UX design and UI design are often confused or considered to be the same thing. While there is a desire to recruit a combo UX/UI designer, this tends to be a unicorn request. The reality is that they are each a specialized skill set which work together to bring higher level value to a project. But where does each fit in the design process?

The UX designer considers the overall user experience – they are the architects of the product providing end-to-end functionality.

  • What are we building?

  • Why do we need this?

  • Who will be using it?

  • What determines the functional layout?

  • What is the user interaction flow?

A UX designer creates products that satisfy functional needs, but also leverage user research to ensure they deliver enjoyable solutions that meet users' goals. 

UI design is a specialist area within UX design. UI designers focus on the visual and interactive elements that users engage with. It is the visual or environmental design of the product.

  • What are the visual elements they see?

  • What are the touchpoints they engage with?

  • How does the visual presentation of elements help with navigation tasks?

  • Location of visual and interactive elements?

  • Product aesthetics and on-brand execution integrity

  • Accessibility considerations

A UI designer takes the UX wireframes and prototypes and creates user friendly interfaces at each stage of the customer interaction journey. A well-designed user interface is essential for providing a good user experience.

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So Where Does UI Fit in the UX Design Process?

Let’s walk through a typical UX process. Once an initiative has been identified as a need, the first phase of work is Project Definition and Scope which involves setting the objectives and scope for the project. This is followed by a second phase of work called Product Research which includes research and analysis as critical insight input to inform the UX design. Depending on the type of project this may require a combination of qualitative and quantitative research covering different research types, including:

  • User Research: to understand the target users engagement 

  • Market Research: to understand the overall market for the product

  • Product Research: user needs, architecture and improvement opportunities

  • Competitive Research: differentiation to competitor products

The third phase of work is User Centric Exploration and involves more understanding the problem to be solved from a user centric perspective using tools such as:

  • User Persona: a character profile that captures the essence of the target user.

  • Use Cases: to describe the user needs and desired interaction with the product.

  • Empathy Map: a visualization of user needs state, preferences, and pain points. 

  • User Flows: user journey map to visualize where product interactions take place 

The fourth phase puts the scoping and research into context through Design Concepting and Prototyping. This may begin with a brainstorming session to generate ideas, even mind mapping them to find connections between the ideas. UX designers will begin with low-fidelity prototyping such as sketches, paper mockups and basic wireframes which are quick to explore ideas. This is often where UI designers begin collaborating with UX to begin bringing in visual design considerations that may improve the user interaction and experience. Similarly, developers may be engaged for early functional feasibility input. Next they would move to interactive wireframes which are models that allow exploration of the user flow while gaining feedback. 

Then high-fidelity prototypes and user testing of proven concepts are created, and this is where the UI designer plays an important role where a more realistic version that has the look and feel of a final product and is where detailed user testing can be conducted. User tests include:

  • Testing product usability

  • Validating the design with actual users

  • Identifying pain points and opportunities for improvement

  • Accessibility testing

  • Identifying business opportunities

It is important that evaluation and testing is conducted throughout the process on an iterative basis for successful progress.

The fifth phase is Implementation Development and UI implementation. On completion of a well-performing prototype, the mockups/prototypes and documentation are shared with a Development team who will turn this into a commercial working product.

From a UI perspective, it is a collaborative effort working with the development team to ensure the UI meets the established standards. Post-launch the UI designers should be tracking user interaction to understand additional areas for improvement as a feedback loop to continue enhancing the product.

Note: UX and UI designers don’t code – that is best left to the developers to provide a robust and secure product.

The final phase is Validation – conducting a UX audit, QA and user testing on the product. The UX audit is a quality assurance check to ensure UX standards and guidelines are being met. The audit considers business objectives and scope, user flow, visual design standards including accessibility, content integrity, legal compliance, and technical execution excellence.

At completion, the new UXD product is Deploy or Go-live to users. This is not the finish, however, as in-market use data will help verify actual performance KPIs to targets, as well as identify areas for future enhancements.

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UI Level of Engagement by Phase 

From a process perspective, UX leads the project end-to-end with UI contributing most heavily to the Design Concepting & Prototyping and Implementation Development phases. While the roles are different, they are highly collaborative to create the end product. It is desirable to have the UI design role integrated from project kick-off to ensure resources are planned and coordinated with the full process. The UI role will ramp up as the UX functional design evolves – ideally partnering with the UX design lead as needed.

The UX design process is a combination of functional architecture, visual design and technical development to create a successful end product. UI design is an important supporting component in the overall process. Many Digital teams may have both skill sets, yet we also see UI designers within In-house agencies (IHA) providing an important role as a conduit liaison between the creative department and the more technical UX / Developer teams to help ensure visual brand attributes are translated effectively to new digital products. This can be a powerful partnership for an organization to deliver high-performing digital solutions.

If your organization wants to understand more about your current UX/UI needs or evolving processes and roles to keep pace with changing environment and demand, Cella can help you evaluate the opportunities to suit your Marketing and Creative operations.