My client is absolutely sure that there is no difference between these topics. How do you explain that making a UX adjustment plan is not the same as a web design task?

You have to write a contract about what services you give (like "wireframes/mock-ups for main pages"). What will you write into it?

  • 2
    Design does not always mean 'visual design'. See also my answer about Methodology difference between UX and Usability where you will see that the word 'design' can be applied to about half the different roles in IA, whereas usability is applied to a single more focused role. . Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 8:21
  • The point here is to explain the difference for someone who is outsider in terms of web development :) Great thread however. (Sometimes my English is not enough to articulate the question properly :( sorry for that, I'm on it) Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 11:57
  • I think the Andy Budd article you linked earlier does a good job explaining the relationship between user experience and visual design. Why don't you post an answer with a link to that article? Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 12:47
  • That's also a good idea, it's a good start for an explanation - however that article is not really for clients but for professionals I think. I'm sure there are tons of resources in this topic, but I wanted to know your opinions. Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 13:15
  • I believe a lot of the difference between the two terms is the person behind them. Both of them can be terrible, both of them can be great, and both of them should walk hand-in-hand into the sunset.
    – RandomBrad
    Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 22:05

4 Answers 4


Design is a HUGE concept that encompasses user experience, usability, visual appearance, and much more. Usability is exactly what it sounds like: how usable your product or service is. Good design and usability definitely go hand in hand, but an attractive design is not necessarily the most usable.

Take architecture websites for example. These are often minimalistic and appeal to their audience's aesthetic, but unobtrusive calls to action and respect for whitespace don't necessarily create the most usable experiences.

Designing for a great experience can also mean breaking conventions, which can also negatively impact usability for new users. Familiar patterns are usually more usable because people don't have to think, but creating appropriate challenges for an audience may lead to a more rewarding experience in the long run. Take gmail's use of tags instead of folders for example.

As always, the key to finding the right design is to understand your stakeholders and their objectives for the project.

To get back to the detail of your question though, it sounds like it's more a matter of what point in the process it happens. Usability refinement is usually based on testing of a working site or prototype, so I'd organize my services by the stage of the process they occur.

For example (roughly):

  1. ideation / sketching
  2. prototyping / WFs
  3. usability testing (repeat 1-3 as needed)
  4. visual design
  5. development
  6. maintenance
  • Thanks for the answer. Hope that I can explain for my client (not an easy one, but 'll see :)). Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 7:22

I think that the "old" term Information Architect explains it best, and I use it in conversation to explain the difference.

An architect designs how people and items come into the building / building complex. He also realizes that multiple user personas and activities are involved. Tenants move in and there need to be service entrances and elevators for the movers and the furniture. Supplies will be brought in and garbage taken out. The architect considers all these interactions and more.

In designing a building (as with a complex website / app) there are also interior designers. They are concerned with the wallpaper and paint color of the hallways, the wainscoting, the lighting and everything else that the interior designer is concerned with.

In the web application world the interior designer is the web /graphic designer and the architect is the UX Designer. etc ...

Tailor the above example to your audience and they will start to understand the need for both UX and web design professionals.



The visual appearance or the intended method of function of an application.


A measure of the effectiveness with which a user is able to accomplish their desired tasks.

  • For the downvoters, would you mind commenting or making suggestions? Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 5:59

There are many ways to explain the differences, since I/we can talk hours about the nuance, I will try to keep it short.

Basically User Experience is: The assessment/evaluation of the emotion that a user has in relation to the product or service, from start (picking/buying) to end (using/applying). In User Experience, the designer tries to relate the product and each action in the "process".

Webdesign is a discipline in this whole chain, but also every other one for instance quick delivery of the package, or response time of support, a nice and clear guideline or sheet to start, a wrapping box that is easy to open and take the parts out... etc.

  • I agree, though note that there a new term called 'service design' that is pushing the concept of all-encompassing experience a bit further. Sadly, UX is typically just a department in a subset of the organization rather than an umbrella dogma.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 23:18

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