User Experience research (UX) as a discipline has exploded over the years.  It has now (rightfully) begun to get credited as a vital discipline directly responsible for the success (and failure) of products. Unfortunately, it is also ranks as one of the most misunderstood of all disciplines.

Product teams ignorant of the nature of the discipline, see UX as an add-on rather than an integral part of a Product lifecycle. One of the reasons UX has to struggle to be seen as an equal to other disciplines is the fact that it’s much harder to tangibly attach a ROI till a product is actually rolled out. This has made UX somewhat of an outlier within the Product design spectrum even though it should well be seen as of it’s most critical.

To add to the confusion, to already muddied waters, and one of the key reasons for UX not being able to hold it’s own ground as a discipline is because it’s often confused about being an extension of User Interface design (UI). A discipline that is a much smaller subset of UX and requires a completely different skillset.

A lack of awareness of how the two disciplines co exist prompts inexperienced product teams to believe they can simply hire a UI designer, instruct them to ‘DO’ the UX and this in itself will magically address all customer pain points and engagement requirements. These teams are quite unaware of the differences of UI being a small subset of UX, a much broader discipline. The temptation to force UX in what should just typical UI designer role gives product teams a false sense of security over something as vital as customer engagement.

UI vs UX

So why is it so important to separate and uniquely identify each discipline. Isn’t it possible to get both done by the same person? Well theoretically yes, this can be done but in reality this much harder than it looks especially when you deep dive into what each discipline involves.

UI designers are trained to interpret visually what an interface should look like based on best interaction design principles. They are trained in the aesthetics of a product which includes the colors, fonts, visual hierarchy and how users will interact with the product.

UX researchers, on the other hand, are trained at using various research methodologies to understand and interpret the vast permutations of human cognitive psychology and derive predictable models so that this can be used by product teams to create features that perfectly target a users pain points. User experience research, done well, is resource intensive. Few UI designers would ever have the capacity to experiment with different methodologies, do field research with real users, compile this into an actionable report before then working on the UI.

However, a role has emerged that is more suited to address this gap in the form of a UX designer / Interaction designer. An interaction designer interprets customer needs and business requirements and builds the blueprint for the product including wireframes and wireflows. This separation of disciplines makes each role more focused on deliverables that allow a UI designer to add the final polish.