User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are two words that you might hear mentioned frequently in tech circles (and sometimes interchangeably). But what do the terms actually mean, and what does it mean to be a UX or UI designer?
UI refers to the screens, buttons, toggles, icons, and other visual elements that you interact with when using a website, app, or other electronic device. UX refers to the entire interaction you have with a product, including how you feel about the interaction. While UI can certainly have an impact on UX, the two are distinct, as are the roles that designers play.
Difference between UI and UX
Developing a product that people love often requires both good UI and good UX. For example, you could have a banking app that looks great and has intuitive navigation (UI). But if the app loads slowly or makes you click through numerous screens to transfer money (UX), it doesn’t matter how good it looks. You’re probably not going to want to use it.
On the other hand, a website could be loaded with unique, helpful content organized in a logical and intuitive way. But if it looks dated or you can’t easily figure out how to move between screens or scroll through options, you’re likely to click away from the site.
Tasks and responsibilities: What do they do?
Both UI and UX designers play key roles in the product development lifecycle. Let’s take a closer look at each.
UX designers focus their work on the experience a user has with a product. The goal is to make products that are functional, accessible, and enjoyable to use. While the term UX often applies to digital products, it can also be applied to non-digital products and services (like a coffee pot or a transportation system). Common tasks for a UX designer might include:
- Conducting user research to identify any goals, needs, behaviors, and pain points involved with a product interaction
- Developing user personas based on target customers
- Creating [user journey maps] to analyze how a customer interacts with a product
- Building wireframes and prototypes to hone in on what the final product will look like
- Performing user testing to validate design decisions and identify problems
- Collaborating with stakeholders, UI designers, and developers
Learn more: [What Does a UX Designer Do?]
UI designers create the graphical portions of mobile apps, websites, and devices—the elements that a user directly interacts with. Unlike UX, which can apply to just about any product or service, the term UI applies exclusively to digital products. A UI designer seeks to make apps and websites both visually appealing and easy to navigate. Common tasks of a UI designer include:
- Organizing page layouts
- Choosing color palettes and fonts
- Designing interactive elements, such as scrollers, buttons, toggles, drop-down menus, and text fields
- Making high-fidelity wireframes and layouts to show what the final design will look like
- Working closely with developers to convert designs into a working product
UI and UX designers have some skills in common, but each role also requires its own unique skill set.
While a degree isn’t always necessary to get a job as a UX or UI designer, having one can often open up new opportunities. Only a few universities offer programs specific to UI/UX. UX designers might get a degree in computer science, psychology, human-computer interaction, or design. UI designers, on the other hand, might graduate with a degree in digital design, graphic design, or interaction design.
According to the 2021 Salary Guide by digital creative staffing agency Onward Search, more than half of UX designers in the US reported making more than $100,400. That figure was $86,800 for UI designers []. Your salary could depend on many factors, including your location, industry, amount of experience, and educational background.
Other user experience roles
The field of UX extends beyond the two roles of UI and UX designers. If you’re interested in a career in UI/UX, consider these other related roles as well.
UX researchers: study the goals, needs, wants, and pain points of a product’s existing and target users.
UX writers: write the text that appears on websites, apps, and other digital products.
Interaction designers: focus on the ways users interact with digital products in a holistic context.
Developers: take the designs from UI and UX designers and code them into usable software, websites, or applications.
Product designers: lead the entire process of taking a product or service from idea to reality.
*Content strategists: oversee the planning and production of marketing content through the lifecycle of a project.