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HRTech Talk Thursday

HRTech Talk Thursday: What is UX vs UI?

Over the last few months there has been a huge increase in questions around technology coming in, so we are going to start answering them in simple, easy to understand, non-buzzword terms on HRTech Talk each Thursday.  If you have a question about a buzzword, technology, why something matters in your business; or if you are a vendor and feel like you keep getting asked the same questions – email them in

HRTech Talk Thursday: UX vs UI:

Q: We are currently doing demo’s of new applicant tracking systems.  One of the vendors said they are the only ones that have the latest UI and UX technology on the market.  Is that actually a competitive advantage and something we should ask other vendors about? 

A:  Yes…and no.  UX/UI work together and is about the way you, as a user of technology, will view and interact with the technology, but it is not actually a type of technology or feature.   Simply put, it is how it looks  (UI) and how easy it is to navigate around so you can do your job (UX).  Every product has a UI/UX, some just aren’t all that great or done very strategically.  So yes, it is a competitive advantage when done correctly.  No, its not a competitive advantage simply because they claim it in their sales and marketing process.


What is UI?

UI is short for User Interface.  UI is how your selected technology or website looks and feels to a end user (employee, applicant, hr admin, your executive team, etc).    Is it busy?  Is it hard to view?  Do you have outdated buttons and colors that don’t feel “right” for people wanting to use it?

It is not uncommon for HR Technology to have solid UI and look pretty in the demo, but not have much substance after that – which is where UX comes in.

What is UX?

UX is short for User Experience.  If UI is how it looks, UX is what gives you all the feels.  A great UX will make doing your job – whatever that means on that website or in that software – easier and less frustrating.    It allows you to get from point A to point B without feeling you needed to have training or remembering to write down the path it took you to get there.

A really great user experience strategy includes the UI, but it also includes research and user testing to make sure it works for the people using it – not just the developers and product managers; making sure the technology is architected properly (how it is built so it doesn’t have lag time when you click a page and you don’t have to wait for it to load); that the functions that should be there are so the pages and parts interconnect properly and a bunch of other things you likely don’t care about.

Why do they often talk about them like one thing?

Honestly, because most people talking about it don’t understand it either and count on you taking it at face value.  At the end of the day, UX is far more important than UI – although if you do UX well you will have good UI too.   As buyers stop caring only about how it looks, and gets more into how it feels and functions – we are seeing more companies have unified teams and approaches vs just making sure its pretty.  There isn’t anything wrong, and in fact can be a great thing, if you have a vendor who has the same team that works on the UX and UI together.

Who has the best UI/UX in HR Technology?

Like many things in life, best is in the eyes of the beholder.  There is a lot of research that goes into good UX design by a company – but at the end of the day, it may not suit what matters most to you.

Think of it this way: I love navy blue cars. Less than 10% of all cars in America are Blue, let alone Navy.  Research would tell someone that the “best” cars must not be navy because such a small percent of people own them.  I still think its the best.   Neither are wrong, it is just about preference.

The same holds true for the “best” ATS, HRIS, LMS, TMS, Comp, Payroll, etc… tool – what is best for your competitor or friends in SHRM may not be the best for you.  Pick the UI and UX that your team (users, not it) likes the most.

Why should HR buyers and Companies Care about this?

Poor UI/UX costs your organization money.

Two areas we see having the biggest impact is on technology adoption and on talent acquisition and employment branding:

Technology Adoption

If you are going through the hassle of adding new technology in to your organization you want people to use it.  I frequently get calls from executives and hr leaders asking for advice on how to improve adoption of their technology.  Money has been spent on one or more solutions and now people think it is more of a hassle than it used to be.

The more consumerized our employees get with technology thanks to apps and iphones, the more they have that expectation for enterprise and work technology to work as easily.  (I totally agree it should!).   Buying a product with a poor UX, even if it has a great UI during a demo, will result in a lack of adoption and potentially money being wasted from HR’s already slim budgets.

Talent Acquisition

We don’t think about UI/UX often for our internal purposes, but your corporate website is a perfect place where UI/UX comes into play and has a direct impact on how many candidates you have converting from “just checking it out” to joining your talent network or applying.    If it is hard to navigate and find what they are looking for, they will move on.  Employment branding and candidate experience are hot topics, because retention starts as early as that point. Now think of all the money you are spending on getting people to your site, then realize that some studies show fewer than 50% of all interest applicants that make it there will even finish your application process.  So make sure from the careers search page through the application, it looks updated and feels easy.   Candidate care about UI/UX more than your employees often.

So if I buy a product with gaps but a good UI/UX will that make it work better?

No.    But, you should know that a good UI/UX just sometimes makes those gaps easier to hide while you are shopping.

Is UI and UX why you hate RFPs?

Yes.   I don’t care if your technology can do it, nearly everything can do everything today.  The difference is HOW a vendor does it.  If it takes me 5 clicks vs 1, I’m out.

Cool, so its all the vendors fault if we don’t like our product?

No.  I hate to say it, but a lot of instances of poor ux inside hr technology is caused during implementation or custom changes to their saas technology to fit a process.

Case in point: A F1000 company I worked with who had been through 3 ATS companies in 7 years – “none of them work like we saw in the demo” I was told.  They wanted to get advice on who to look at for ATS #4.   I pushed them to let us do some internal user feedback sessions and quickly not only identified the product gaps, but also the UX issues which made the product feel unusable.   But most importantly, we realized that they had the same team doing the implementations each time and kept using the same template – removing the product’s functionality the recruiters cared about and setting up an outdated process orignially designed as the “workaround” to the limitations of their original ATS.   Millions of dollars were wasted.


I’m the first to say one size doesn’t fit all with any hr technology, and what is the “best” product on the market may not be the best for you, but if your product isn’t working like you thought, it is often time to review your process then work with your vendor first and make sure the gaps and challenges truly are a product limitation, not just a implementation and configuration issue.

Modern UI+ Solid UX – Product Gaps + Good Implementation = Happy Users.

Sarah Brennan

Sarah Brennan is a recognized HCM industry analyst and advisor focused on improving the impact of technology on people, business and the future of work.  Sarah Brennan has been named a top global influencer in HR Technology by more than 50 publications and shared her insights at speaking engagements around the world. As Chief Advisor at Accelir, she partners with HR Technology vendors and investors as an advisor, interim CxO role and on engagements focused on growth strategies, product roadmap & market education/evangelism. She also works with corporate teams enhancing talent strategies.

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  1. Dawn Burke March 15, 2018

    This all day long…


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