UX and UI 101: Differentiation Between the Two

Agatha Leung
3 min readNov 1, 2020



Some people find it hard to differentiate between user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). Well, I guess it is due to the fact that the two always go hand in hand and that UX could be used as an umbrella term that encompasses UI design. However, reality is that UX goes a lot further than merely interface design. It is more about the perceptions and emotional interactions, from the moment the users realise about the products, to how they react, to their whole user journey. It is about how the users think and feel throughout the experience.

Do not mix up the two!

Though UX and UI separately are important and together they build the backbone of a product, the definition and concepts behind the two should not be mixed up.

What’s UX then?

User experience is everywhere and is about everything you do in life. It literally means the experience of a user while he or she interacts with any product, tools, machine or service. But it is typically associated with the digital design discipline. Don Norman, a cognitive scientist and usability engineer, who is also the renowned UX pioneer, first introduced the term “user experience design” in 1988, with the publication of his book (the now UX bible): The Design of Everyday Things. He put forward the idea of designs being human-centred, catering the needs and requirements of users. A product, either physical or digital, should be designed with user’s desires and needs being the presiding driving force behind.

UX design is the design with intentions, combined with psychology and engineering and a lot more principles, so as to guarantee a positive and desirable experience for the users. To create a great UX design, designers need to spend time and effort understanding what their target users really want and how they want it.

How about UI?

In simple terms, UI, usually in visual and tactile nature, is the part of a product which a person interacts with.

User interface comes in 3 main formats: (1), Graphical user interfaces (GUIs), a way of communication between users and the visual representations on digital control panels. Examples would be using icons and arrows on your desktop to give out instructions; (2),

Voice-controlled interfaces (VUIs), where users interact with products with voices. Siri of the Mac system and Google Assistant are examples of VUIs; (3), Gesture-based interfaces, using bodily motions to operate interfaces. It refers to gesture recognition, including tipping, eye motion, and other body movements and example would be Virtual Reality (VR) Gaming (Interaction design foundation, n.d.).

UI comes in many forms indeed, but back to the basic (GUIs), it is mainly about the series of screen display and other elements like buttons, text, images and graphic design. It is concerned with the surface design and the vibe that it gives. Bear in mind that UI design should be kept simple and intuitive, as it is what a user uses to make a product performs as he desires it to, so as to attain and accomplish certain goals (Pontius, n.d.). Therefore, UI is not just about visual design, but is also linked with usability and functionality, and this is the point where UI and UX intercept with each other.

To sum up, I would say that UI attracts users and UX improves their loyalty. The two must come together to make the magic happen. In the meanwhile, the meaning of the two should be clearly defined as they work in different ways.


Interaction Design Foundation. (n.d.). User interface design. Retrieved from: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/ui-design

Pontius, N. (n.d). What is User Interface Design? Product Design Principles, UI Trends, and More. Pannam Imaging. Retrieved from: https://www.pannam.com/blog/what-is-user-interface-design/