How to explain the difference between a UX and UI Designer to your boss

During a recent trip to Lagos, one of the questions I was asked during my UX talk at CcHub was

How do I explain the difference between a UI and UX Designer to my boss?

Now this is a difficult task at the best of times. I mean how many times have you seen a job description for a UI/UX Designer. But I don’t envy anyone attempting to explain the difference to a Nigerian boss. I can just hear how this conversation will go. Oga aka boss (in a Nigerian accent)

A a, are you a designer or not? A fashion designer designs clothes, a jewellery designer designs jewellery, so what do you mean you don’t design the site?

I struggled to answer the question so I’ve pondered since then (I actually wrote this the day after the talk. Slow to publish, I know). Below is my attempt to clarify that difference.

The difference between UI and UX design can be thought of in relation to a fashion retail store. A Window Dresser/Designer does a fantastic job of creating an attractive and captivating window that stops shoppers in their tracks. If you have never been into that store before, it’s whatever you see in the window that prompts that initial curiosity by grabbing your attention so you enter. This attraction has been continued (started in actual fact) through the store by the Interior Design with the decor – colours, lighting, furniture, placement etc.

Prior to that however, The Architect has considered the space in terms of how it has to work. Display space, wall space, how shoppers will flow around the store, how this will make them feel as they move around and ultimately put them in the frame of mind to buy. Every detail down to the shards of light coming in at different times of the day or where the plug points go have all been designed.

Like the UX and UI Designer, there is some overlap between what the Architect and Interior Designer does. But no one would expect an Architect to be trawling through swathes of fabric or colour palettes, types of flooring or lighting. Neither would they expect them to be able to sew, be handy with a hammer and nail or a paint brush.

For some strange reason this has become the expectation for UX Designers,

They can code right?

Er, no! And neither should they have to. Yes it’s a handy skill to a have, a great feather in your cap as a matter of fact but it should not be an expectation.

UX Designers are concerned with users behaviour and how they interact with digital interfaces – functionality. Let’s leave the visuals and prettification to the experts, the UI Designers.