Understanding the UX and UI Difference to Get the Best Results

Understanding the UX and UI Difference to Get the Best Results
Blog Feature

UX  |  User Experience  |  User Interface

Welcome to Create Impact, a new series from Aviture focused on the topics that inspire our engineers to innovate. In each article, an Aviture team member will take you on a deep dive into a subject they’re passionate about, showing you the thinking behind cutting-edge engineering advances, the latest UX trends, development theories, and other unique topics that enable Aviturians to embrace the Art of the Possible for our clients.


In this post, Director of Customer Experience DJ Jahn explores the differences between UX and UI, common misconceptions about each, and how incorporating user-centric strategic and design practices into every step of the process can provide an exceptional product that wows the end user.


Keep reading to learn more!

People speak with the terms they understand.


If I ask an editor to edit something, I'm going to expect a period or a comma, maybe some different words to help me get my point across. If I asked someone to critique something visual, the terms they can communicate back to me will be along the lines of “Make it bigger, change the color, etc.”


The language we use to express a problem is as sophisticated as the problem itself, and it follows the aesthetics of that perceived problem.


Herein lies some of the confusion between UX and UI. Oftentimes, a client may think they have a UX problem that needs to be solved, when in reality what they’re actually trying to engage us on is a UI workflow.


A good chunk of what we do on the UX team at Aviture is to help navigate and facilitate those conversations, to help the client understand the real bedrock of the problem they’re asking us to solve, whether it’s a UX issue, a UI issue, or both, so that we can work together to provide the experience they and their users expect.


So in that spirit, let’s talk about the UX and UI difference and how we can solve problems together.



UX vs. UI: Building the House, or Painting the House?

To highlight the key differences between UX (User Experience) and UI (User Interface), I like to use one particular example.


If you equate UX/UI to a home, well, you can have someone paint your house (UI), or you can have an architect help you find a piece of land, build it, and develop it (UX).


Now, both are important. But one's going to have a lot more influence on the success or failure of your enjoyment of the house than the other.


Realistically, UX focuses on identifying and aligning needs with a strategy. And that can be business needs, user needs, objectives, etc. Those are the types of things that we want to manage.


Whereas the UI side is really addressing the emotional and visual relationships of those things you decided upon during the UX phase. You could think of them as the presentation layer.


Going back to the house analogy, if you contacted us to build a house rather than a software solution, we’re having a conversation, we're finding a plot of land, we're developing a blueprint that meets your family's needs. That’s UX. Where it hands off to UI is, how do we furnish the house? How do we finish it so it looks great? That’s UI.


You can hire a UI designer that will make something that's very aesthetically pleasing but that doesn't perform if they haven’t taken the right UX considerations. Conversely, you can come up with something that provides hyper-performance, but it’s offensive to the eyes. But either way, someone’s not going to be happy, whether that’s your business’s stakeholders or your end users, and that’s why you need both to work in concert.



UX and UI Intertwined

If you’ve stuck with me so far, you may have gotten the impression that UI begins once UX ends. In fact, this isn’t the case; there's a natural ebb and flow to UX and UI as they play off one another throughout the entirety of a project or application development.


UX is a nonlinear process. Scrum and Agile are the ways in which we actually develop and produce software at Aviture, whereas UX aligns more to the Lean methodology. We are learning as we're going, and it’s a very, very iterative process.


UX spans multiple disciplines and multiple points of input. It isn't necessarily step 1, step 2, step 3, step 4, etc. Think of it more as all the stops on the train line. Sure, it’s going in one direction, but there can be multiple trains on this track at one time, and the train is on a circuit that eventually brings you back to the beginning, with one route feeding into the next continuously.


Depending on what we're setting out to solve for, UX can become either a later contributor or an earlier contributor, and it’s all reliant on the type of engagement we’ve been contacted about.


Sometimes UI work can even happen before any kind of UX takes place. It’s analogous to the idea of a concept car. General Motors or some other company can decide there's a new market so they’re going to make a new type of car. It's going to be this very pretty, shiny, metalish-looking thing that spins on a table in a showroom floor. And they'll put it in a car show with the goal of gauging reaction.


If that concept car succeeds and people express approval of what they see, then the company will go back to do all the other steps, kind of backfilling them, putting the car through its normal paces, getting through safety and accounting and everything else. At the end, you'll get a car, and it's reminiscent of that original concept, the idea or that emotional stimulus, but it's not exactly that.


Let’s take that even a step further. Now the car is out, it’s reached the masses. And you start to see how people drive it, what features they appreciate and which are being ignored, what makes it efficient or inefficient. And you can take these findings back to your UX team to inform your future strategic work for when you come out with a new model or an entirely new vehicle concept.



UX and UI: Bringing Logic to the Illogical

I’m a firm believer that it’s not for me to decide what works best for your UX and UI. But I can certainly help influence and pass judgment based on design best practices, user stories, and business and strategic goals.


Both UX and UI hinge on being inquisitive. Why do you want this software product to do X? Why do you think it'll do that? Why do you think users will prefer that?


With questions like these, you're essentially backing into the root of the problem. You can help the client unpack it in terms that they're familiar with, because that's how we think as humans.


Remember what I said up top, where if you ask an editor for tips, you’re going to get grammar, and if you ask a designer for tips, you’re going to get visual adjustments? At the heart of everything, the questions that get asked during the UX and the UI processes are designed to shape a shared language, one that drives at the heart of what a software solution can provide.


UX and UI help us create something that is logically sequenced, solving for a problem that we’re only assuming is logical, when at its heart it might be emotional. But good design isn’t emotional, it’s rationalized.


In this way, we connect the emotional to the logical. And it’s that interplay that drives incredible products and solutions.


How close to the center of truth can we get? By understanding the difference between UX and UI, and approaching a problem understanding the interaction between the two, we can get pretty darn close. And that’s where innovation lies.


Explore UX/UI Strategy and Solutions


About DJ Jahn

DJ Jahn is the Director of Customer Experience at Aviture. For over a decade, he has helped leading brands like Gallup and others realize their strategic and operational goals through UX best practices. At Aviture, DJ leads a team of UX/UI experts who work closely with clients to meet user needs with innovation, accessibility, and scalability in mind.

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