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The Usability Spectrum: User Experience vs. User Interface Design (UX vs. UI)


In product design, UX and UI are two processes that work closely together in the development or evaluation of a product or service. Often confused or combined into one, both are actually varying disciplines that use their own set of unique deliverables to measure usability — how well a user can achieve an intended outcome. 

When thinking about a product or service, we have a natural inclination to contemplate how much value it brings to the target audience or customer. Foundationally, products and services are intended to be desirable to a target audience. What is often overlooked is how the success and value of that product or service is influenced by why and how users interact with it.

Think about a time you purchased something on a website. Did you run into any issues adding a product to your cart? How many steps did it take to finalize the transaction? Were you easily able to find what you were looking for, or did you find yourself frustrated and lost? All of these are variables in determining good usability.

To understand how UX design and UI design come together to enhance the overall usability and value of a product, we have to dive deeper into the basic concepts of both.

Both concepts can be imagined as two halves of a whole. UX lays out the foundation of a design through user research.

Both concepts can be imagined as two halves of a whole. UX lays out the foundation of a design through user research and heuristic evaluations, and UI provides the layout and visual aesthetic.

UX Design

UX design considers the overall experience of a product or service, and is characterized by its analytical and methodical processes. A good design provides experiences that are meaningful and relevant to users. It focuses on enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability of a product or service. The process of UX design has a significant amount of research, testing, and analysis behind it, and can be measured with metrics like: success rate, error rate, abandonment rate, time to complete task, and (since we deal in digital) clicks to completion.

Characteristics of UX Design

  • Understanding users: UX design usually starts with extensive research that has a goal to understand the target audience, their wants, and needs.

  • Strategy Workshops: Understanding the purpose of a product, mapping a logical journey for its users and the brand.

  • Analytics: Observing how people use products – their interaction habits, personal preferences, and shortcuts they use while interacting with UI.

  • Solutions: Troubleshooting issues and problem solving.

UI Design

We officially define UI as the space through which interactions between humans and machines occur. In digital products, it most often refers to the visual layouts that contain elements that users interact with. These elements include button sizes, typography of text, adequate spacing, suitable images, transitions and animations. UI is an integral part of the web and product design process providing not only form, but also functionality. It is often the visual representation of what a product or service can offer, while also making sure that the layouts and visual elements are fully optimized for a user to reach their objectives.

Characteristics of UI Design

  • Brand Experience: Sensations, feelings, and behavioral responses evoked by brand-related stimuli.

  • Aesthetics: The pleasing qualities, used to complement and enhance design.

  • Functionality: Ensuring that a product is usable, enabling users to complete tasks.

  • Performance: Measured not only by speed, but also confidence in its reliability.

Different websites and products serve different functions and target users. Combinations of evaluative methods are used

Different websites and products serve different functions and target users. Combinations of evaluative methods are used in separate parts of the design process to determine what information or data could help inform its design.

A Package Deal

As mentioned earlier, UX and UI are separate concepts that constitute different roles, processes and deliverables. UX is more analytical, while UI is more aesthetically driven. Each of them have their differences but it’s important to note that they are indeed a package deal when it comes to determining the usability of a product or design. Both are needed to provide intuitive, seamless experiences for users.

Here at GRAYBOX we integrate both disciplines deeply in our design process, using a wide breadth of methods and deliverables when evaluating and designing different products.

Get in touch with us to learn more about how we can help find solutions for your projects.

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