Green and blue UX vs UI graphic with brain.

A digital presence isn’t just a part of your business — it is your business. That's why user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design are more important than ever. But what do UX and UI designers do? How do their responsibilities differ?

In this post, we chat with Justin Lobaito, digital designer and front-end developer for Two Rivers Marketing. We dig deep into UX and UI to get a better understanding of the differences between them.

Q: Let’s start with an easy one: What are UX and UI design?

A: While it’s common for people to use these terms interchangeably, they’re quite different. UI refers to aesthetic elements like the typography and color schemes of a product or service, such as a website. On the other hand, UX is all about the journey a user experiences while using the product or service.

To make it simple, here’s an analogy: When constructing a house, the UX designers are the ones making the blueprints and ensuring that each room connects in a logical way. The UI designers are picking out the paint colors and accents that will create a cohesive, visually appealing experience.

Q: UI sounds a bit like graphic design. How do these two disciplines differ?

A: It’s not that uncommon for graphic designers to become UI designers. As someone who started school in graphic design, I know firsthand how appealing the move to the digital world is. Marketing is heavily digital now — from banner ads to e-commerce sites to interactive touchscreens at a trade show. UI incorporates a lot of traditional design concepts, like color theory, and applies them in a more methodical, less subjective way.

Q: UX design seems more on the technical side of things. Does it require coding?

A: UX designers don’t code in the traditional sense. But it’s definitely helpful to know the basics of HTML and CMS, so that you understand what is and isn't possible. Typically, the UX designer outlines the blueprint, UI creates the visual concept, and front-end developers make it pretty while back-end developers make it functional.

Q: Now that we know what these terms mean, can you elaborate on why user experience is important?

A: You can have something that’s beautiful that the client loves, but that doesn’t mean it will convert. At the end of the day, we’re trying to get real people, with real time constraints, to do something. Good UX removes roadblocks so both the user and the client get what they really want. For example, if someone is shopping for a pair of shoes, we want a seamless journey from the initial search to payment confirmation.

Q: How do you go about creating a good user experience?

A: First and foremost, usability of the site should never be hindered because of a design idea. Users' needs and expectations should always lead the process, with design following. This includes those with different abilities. UX and UI designers have to think about accessibility and ensure they’re using appropriate colors, fonts, and assistive technologies.

It can be a hard battle because flashiness is often easier to sell. But a good UX designer will always advocate for the user. Luckily, today we have much more data on how people interact with digital platforms, so we can make more informed design decisions.

Q: What are some of the ways you identify issues with, test, and measure the user experience?

A: Let's say there's a site that exists and we've been asked to revamp it. We'd start by using established digital auditing processes to look for anything that goes against UX and UI core principles and best practices. Once we've gathered all necessary information, we start with a prototype that includes core interactions needed for the site to function, such as a checkout process. We test every element in that journey — similar to the shoe example I gave earlier. Then we administer user tests, which usually ask the users to complete specific tasks. We monitor their actions to see how they’re using the site. This helps us identify pain points and gather user feedback. But the work doesn’t stop. There’s always ongoing optimization, even after we launch.

UX and UI design may sound like tech-heavy geek-speak, but they are approachable roles that tie into research, strategy, and creativity.

Interested in UX design? Our UX designers are fierce advocates for the person not in the room — the end user. If your passion is designing thoughtful digital experiences that drive action, apply now!