Should I learn UI or UX first?

What should you learn first, UI or UX design? A challenging question! In some ways, this is a chicken or the egg type of situation. Some say that UX comes before UI from a design thinking perspective. However, it isn’t always true. Here’s how you should learn UI and UX design.

Should I learn UI or UX first?

There’s a lot of overlap in UI and UX design. And even though there are differences between UX and UI, most designers agree UX comes before UI within the design process of a project. Therefore, it would only make sense to follow that same order when learning to become a UI or UX designer.

However, that doesn’t always apply. While UX comes first, it is also a lot harder to learn. It would make a case for learning UI first and UX second. As a UX mentor, I’ve found that most of my mentees were able to learn UI faster. It ties in with most UX bootcamps focusing on UI rather than UX.

Picking one over the other depends on your situation. For example, you might already have some experience in UX. In that case, building on that experience is the smart thing to do. On the other hand, UI design might be the way to go if you have a background in visual design.

It’s challenging to pick. We’re going to look at a few ways that you could tackle this issue.

Table of Contents

Should I learn UI or UX first?

The short answer is you should learn UX first and UI second. And here’s why. I’ve mentioned that UX comes before UI in the design process. In that case, it is very logical that you should learn UX first and UI second.

Another reason to do this is the fact that having a basic understanding of UX helps you create a UI design that will better fit the user’s wants and needs. You could design the most beautiful interfaces anyone has ever seen, but it will not be a good UI design if it doesn’t solve a business or user problem.

If you learn UX first, you will learn about setting up a customer journey by doing user research, creative workshops, and concept validation. Once that’s done, creating the UI design is a matter of drawing and filling the lines of your UX framework.

Walk first before you try and run. This old saying applies to learning to become a designer as well. Learn to walk (UX) first before going for a run (UI).

Learning one out of UI and UX

Let’s say you can only learn one out of UI and UX. In that case, should you learn UI or UX? It depends, as any good UX designer would say. It is up to your previous experience as a designer and the goals you have in mind.

First up is the experience you might already have. If you’re already a visual designer or graphic designer, it will be a lot easier for you to dive right into UI design. You could learn UI to become a specialist and expert in UI design.

With this in mind, you can have multiple combinations of previous working experience and design fields. Others include being a painter or artist for UI design and a researcher or psychologist for UX design.

Another factor in deciding if you want to learn UI or UX first is your goals. Even though I believe you should learn UX first, certain goals can change the advice I would give you. For example, one reason could be that you’re aiming to become either a UI or UX designer. In that case, it does not matter if you learn UI or UX first. You have to learn the role that’s relevant to you.

Further reading

Always think about the goals you have. These could be personal goals but also learning or company goals. It has a significant impact on the overall view and order of how you should learn things.

Are you wonder if you should learn UI or UX first? We can help you decide. Book a UX mentor call with us or check out our guide on learning UX.

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Profile picture of author Nick Groeneveld, a senior UX designer and mentor for The Designer's Toolbox

About the author

Hi! I'm Nick Groeneveld, a senior designer from the Netherlands with experience in UX, visual design, and research. I have completed a wide range of projects in finance, tech, and the public sector.

Take a look at my LinkedIn and Medium for more.