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UX is not UI

Why we need to

talk about this.


As UX Supervisor, one of my mandates is to continuously improve the overall standing of UX within the studio. I was thinking, apart from trainings, presentations and workshops, how can I do that? Also, what exactly needs the most urgent improvement and which groups of people would benefit from this the most? All of them, obviously, but idealism aside, there had to be a way to determine the status quo.

Luckily, during my training in London by the Nielsen Norman Group, I had the chance to meet Kara Pernice, the Senior Vice President at the NN/g. In one of her presentations, she talked about the eight stages of UX maturity a corporation can reach, starting from the total ignorance towards user needs to the ultimately user-needs driven corporal strategy... and all the steps of UX-evolution that come between that.

And the coolest thing about it was, there was even a way how to find out on which stage a company is and also how to support it in order to reach the next step of this UX maturity.




Since I started to work in the gaming industry, one of my main, recurring pain points was the constant confusion about User Experience and User Interface Design. And it does not get better with the current trend of addressing the issue as 'UI/UX Design' in one. Apart from the obvious fact that those are two different professions (yes, there are overlaps, but not less than in e.g. UI Design and Art), the main problem comes with placing those two fields of expertise within a project's life cycle.

While User Interfaces can be designed during actual production,

user experience and the functionality of features has to come first, ideally no later than in early pre-production.

Otherwise, let's be honest, UX is reduced to a rather limited trouble-shooting, with uncertain outcome for the product. 

For me, this mix up of UI and UX caused multiple difficulties, when trying to introduce user research or any kind of iterative processes to development teams, because producers tended to approach me in later production phases, when it was frankly too late to establish processes or frameworks, or even elaborate on user needs, when most features have already been decided and were in development too.


To resolve this frustrating, often unproductive situation, I tried to come up with strategies on how to create a better understanding about User Experience in general, especially among producers, who had to plan, schedule and budget for UX within their projects in the first place. 

So after some brainstorming sessions, I decided to create a short presentation that would be the first thing, I'd show, when dealing with stakeholders for a new project to make clear, what my UX deliverables would be and why and how that's all beneficial to the project. And also about the misconceptions of UX vs UI.

UX. You keep using that word.

I don't think it means what you

think it means.

Obviously, I had so much to say, but to be honest, who wants to listen to long presentations, about the apparently obvious, when there are some many other things to do? And also, how do I communicate that, especially without that passive-aggressive undertone?


I had created several iterations, but over the time, the presentation got slimmed down to, what I considered the basics. I decided to focus on just two topics:

       1. UX is not UI

       2. Why is UX not a nice-to-have

My goal was to have a 5 min- or less presentation that I could quickly show to any stakeholder anytime, that would easily and clearly answer those two issues above, without going too much into detail. So we would be all on the same page about UX in the minimum of time.


I decided to start with something that most of us already came across, even outside the creative industry. This simple quote, despite sounding so obvious, describes perfectly the difference between the functionality (UX) and the visuals (UI) and clarifies the order in which they should be assessed during a development process. So I chose this quote to be my starting point.


The next challenge was to establish a basic understanding on what UX is, compared to UI. I decided to visualize that step, so people would not need to compare lists of services and tasks for either of those two. Also, I wanted to illustrate the complexity of UX within the whole development process, how it has to start in the early conception-phase and lasts throughout the production, even after the product is launched.


So in the slides that followed, I first described the roles of UX within the whole development process and explained the terminology and then switched over to the next slide, showing which part of that is actually the UI within the production. I wanted to emphasize the range of tasks and potential participants within a UX process, such as user researchers, UX designers, user testers, etc. My point was also that it is pretty difficult, if not impossible, for just one UX person to cover all those areas.

After one, or two slides about my own UX services and possible contributions for the project, I concluded the presentation with one slide, summing up the basic benefits of UX for the overall development and the product.


Throughout the whole short presentation and the conversations after, I tried to convey a positive, supportive message on how we all would benefit from this collaboration.

UX is here to help you making the right product for the right people.


It did not work. Not much at least.

Through out the years, I iterated and re-worked all parts of this UX message several times, while showing it to multiple producers, creative directors and my managers. Overall, their reaction was always very positive and interested, they mostly agreed on the content, liked the clarity of the presentation and after we discussed that topic, they seemed on the same page about the subject. And even though it certainly did get a bit better with some, I still occasionally found myself in elevator-conversations like this:

- "We'll be going into production in a couple of weeks, I'll get back to you then, we'll be needing support with the interfaces and visuals."

           - "You realize that I do UX and not UI?"


- "Of course, that's what you're going to help us with. It wouldn't have make sense to start earlier in the process with that."

I admit defeat on this one. For now.

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