Understanding the actual difference between UI and UX design will not only boost your credibility in the mobile app industry, but it will also help you understand your mobile product from two unique, invaluable lenses.

Many people ask the question “What’s the actual difference between UI and UX design?” because these two fields are often confused. Clarification is desperately needed, and this article is the end-all solution to your troubles.


A Brief History of UI and UX Design

  • The difference between UI and UX design originated in the 1970’s, when people witnessed the first signs of UI design in the form of the command line interface. The command line interface was the “bare bones” version of the modern day computer, as it required end users to understand “computer speak” in order to operate it. This provided people with a minimal UI, but not a UX.
The DEC VT100 computer provided the world with the most basic form of a user interface known as the command line interface. Source: Devhackaday.com


  • In 1981, the Xerox Star computer was released along with a Graphical User Interface (GUI). This computer displayed icons, menus, windows, files, buttons and more. It gave the people an advanced UI and the earliest form of a UX, since it was much easier to use than previous computers, and didn’t require any programming language to navigate.


Xerox Star
The Xerox Star brought us closer to modern day design by introducing the GUI which offered a graphical UI and somewhat of a UX. Source: Digibarn.com


  • The Macintosh computer was released by Apple in 1984, and this really set the stage for the future of UI and UX design. Macintosh computers introduced the point-and-click mouse, the ability to manage multiple windows, and the use of attractive design in technology.
Macintosh computer
Apple brought forth UI and UX design with the early Macintosh computer. Source: Oldcomputers.net


But What’s the Actual Difference Between UI and UX Design Today?

UI Design Today

Feedly App
Source: Feedly App


Today, UI design is the culmination of screens, buttons, icons, pages, typography, and all that is visual in a technology product. It’s the newer field of the two, and is central to how users navigate and interact with mobile apps on a surface level.

For example, someone who is a UI Designer will focus on building tangible products that people can efficiently use in the modern age. He or she may be well-versed in leveraging visual styles, mockups, button placements, structures, microcopy, forms, and more. UI design is a delicate process that requires a thorough understanding of user preferences on mobile.


UX Design Today

what is UX design
Soruce: UXhow.com


UX design is complementary to UI design, but is an entirely separate field that takes place at a conceptual level within the mobile app development process. It’s the process of ensuring that your product will spark real emotions, build lasting habits, drive organic traffic, and provide genuine value at every level of your brand. UX design encompasses your product, services, social media, user support, and everything to do with your company, digital and offline.

Someone who is a UX Designer will focus on creating a product that solves a problem which users face. It’s a creative process that involves analyzing market pain points, conducting user research, creating user personas,  figuring out how to deliver a winning solution that your end users will love, and then continually optimizing. No one said that UX design would be easy, but it’s an essential aspect of building a complete mobile app brand.


So How do the Roles of UI and UX Designer Ultimately Differ?

We’ve covered the basic characteristics of UI and UX design, now let’s explore how those unique distinctions affect the associated professional roles. To start, we wanted to provide you with an overarching breakdown. Check out this slick graphic by UXdesigner21:

Differences between UI and UX designer
Source: UXdesigner21.com



UI Designers:

  • Focus on the visual aspects of the mobile product
  • Create the individual “moments” that users will have with a product
  • The role generally requires more technical capabilities and graphic design knowledge
  • The role is built on more of a standardized process (yet with plenty of room for creativity)


UX Designers:

  • Focus on the “big picture” or conceptual view of how people like to use a mobile product
  • Plan the emotions, features, and benefits that users will experience at every level of a mobile product or brand
  • Envision the user journey that people must use on a daily basis
  • The role is extremely user research and data analysis intensive


Now that we have explained the fundamental differences between UI and UX design (including their associated professions), let’s get to the goodies: a list of some of the most favored  tools of UI and UX designers.


Favorite Tools of UI Designers



Balsamiq mockups
Source: Prototypr.io


UI Designers enjoy using Balsamiq Mockups to quickly wireframe products in a “freehand” style. If you can imagine yourself as a sketch artist who uses a whiteboard to design products in just minutes, then you’ve got Mockups.



Sketch for designers
Source: Prototypr.io

Sketch, which is built for Mac users, is one of the more popular tools used by UI Designers. This tool will help you build icons, interfaces, and even websites for your app. Sketch’s Vector shapes also provide UI Designers with a creative feature that helps to customize your product’s shapes and layouts.




Zeplin for UI designers
Source: Zeplin.io

Zeplin provides UI Designers with the opportunity to automatically create styleguides and resources. It works by allowing UI designers to upload specs, and receive perfect comps that collaborators can comment on. This creates a valuable platform for UI Designers to work directly with developers.


Appsee’s Touch Heatmaps

Mobile Touch Heatmaps
Appsee Touch Heatmaps

Using a tool like Appsee’s Touch Heatmaps can give UI designers a clear visual “map” of how to build the perfect user journey. If users are constantly visiting one product category within your m-commerce app, like ‘T-shirts’, for example, then you may find that you need to reorganize your menu structure or search UX to help users access that product category more easily. Touch Heatmaps can also help you conceptualize your user’s deep-rooted interests, as you’ll find out which products people truly want to interact with inside of your product (you’ll see exactly where people are tapping, touching and swiping).


Favorite Tools of UX Designers



Optimizely for UX
Source: Optimizely.com

A/B testing is a key component of building a successful mobile product because optimization is a continuous process. Any UX Designer can tell you that their product can always be improved, as this outlook is one of the best ways to remain competitive in the mobile app economy. Optimizely works by letting you test various concepts within your mobile app to help you determine which topics, features, or benefits your users are most interested in. A/B testing tools like Optimizely can absolutely be used for big-picture conceptualization, and not just minor visual tweaks.



Source: Apptentive.com

Finding out what your users want to tell you is important, and using Apptentive’s research tools like their ‘Surveys’ feature is an excellent way to receive direct feedback from users.



Source: UXPin.com

UXPin enables UX Designers to easily create clickable protoypes for mobile products within their browser. It offers a wide range of functionalities, and also offers a convenient free trial for immediate use.



Source: speckyboy.com

This wireframing tool is accessible by browser, and gives UX Designers a simple solution that prioritizes speed over perfect visuals. The click-and-drag functionality of Wireframe.cc makes brainstorming an easy process, and the tool also emphasizes a minimalistic palette to help you focus on big ideas, not details.


Appsee’s User Recordings

Appsee User Recordings
Appsee’s User Recordings

UX Designers use Appsee to visualize how users truly interact with their mobile app. Appsee’s User Recordings tool, for example, provides visual recordings that show the exact buttons, menu items, screens, and information that users interact with. You’ll ultimately be able to use User Recordings to better understand your users on a much more personal level, and figure out what your market actually wants from your product. This tool can help you create better product releases, and generate more cash flow for your mobile app start-up or business.


Got some additional tools to add to the list? We would love to hear which tools you think must be in a UI or UX Designer’s arsenal.

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