Why UX and UI should remain separate

By Daryl Duckmanton

A lot of us would have heard of the term User Experience. We’ve also heard the term User Interface. Did you know that the User Experience is not the same as User Interface? So why is it that I consistently see UX/UI Designer roles advertised? As if they are part of the same job. They aren’t. Here is why.

First and foremost, a User Experience Designer is primarily focused on the users of your product/service. These users are both the consumers, as well as the people within your business. From a high level, their ultimate goal is to establish what your product/service is required to do, in order to provide the best value to your target audience. With this in mind, some of the tasks they work on (not a complete list) are:-

  1. Strategizing — Performing research, interviewing potential users, establishing business goals, establishing customer needs, building a road map, etc.
  2. Scoping — Establishing a list of requirements that meet the goals of your target audience and your business. The requirements have a high level of feasibility.
  3. Structure — Establishing simple but powerful information architecture, establishing the interaction and/or flow between particular steps in your product/service, etc.
  4. Skeleton — High-level interface design (mocks etc). Navigation design etc.
  5. Surface — Visual representation of the final output of the product/service. Focusing primarily on how the eye is led on each screen etc. This is usually where they assist the designer in how the content should flow in the designs.

As you can see only the last list item really focuses on design, and this is more about visualizing both the information architecture and the interactive flow of the application via the designs. So with this said, a User Experience Designer does not necessarily have the skills nor the creativity to design the system and make it look beautiful. And even if they do, they already have enough work on their plate to ensure that the product/service is being built as expected to suit our audience.

It is my opinion that the designer role is a separate individual role. Why? Well, let’s see some of the things they do (not a complete list either).

  1. User Interface Design — Building a creative and engaging UI across potentially different form factors. These could be different devices, such as iPhone, iPad, Android, or just simply different screen sizes for the web. In a lot of cases, both are done.
  2. Theme Design — Related to the first one. Providing a consistent theme, for the product/service so that it’s memorable to the users.
  3. Logo Design — Building any logos the product/service may require. Each logo may also potentially be a number of different form factors.
  4. Digital Asset Creation — Based on the User Interface Design, assets need to be created for the developers to use. Some interfaces will indicate a change in the state of a button and other individual elements, These changes in the state need to be exported reliably.
  5. Web Design (Optional) — If this product/service is a web application, some designers will also take on the work of building the basic prototype of what the web application will look like, without backend support. This can assist the User Experience Designer in determining if he/she is on the right track with their assumption of what is expected from the product/service before development takes place.

Now please understand, if you are reading this article, and are either a UX Designer or a UI Designer, I am simply a developer. I do not completely understand everything these 2 roles do entirely. I’m sure there is more that these roles do. However, my point of this article was to detail how I feel these roles are completely different and should be treated as such.

I have seen a number of companies invest in just 1 UX/UI Designer. What I have noticed about these individuals is they are either overworked, and do not have enough time to do all tasks required accurately, or even worse, they are simple UI Designers, who have done a little bit of UX. Sure you think this is ok, but to me, UX is everything to a product/service. It is a full-time job of its own.

Not only is it important to me that this role be kept separate from a UI Designer, but if I could afford it, I would have at least 2 UX Designers for each project I have that require their services. That’s how valuable they are to me. In fact, if I was to start a product/service-based business tomorrow and could only start out with one employee along with myself, I would choose a UX Designer over any other role. I don’t think enough people understand how important a UX Designer is to a product/service-based business. If you don’t have a solid understanding of what you should do to get the best out of your product/service, then you will fail, no matter how good it looks or how well it’s developed.

Bottom line. Keep the UX Designer role separate from a UI Designer. Both roles are way too important to try and save money on. Invest in the 2 roles separately and I guarantee it will be worth the investment.

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