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What's the difference between user interface and user experience?

At the most basic level, the user interface (UI) is the series of screens, pages, and visual elements—like buttons and icons—that you use to interact with a device.

User experience (UX), on the other hand, is the internal experience that a person has as they interact with every aspect of a company’s products and services.

What is UX?

The term UX was coined by cognitive scientist Don Norman in the early 1990’s while he was VP of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple.

Here’s how he formally defines it:

“‘User experience’ encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

In an email explaining the origin of the term, Norman wrote:

“I invented the term because I thought Human Interface and usability were too narrow: I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.

Since then, the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose its meaning.”

By definition, user experience covers a broad range of disciplines, and it can be hard for some to wrap their heads around (like myself when I was first learning about it).

But in a more recent essay, Norman elucidated on the combination of ingredients that go into achieving a high-quality user experience:

“The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use.

True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.”

UX isn’t limited to the visual interface of your product. It’s a concept that has many dimensions and encompasses the entire journey a person takes, including:

  • The process they go through to discover your company’s product
  • The sequence of actions they take as they interact the interface
  • The thoughts and feelings that arise as they try to accomplish their task
  • The impressions they take away from the interaction as a whole

(Source: Peter Moreville)

UX designers are responsible for ensuring that the company delivers a product or service that meets the needs of the customer and allows them to seamlessly achieve their desired outcome.

They may do that by conducting user research to get as much context as possible about the user of the product and then using those learnings to mockup wireframes and prototypes to help the user get from point A to point B.

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