You’ve probably heard the terms “user experience design” and “interaction design” put together more than a few times, which could lead you to believe that they’re interchangeable. However, that’s not really the case.

While these two disciplines often work together or are sometimes executed by the same person, they each serve distinct and important roles. How do you differentiate these terms, though? Sometimes it’s tricky to verbalize what separates interaction design and user experience design, so we’ve explored those distinguishing factors here:

What is interaction design?
First, you’ll need to know the basic meaning of interaction design. According to the Interaction Design Association, it “defines the structure and behavior of interactive systems. Interaction designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond. Our practices are evolving with the world.”

“There is no ‘globally agreed upon’ definition.”

However, interpretations of its meaning extend far beyond that. As the Interaction Design Foundation explains, there is no “globally agreed upon” definition, especially as it pertains to setting it apart from UX, and it can change depending on the user.

Per Axbom, a UX and interaction designer, wrote that interaction design is simply a “methodology for producing visual representations of an online service,” noting that these representations are typically used for early testing or specifications for other designers and developers.

To create these designs, the interaction design looks specifically at a user’s interaction with the system (as its name would suggest), using similar resources as UX designers – insight from studies and research, Axbom continued.

How do you separate it from UX?
To better clarify the difference, Axbom crafted an analogy on his blog that compared user experience and interaction design to the process of constructing a building.

According to Axbom, while the UX designer will consider the desired attributes of the building, such as its garden, distance from nearby attractions and road access, the interaction designer will take those details and create a blueprint.

It’s obvious that these two disciplines have overlapping responsibilities or processes, which is why they can often be performed by the same person, much like Axbom. However, that doesn’t negate the importance of recognizing what makes each so essential.

So while UX designers think of all the ways to enhance a user’s interaction with a company or brand, the interaction designer would consider the ways to execute these plans through a particular interface. These two roles need and serve each other, but just because they can’t exist without each other doesn’t mean they should always be lumped together. Whether you’re recruiting designers or looking to become one yourself, becoming familiar with these concepts can help you better reach your goals.