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UI Design Vs UX Design Vs Visual Design

The design world comes with lots of different concepts and terminology, which, let’s face it, can be confusing.

In this article, we break down three common terms — visual design, UX design, and UI design (wait… what? UX and UI design are not the same thing?)

Whether you’re an aspiring designer, or you’re brushing up your knowledge for an upcoming design job interview, this article will simplify these terms and show you where they intersect and complement each other.

Here’s UI design to kick us off!

What is UI design?

A user interface (UI) refers to “the point of human-device interaction and communication” with a digital product such as an application, website, or even a game. User interfaces include screens, buttons, and any other elements a person uses to interact with the product.

User interface types include:

  • Graphical user interfaces (GUIs): With GUIs, a user interacts with graphical elements on a screen, for example, pictures, charts, and toolbars. Mac OS and Windows OS are both examples of GUIs — the windows you open in these systems have graphical elements such as menus, icons, pictures, and buttons.
  • Voice-controlled user interfaces (VUIs): These speech recognition technologies allow people to interact with digital devices (for example, smartphones and computers) using voice commands. Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant are all examples of VUIs.
  • Gesture-based user interfaces: Users have to perform specific physical motions to operate this type of interface. For example, swipe gestures and hand movements when using your phone.

In terms of design, UI focuses on creating visually stunning interfaces. UI designers decide the look of all the screens or pages that make up a digital user interface, as well as the look of the individual elements featured on said screens and pages.

Things like typography and colors all fall under a UI designer’s domain. The designer is also responsible for making sure that all the different screens or pages fit together seamlessly, setting the stage for the end user’s positive experience.

This brings us to the next section…

What is UX design?

In the 1990s, Don Norman coined the term user experience (UX), defining it as the concept that “encompasses all aspects of the end user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

In design, user experience is the process by which a user interacts with the various design elements that make up a product, service, or system.

UX designers don’t actually design user experience. That’s because user experience is not something that can be designed like user interfaces. The role of UX designers is to design for a positive user experience, which means creating conditions that result in positive experiences for the user.

We, humans, are logical, yet emotional creatures. As such, when we go through an “experience” both our emotions and reasoning are present. A UX designer accounts for this general human behavior to create a functional design that enables the user to satisfy their expectations, fulfill their needs, and meet their goals.

UX design essentially builds a bridge to the end-user so it often considers the entire process or journey a user goes through as they interact with a product or service. A UX designer will generally consider the following key areas as they work:

  • Usability: Good design means a product or service is simple and easy to use.
  • Usefulness: A product or service must fulfill a need otherwise there’s no real reason for a person to use it.
  • Desirability: The design must be appealing enough to evoke positive emotions.
  • Findability: A user should be able to find a solution quickly when they have a problem.
  • Accessibility: The product or service needs to be accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities.
  • Credibility: The company and its product or service must exude trustworthiness.

The difference between UI design and UX design

The terms UI design and UX design are sometimes used interchangeably. By now, you’ve probably seen that they are not quite the same.

While UI design focuses on aesthetics and how different elements fit together, UX design goes beyond the visuals and concentrates on giving users meaningful experiences.

UX designers figure out how the different elements of a product work, how users will interact with these elements, and the journey they will go through — both on logical and emotional levels — when using the product.

In short, UX design involves managing the user’s journey as they interact with a service or product, and UI design focuses on the construction of that service’s or product's interface.

However, both disciplines use a human-first approach to design. As such, they complement each other, and sometimes overlap, to contribute to a robust product or service that serves users well and finds success in the market.

What is visual design?

The third term we’re looking at is visual design, another design discipline that focuses on how a product looks.

Visual design is all about strategically bringing together colors, fonts, images, illustrations, layouts, and other visual elements to create a product that looks great.

The keyword here is ‘strategically.’

While people tend to think of creating a product with the most appeal, that’s not all there is to visual design. Good visual design:

  • Points the user to a product or service’s functionality.
  • Creates aesthetics that build a positive and consistent brand image.
  • Ensures that content gives off the right visual cues and communicates the right information.

The smallest and most subtle visual design details will affect how a user perceives a product or service.

What does the audience expect from this brand? What color scheme do I need to follow to convey the message clearly? Why pick this specific color, font, or layout for this specific element? Are these design concepts consistent with the brand’s identity?

These are the kinds of questions a visual designer will try to answer as they work.

Being strategic is what connects visual design with UX and UI design.

User experience: Where UI, UX, and visual design meet

There you have it, three commonly used terms in the design space.

Visual design is obviously connected to UI design, since both center around a product’s look and feel. In fact, visual design forms the topmost layer of UI design, which concentrates on the visual style and voice of a product, or larger brand.

However, UI design goes beyond the visuals, digging a little deeper into how each element of the interface is built and integrated with other elements. The work of UI designers also covers other areas involving how the elements work together and the extent to which users can interact with them.

This is where UI overlaps with UX, with UX designers focusing on the interactivity part — what users experience as they go through the process of interacting with a product.

On the other hand, UX design also shares a crucial connection with visual design. Good visual design plays a big role in improving user experience, helping to keep users engaged as they interact with a product.

Although UX, UI, and visual design require some distinct skills, there’s also a lot of overlap. Overall, all three design disciplines feed into each other, and they are all important for developing an appealing product that provides the best user experience.

Get, set, design!

Creating a successful website, app, or other digital product requires being strategic about fusing UI, UX, and visual design. You can rest assured that whichever one of these disciplines you choose, you’ll play a vital role in the creation of a user-friendly, accessible, and useful product.

That said, every great designer — whether you’re new to the world of design, or looking to grow your career in UX, UI, or visual design — needs a good digital asset management tool.

Yes, Dropbox and Google Drive work, but how about a tool that’s specifically built for creatives like yourself?

How do you feel about a visual file manager that allows you to find your assets 10x faster, or a duplicating feature that automatically cuts the clutter? How about being able to collaborate with clients or team members on the platform on which your assets are housed (no need to jump over to Slack)?

Playbook allows you to do this and more. Plus, you get plenty of space!