Should I Learn UI Or UX First?

What should you learn first: UI or UX design? You definitely need to learn UI first. Read our blog explaining why.

Team Designlab
Team Designlab
Nov 19, 2021
Min Read

There’s a lot of overlap in user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design. UI is an integral part of the wider UX process: the UX designer maps out the user journey and the UI designer then fills it in with visual and interactive elements. Logically then, it would make sense to follow that same order when learning to become a UI/UX or product designer, right?! The reality is, while the design process does generally start with UX, it’s also a lot harder to learn without first having some grounding in UI. 

If we zoom out and think about UI design’s application in the real world, we're surrounded by it. It's what we see first. It's how we know not to make a left turn at an intersection, which button means power on/off, how to find our gate at an airport terminal...truly the list is endless. UI design is what first impressions are based off of: colors, imagery, fonts, etc. are put together to evoke a particular thought or emotion, or drive a certain behavior. Once you collect enough visual evidence of a pattern, you can form a hypothesis around expected behavior. For example, the color red is typically used to alert someone of an error, warning, or danger (like a STOP sign).

Here’s a handy chart that highlights the differences between UX and UI design:

UX or UI Chart

In order to understand human behavior and how to drive intended behaviors, one must first understand what contributes to this behavior. Usually, these are the things that are first experienced through sight, sound, smell, and/or touch. Learning UI before UX is important because it allows you to practice observation, pattern recognition, and behaviors based on patterns. Working backwards through the understanding of UI will open the gates to designing a better overall UX design. 

The Benefits of Learning UX and UI Design

There are many benefits of learning both UX and UI design, including increasing your earning potential and career prospects, improving users’ quality of life, and helping to provide solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. 

Here are some of the separate and specific benefits to learning UX design and UI design... 

The Benefits of Learning UX Design

You’ll benefit from learning UX design specifically, because it will enable you to:

  • Better understand your users and the problems you’re aiming to solve
  • Create designs that are not only beautiful, but functional too
  • Develop apps, websites, and products more quickly
  • Validate concepts through building, testing, and iterating
  • Drive business growth and increased sales for your company/clients

The Benefits of Learning UI Design

You’ll benefit from learning UI design specifically, because it will enable you to:

  • Better understand the basics of color theory, typography, and imagery
  • Express yourself artistically, but within existing design patterns
  • Master giving and receiving design critique well
  • Tackle interesting and new problems as design constantly evolves
  • Stand out competitively with beautiful—and invisible—designs

Why You Need to Learn UI First

UX Design Cannot Exist Without UI Design

While there are amazing benefits to learning both UX and UI design, UX design cannot exist without UI design. Through many years of teaching UX/UI design to thousands of students, we’ve discovered that learning UI before UX is the optimal way to make the most out of the learning process and benefits listed above. UI followed by UX has proven to set career-switchers up for greater success in career-changing bootcamps, like our UX Academy program, which dives deep into UX design but also covers UI design at a more advanced level. 

So, in our opinion, it’s a good idea to invest some time in learning good UI design upfront! If you like the idea of creating awesome user experiences but see yourself as a more visual person, you may be more interested in UI design anyway! But regardless of whether you hope to pursue a career in UI or UX design, it’s important to start with UI design fundamentals. 

For example, in our UX Academy Foundations course, we help students learn UI design in this order:

  • Unit 1: Visual Design Basics
  • Unit 2: UI Design Principles
  • Unit 3: UI Design Elements
  • Unit 4: Design Evaluation and Critique
  • Unit 5: Designing for Multiple Devices
  • Unit 6: Images, Icons, and Logos
  • Unit 7: Color and Typography
  • UI Design Is Arguably Easier Than Learning UX Design

It can also be argued that learning UI design is easier than learning good UX design. (Though, we encourage you to discover for yourself how “easy” or “hard” visual design is by doing some copywork exercises.) Some people find the hands-on, design aspect of UI design easier than the psychological, research aspect of UX design. Learning UI design is really about understanding the many rules of visual design and mastering the array software design tools that will help you create those designs. UX design on the other hand involves extensive knowledge of formal skills like user research, information architecture, and designing for development. While UI design skills go wide, UX design skills go deep.

UI Design Is Foundational

UI design allows you to focus on the single page or element at hand, without thinking too much about the overall UX. Once you have the basic understanding of UI design principles internalized, then applying those principles to the overall experience is far easier. Afterall, designing a great UX has UI rules contained within it.

UI Design Helps You Showcase Your Work in a Visual Way

If you're putting off learning UI design to learn more about the nuances of UX design, you're going to have all the rhetoric and understanding of why things should be done a certain way, but without having anything visual to show for it. And your portfolio—a very visual medium—will not benefit from that approach. When you’re making a career switch to UX design your goal is to become a generalist, at least at first, so you want recruiters to see you’re at least proficient at UI design.

Starting with UI design will help you gain competence over time as you work your way up from small projects to a broader scope. It’s not a sudden line you cross but a gradual process of seeing the bigger picture of UX.

Learning UI design is a great first step when it comes to learning UX design, and thus the best way to start your new career in this field. With UX Academy Foundations, you'll work 1-on-1 with an expert mentor to learn key UI design concepts and hands-on design skills. By the end, you'll be ready to progress on to UX Academy!

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.