UX Design? UI Design? Product Design? What’s the Difference?

Choose the right career path for yourself.

UX design makes app and website interfaces useful, while UI design makes the same interfaces beautiful. Product design does both, making the interface useful as well as aesthetically pleasing.

What is the distinction between user experience design, user interface design, and product design?

UX designers are primarily concerned with the usability of products. They focus on how the product works. UI designers focus on the visuals and the aesthetic experience of the product. Product designers do both; they do UX and UI design. They focus on the overall feeling and experience of the product as a whole. I’d say the term “product designer” encompasses the responsibilities of both UX and UI designers. My personal experience is, product designers are frequently UX designers; they do have a stronger UX side.

Let’s define the two terms:

UX design or user experience design is about designing the whole experience. It’s the human-first approach to product design.

UI design or user interface design is about designing the visual experience. It’s the human-first approach to the aesthetic experience of a digital product.

For example, think about an app: UX designers help decide the features, what should be in the app, and how it should work.

UI designers also design the same app, but they are responsible for the look of the app.

The distinction between the two roles isn’t that simple because if you work for a larger company, the two roles have overlapping areas, and they need to work collaboratively. And if you work for a smaller company, it’s required to do well in both areas. So that’s why companies came up with a new term: product designer.

How do UX and UI designers collaborate during the design process?

UX design and research is usually the first step when deciding whether to build a product or application. UX designers are in charge of the research that will validate or invalidate initial product ideas and guide product development.

After the prototype has gone through several iterations and is finalized (well, for the time being at least), the UI designer steps in and starts working on the visual design, interaction design, including micro-interactions.

In an ideal product design and development world, this would be a linear journey.

However, this is not always the case. It depends on many things. But one of the most determining factors is who’s in charge of the UX and UI of the product, if it’s the same or a different person or team within the company.

What are the tasks that UX and UI designers do?

Let’s see where they are different and where they overlap.

UX design starts with research, understanding users’ behaviour. They run discovery workshops with users and the product development team to understand the problems that need to be solved. Once the issues are identified, they conceptualize solutions. They usually come up with different ideas and wireframes. Then UX designers prepare prototypes for usability testing — which don’t need to be high fidelity prototypes.

Once they figure out the best solution to the problem, they hand over the wireframes, the concepts to the UI designer. From here, UI designers use this information to create visually appealing and easy-to-understand interfaces.

To give you a tangible example, let’s look at Skyscanner

Let’s take a look at the screen.

So what do you think…who did what? Which part of the website was done by a UX designer? Which part of the website was done by a UI designer?

Screenshot of Skyscanner web application. The screenshot was taken on 14 Nov 2021 by the author.

UX designer decided how the search functionality works, what people want out of search. The number of options is shown on the search result page and how filtering works on the subpage.

The UI designer’s tasks would be to take all of that and make it clear how those things work. We can easily see how the list is sorted because the UI designer applied a darker colour to highlight the selected sorting option.

Which design role is more important?

Both areas are equally important when it comes to designing a product. Because you can create a great user experience flow, but if the UI doesn’t show what’s happening clearly, then overall, it’s not a good UX design, not a good product design.

The overlap between UX and UI designers occurs where there is a connection between conceptual and visual work.

For instance, UI designers might do wireframing; and UX designers might be required to do high fidelity mockups. It depends on the company and the actual job description. There is confusion in the industry where companies use the UX, UI, product design terminology interchangeably. It would be best to read the job description to determine what you sign up for by taking the job.

Also, if you see UX/UI designer job title…that’s essentially a product designer position, and the company would like you to do a little bit of both.

As you can see, it’s nearly impossible to separate the UX from the UI or the UI from the UX.

So, which career path is the right choice for you?

The UX designer path might be better for you if you enjoy working with people (both with users and your team), running workshops, and if you love to collaborate. As a UI designer, you probably work on your own mainly.

UX designers look at the larger picture to understand the users and their problems even at the strategic level. As a UI designer, you have a chance to add the final touches and see the project come alive with your design.

As a UX designer, many soft skills are required, such as listening, communication and presentation skills, observation, and patience. With UI design, it’s more about your hard skills, and you’ll have more time to do a lot of deep-focused visual work.

Or if you’re kind of like me and you feel you want to have a mix of both worlds, then a UX/UI and product designer position is possibly the right choice for you.

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This article is a written interpretation of my YouTube video with a similar title: