Web design and UX design seem to be synonymous. While each design process and body of knowledge does share overlap with the other, they also differ in specific ways. This article will break down what web design and UX design are, five similarities and five differences between the two, and which is better for an agency, depending on the business case.
While agencies can implement both UX and web design, often by hiring a single designer, it is useful for businesses and clients to understand the differences between these processes so that customers' requirements are fulfilled quicker and more efficiently.
Web design refers to the appearance of a website. The way a website looks feels, and interacts with users fall under the umbrella of web design. Now, different web designers focus on different things.
Some web designers stick to creating templates and proposed changes implemented by others in their organization, like UX designers or web developers. Other web designers implement the changes themselves if they have the required knowledge and expertise to do so.
A web designer focuses on some of the typical following design questions:
UX (or User Experience) design focuses on improving the online experience customers have when using a website or application. UX design for applications can apply to mobile apps, desktop apps, and more, as users seek out platforms beyond the web.
UX focuses on removing or reducing pain points. UX design pain points are specific areas of an online experience that frustrate or delay the user from completing a task. An example of a pain point is as follows:
You book a flight directly on an airline's website. However, because you are in a public place and on public Wi-Fi, using a VPN (a virtual private network) for additional browser security, the credit card's country of origin does not match your IP address’s location (for example, using a British card with a Canadian VPN). The website cancels your transaction at the checkout process and redirects you to their Canadian page.
Regarding this pain point, a UX designer can design changes to reduce this pain point by creating a feature to allow for the use of foreign credit cards. Bad user experiences should not be indicative of a trend.
UX designers focus more on the architecture of a website, implementing user flows, and large-scale user interactions, than simply “design.”
Web design and UX design overlap. Depending on the agency and designer, a web designer may practice UX design, and a UX designer may practice web design. Both designers may even devote some time to front-end web development too, depending on their skill sets and the agency they work for!
Transferable skills. Due to the overlap mentioned above, skills may be transferable between the web and UX design, especially when using “all in one” front-end frameworks that perform both functions, like Bootstrap, React, or Angular.
Agency size. Small agencies will often blend UX and web design, due to the overlap and transferable skills. Larger agencies will provide web and UX designers with separate job roles and duties. Both web and UX designers focus on improving a website’s appeal, and customer experience, the difference is the design skill sets each designer emphasizes.
Same design platform. Clients who want specific information displayed in particular ways on a web page can go to either a UX designer or a web designer. Both designers work on implementing designs for websites and often work on the same design teams.
Importance for clients and users. Both web design and UX design are essential and should be implemented, depending on client requirements. Neither is better than the other and at small agencies, many designers perform UX and web design practices to fulfil customer needs, especially for the web.
Web design has a broader scope than UX design. A web designer can be responsible for everything to do with the way a website looks and responds, including UX design. Many smaller agencies will hire web designers, with the expectation these designers also follow UX best practices, due to limited hiring budgets.
UX design is a more involved, and emotive, design process. A web designer can, if needed, work alone. Performance issues like web mobility and scalability do not need third-party input, as long as the web designer follows customer requirements and metrics. Following UX design best practices, by contrast, requires emotive information from everyone from the client, to the casual user, to the designer's agency.
Web and UX design have different technical specializations. Web design focuses more on the look and feel of a website. UX design focuses more on building good customer experiences. The technical requirements implemented to fulfil these design specialities are different, as is the designer's approach. UX is focused more on architecture, while web design is focused more on visual appeal.
UX designers design more than the web. The internet is a common platform, in part because it is accessible on mobile platforms. The web mitigates the need for mobile apps, but UX designers can also work on product design, mobile design, and the like. Building good user experiences requires a designer to consider much more than just the web, using various tools, processes, and design flows to create a shared experience across multiple platforms.
UX design requires more experience to implement successfully. UX designers need more extensive base knowledge and expertise with multi-platform design. While the web also requires a broad knowledge base, designing for one platform has a smaller learning curve than designing features for multiple platforms.
Agencies with clients that prefer the look of a website as a priority should consider investing in web design over UX design. With front-end frameworks like EmberJS, Angular 2+, ReactJS, Bootstrap 3/4/5 being utilized by agencies worldwide, it has never been easier to implement great-looking web designs.
Agencies and designers save time and money and provide clients with the experiences they require at affordable price points.
If an agency outsources design work, focusing on web design is preferable. Designing a website requires a client’s perspective, but it is not as involved a process as UX design. Web designers can implement designs by looking at design mockups and drafts, based on client emails and meetings where the actual designer may be absent, and more.
As long as the client’s parameters are clear, web design is more easily implementable.
An agency with short-term clientele, or “one-off” projects, will also benefit from web design over UX design because UX design is a more involved process. Clients with limited budgets, or who do not want to change the published website much (like a business brochure site), will not need UX design.
For business cases like these, a web design framework will work wonders.
Agencies more concerned over user experiences than the design of a website should choose UX design. Small and medium sized-agencies, or agencies with many clients experiencing a time-crunch, will benefit more from UX design.
Many agencies already use front-end frameworks to improve their websites' designs, often adding custom stylings over them.
While web designers are a great role to have in any agency, popular existing tools, and third-party services supplement the web design process. UX design is a more personable interactive process.
You need employees tasked to projects to interact with clients, find pain points, and then implement changes based on client metrics, which is a much more emotive process than making a website scalable or responsive.
Large design agencies already employ at least a few UX and web designers so that these agencies can choose both processes with ease.
UX design is also suitable for agencies with long-term clientele who require agencies to focus on the ongoing support and maintenance of a website. Short-term clients will not benefit from UX design beyond the initial website development, testing, and deployment.
An agency can, and should, consider choosing both web and UX design. While UX is arguably a sub-speciality of web design, both are useful. The primary factors an agency should consider when selecting a design direction is as follows:
Ultimately, agencies need to determine their capabilities and comfort with web and UX design and the needs and scope of their clients before deciding which design process is better. There is no right answer, but some agencies will benefit from web design over UX design, and vice versa.