What is the difference between user experience design and user interface design?

The difference between user experience design and user interface design is not always clear to people outside the field. In this article we explain that difference.

 

Definitions

As Keen Design, we have a glossary online to help people gain more clarity about our field:

User experience design

User experience design is a design discipline in which the end user's experience with the (digital) product is central, because that experience is decisive for the success of that product.

User interface design

User interface design is the design of the user interface (UI or GUI for Graphical User Interface) of digital products and services.

 

Donald Norman and Apple

Donald Norman once explained how the term user experience design originated at Apple and what it means. Anything that affects the user's experience. With that explanation, he already made the difference between user experience design and user interface design clear; he literally refers to the design of digital products as part of user experience design.




Jesse James Garrett

In 2000, Jesse James Garrett (at Adaptive Path, now acquired by Capital One) published his The Elements of User Experience Design.

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Garrett modeled a product strategy, from abstract/conceptual as a basis to visual design, which determines the user experience as a whole. In 2010, in a new version of his book, he renewed the interpretation of the model for the more modern digital world. The underlying model has remained the same.

And in that model, "interface design" is also part of user experience design.

Sounds good

If this has been obvious since 2000, then what is the problem?

In practice, people often confuse the terms "user experience design" and "user interface design". Designers in the Netherlands use different descriptions for themselves. It is logical that it is not clear to people outside the field.

The challenge is a bit deeper, but I will tell you more about that in a future article. For now it is perhaps especially important to state that for a user interface designer designing screens is the main activity and that for a user experience designer designing screens is one of the activities.

In both cases, users play an important role ("it's in the name!"). For the user interface designer this is mainly for user testing; for the user experience designer, it starts with user research and users are involved throughout the entire process, including user tests in the screen design.

 

Why is this distinction important?

Distinguishing these roles and also the other roles in Garrett's model has a direct effect on the quality of the digital product. A user interface designer or a visual designer who designs screens is an expert at creating them, with all the complexity and possibilities that this entails today. There is a lot of concrete detail in it.

A user experience designer starts his work at a much more abstract level and will therefore also have to be able to do good research work. And must have the analytical qualities to translate the problems into solutions.

Closing with a rhetorical question

Judging by Garrett's model and all the complexity that has made our profession bigger since 2000, is there such a thing as a user experience designerER? Or is there mainly a user experience design that is formed by several specialists and is there a user experience architect who plays the conductor in this orchestra?

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Stefan Layer