless.

UI and UX complement each other in order to create the best outcome. If you want someone to build a chair you shouldn’t just tell them what tools they will need to do so, you have to make sure they can find the tools. If the saw is hidden in the shed outside, they might get frustrated trying to find it. The same applies to websites. If you want to provide a service to a user but they can’t figure out how to find what they’re looking for, they will probably just give up, no matter how cool and aesthetically pleasing your site may be.

UI and UX should never be independent processes. Ideally, an initial design will both visually communicate data-driven requirements and provide a working space for collaborative input.

Crafting user experience is a delicate task. When overdone, it can make a product feel dull, forced and unimaginative. But when a company gets it right, user experience can make that product feel absolutely enchanting.

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