User experience has many components. The user interface is just one of them. By frequently combining these two terms we’re implying that they are equal or two sides of the same coin. That’s not always the case.
UX stands for User Experience. The definition of UX that I like best is that it’s the sum of all the touch points a user has with your product or service over time. UI stands for User Interface. This usually means a digital screen or a voice interface.
A lot of times you are designing screens or voice user interfaces. And there are standards and best practices for this type of effort. But UX is much more. UX by its nature is holistic. It should consider all the elements that impact the user experience.
Imagine you’ve been given the problem of finding out why the call center is getting so many calls from customers asking to explain the bills they’re receiving and bringing that percentage down. After researching the issue you determine that the problem is the way the bill is, or isn’t, designed. And you also find out that the reason it’s designed like this is because the programmers simply let the billing system determine how the bill would look and there weren’t any designers involved in the project. They solved the problem they were given – to send timely and accurate bills to customers, but it wasn’t their job to think of all the elements involved in having a customer receive a bill, understand it, and make a timely payment. This is the job of UX, or at least someone with a UX perspective that can see the real problem. The solution to this problem is to redesign the layout of the bill. There’s no UI involved.
Seeing or hearing UX/UI frequently together can easily build the impression that these two things are tightly aligned and you can’t have one without the other. I’ve had many stakeholders ask about UX/UI and what it is. The first thing I usually do is separate the terms and say that the UI is just one component of UX. Then I explain UX.
The way we talk about things influences how we think about things. UX designers need to think about the big picture. You always have to consider the needs of people in UX design and there are many things that influence people’s behavior and attitudes outside of the UI.