GuidesUser experience (UX)UI designer: 10 facts about the job

UI designer: 10 facts about the job

Last updated

25 March 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Becoming a UI designer is a relatively easy way to start a software or app development career. UI (user interface) design itself doesn't require advanced—or in some cases, any—knowledge of coding, but it does need curiosity, creativity, and psychological insight into the look, feel, and usability of apps and websites.

There are numerous technical-design specialties a UI designer must master to become competent in their craft and work well with a development team. Read on for a broad overview of what UI design involves, including the tasks, tools, and other considerations when considering work as a UI designer.

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UI design, at a glance

The user interface (UI) is where the user interacts with a digital property. A high-quality UI allows users to experience the finest qualities of a program, app, or software product. Poorly, it is tough or even impossible to use.

Ideally, the UI’s aesthetics blend seamlessly without interrupting the user’s goals and natural behaviors. At the same time, the UI design should reflect the company’s brand and help establish trust and confidence in the website or platform.

The UI designer is responsible for designing, iterating on, and creating a smooth and attractive UI. The user may feel distrustful or skeptical about the product without a solid UI design. In many ways, the UI designer has a crucial role in the long-range success of development projects.

User data informs UI designs. Typically, the UI designer iterates on wireframe concepts that other design and product team members have developed until they have a polished appearance.

Complex UIs can look impressive in your design portfolio and may captivate potential clients. But ultimately, if the interface is difficult to use, it misses the mark.  

1. What is a UI designer?

A UI designer must synthesize several important factors to ensure customers have an easy, satisfying time interacting with an app or website. Tangibly, UI design involves

  • Handling typography, color theory, and design principles appropriately

  • Establishing a style library against brand guidelines and code bases

  • Maintaining design files and versions as the design evolves

  • Establishing a consistent interface design

  • Balancing design elements and media in a pleasing, clear, and instructive way

  • Embodying the company’s brand

  • Establishing trust and professionalism with users

2. UI design jobs

Top UI designers could find themselves hirable for the following roles.

  1. User Interface (UI) Designer

  2. Interaction Designer

  3. Visual Designer

  4. Information Architect

  5. Web Designer

3. UI designer tasks

The UI design process entails creating

  • Preliminary wireframe designs—the "skeleton" of the UI that shows the basic layout and elements

  • User flows—the step-by-step process the user will go through as they interact with the UI

  • Homepages, feature pages, and other digital properties requiring input

  • Accommodating responsive web design and device adaptability

  • Establishing a style library carrying branding throughout essential elements to more complex components

  • Handoff to development teams with design files, color codes, images, font files, and anything else necessary to translate the design to code

The latter tasks may involve more insight into how code works which requires insight into front-end development.

4. What skills does a UI designer need?

UI design involves a unique combination of skills, being equal parts technical and artistic. As far as tech-based jobs go, UI design involves many soft skills—but as a general rule, the more hard skills you have, the more effective you’ll be.

UI designer soft skills

  • Creativity

  • Graphic design and artistry

  • Ability to translate complex processes into simple terms

  • A talent for communicating concepts accurately and visually

  • A balanced sense of form and function

  • Ability to adjust, tweak, and change designs without taking feedback personally

  • Teamwork and  cooperation 

UI designer hard skills

  • Sketch, Figma, or current software experience

  • Knowledge of iOS vs. Android systems

  • Ability to analyze complex processes

  • Ability to analyze user feedback and psychological insights

  • Aptitude for breaking lengthy procedures into a logical order 

  • Knowledge of text fonts and styles, graphic design, and related terminology

    • Front-end (HTML, CSS, javascript) development (usually optional but highly useful)

5. Who do UI designers work with?

UI design is a branch of product development, which means creating the visual elements related to the digital products the entire product team delivers. 

To turn ideas into reality, UI designers will work with back-end developers, front-end developers, UX designers, copywriters, product managers, and stakeholders to release final products. 

Depending on the UI designer's skill set and the breadth of their role, they may need to work with

  • Audio engineers and recording artists for voice user interfaces (VUIs)

  • Developers (front and backend)

  • Sales, marketing, revenue, and customer support teams

  • Stakeholders, investors, or other more senior-level personnel

The extent to which a UI designer must work with others, vs. accomplish tasks themselves, relates to their breadth of skills and the company they work for. 

For instance:

  • Freelance UI designers may "have it all" and bring multiple skills to the table—or market themselves within a narrow, specific niche.

  • In-house UI designers may have particular, routine, compartmentalized tasks.

  • Small teams of multitalented developers may share UI and UX design tasks.

  • UI or UX design may default to a developer with the most ability with CSS (the graphical side of HTML).

The more skills you can acquire as a UI designer, the more marketable and sought-after you’ll become. The highest-paying jobs focused solely on UI design will usually come from larger enterprises—some of which have entire UI design teams, where each UI designer has a particular sub-specialty.

Those with broad development skills, but a specialty in UI design, are naturally positioned to net higher-paying jobs, often from startups or independent, mid-market companies.

6. Visual vs. interaction design elements

Generally, UI designers focus on two critical aspects of the UI

a) Visual design elements

UI visual design covers the way an interface looks and feels, including elements such as

  • Overall style

  • Architecture

  • Visibility of system status

  • iOS vs. Android (material) patterns

  • Graphics (types, sizes, positioning)

  • Text (font, sizes, amount, placement)

  • The balance between graphics and text

  • How the design naturally guides users' attention (flow)

  • Building user trust

  • Match between the system and the real world

  • User control and freedom

  • Error prevention

  • Recognition vs. recall

  • User recovery from errors

To accomplish these tasks, a UI designer must thoroughly understand design principles. A product's visual elements can be seen as a language, taking into account the following:

  • Aesthetics

  • Engagingness

  • Clarity

  • Findability of essential objects

  • Graphical patterns

A high-quality visual design alone can teach the user how to use the interface by drawing their attention to the correct elements at the right stage of the process.

b) Interaction design elements

A UI designer must also ensure the interface works as intended by supporting various user interactions with the product. This process involves careful control over

  • Site/interface functionality

  • Organization of interaction elements (aka "events")

  • The direction of users' attention toward controllable elements

  • The learning curve of interface usage

  • The efficiency of the interaction

Above all, good interaction design will help users accomplish tasks with minimal effort using the interface.

7. What types of interfaces does a UI designer create?

Graphical user interface

The visual and interactive elements comprise a "graphical user interface" (GUI). When done well, the entire interface takes on a highly intuitive feel, ensuring users can quickly begin enjoying a product as intended.

Examples of GUIs include web forms requiring data entry, file uploads, and similar actions—but almost any website or piece of software these days has a GUI. 

Voice user interface

Sometimes, UI designers must create a "voice user interface" (or VUI) for improved accessibility. A VUI requires in-depth use of

  • Sound effects and verbal feedback or cues

  • Consistency and clarity of syntax 

  • Language choices (such as balancing conversational vs. functional wording)

  • How audio corresponds with interface navigation controls

Menu-driven interfaces are another popular type of UI. They give users a list of commands accessed from a pull-down, pop-up, or static menu. They're a highly consistent way of providing users with a straightforward method of operation. An ATM is one of the most common types of menu interfaces.

8. How do you integrate UI design into a finished product?

Pulling all this design work together involves creating and testing UI design prototypes. Throughout the UI design process, UI designers must work closely with other development team members, ensuring the UI integrates all the necessary features as planned.

A finished UI should be reliable, accomplish a purpose, and provide users with an easy and enjoyable experience. However, strictly speaking, UI design differs from user experience (UX) design.

9. UI or  UX designer?

While UI design is an integral aspect of UX, UI designers, and UX designers have distinct roles—it can be a little confusing because UI design is an aspect of UX design.

UI design tends to be more specific, relating to the interface's particular elements, what they do, and how they function. So it's a bit more tangible than UX design, which is a little more conceptual. 

When working together, UX and UI designers tag-team to accomplish two different but related goals.

The UX designer wants the experience to be based on data and as frictionless as possible.

In contrast, the UI designer focuses on aesthetics and visual components, such as branding, following, and building style guides or UI libraries. 

UX designers conduct qualitative studies resulting in wireframes that UI designers can then take and build UIs over top of them.

UX Designers can then take those designs and run user testing against them, resulting in suggestions and tweaks. Finally, UI Designers make the changes and hand off the final designs to development.

UX involves measuring critical aspects of a product's interface and how it affects the user experience.

This requires analyzing

  • How efficient is the interface for users

  • Customer surveys and feedback

  • Real-time use observations

  • Advanced analytics about how users engage with a product

The UX Designers take this data or, at times, review it with UI Designers and make revisions and tweaks with respect to the findings.

The key difference between UI and UX design is that the UI designer creates the interface (they are the U-I designer, after all). On the other hand, UX designers look beyond the product's interface, studying the users' direct experience. 

UX designers are focused on results, research, and data, while the UI designer handles the nuts and bolts of the design and interface itself.

You shouldn't be too surprised to see plenty of overlap between UI and UX design resources, and the two roles will often overlap at different stages of product development.

Dedicated analysis of UX is still relatively new, so it's common to see varying ideas about the exact role of a UX designer.

By contrast, UI design has always been integral to creating usable digital products.

10. How does UI design relate to UX design?

A UI designer usually works closely with a UX designer—unless one person handles a hybrid of both roles, which is relatively common, especially with early-stage startups.

Sometimes, UI designers will "split test" designs to determine which of two or more UI prototypes is most effective (also known as A/B testing).

Assessing UI and UX success requires testing, reporting, and surveying users. Therefore, both UI and UX designers should be comfortable tracking analytics related to UI usage.

Key analytics that could impact UI include:

  • Audience demographics (age, region, language, interests, etc.)

  • Time spent using a product/webpage

  • Length of sessions

  • Types of devices

  • Bounce rates

  • New-to-old user ratio

  • Most/least popular content

  • Event (specific action) tracking

  • Goal tracking (e.g., signups, purchases, CTAs clicked, etc.)

Analytics and reporting feed into other processes as products are continually updated and improved to ensure the best UX possible.

The best design processes create a feedback loop, where insights into the finished product use feedback into the initial design process for future updates.

FAQs

Can a UX designer be a UI designer?

Absolutely. UX and UI designers overlap with the following skills.

  • Creative analysis of how users experience a program

  • Ability to refine a UI according to customer feedback

  • Thorough knowledge of research methods

  • Unique ability to adjust design and research without bias even though they created the design

  • Unique ability to remove their own needs from the design and put themselves in the users’ shoes

Should UI designers know how to code?

It's helpful to know how to code, given the significant role of UI designers in the development process. Understanding the concepts of HTML and how it interacts with your CSS will enable you to work without friction when delivering designs to development. At the same time, UI design tools are more WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) than ever, allowing UI designers to concentrate more fully on the graphical and intuitive side of designing digital product interfaces. Of course, it depends on the company and how much you want to expand your career. With development progressing more and more, it’s becoming less frequent that UI designers are expected to code.

What tools do UI designers use?

There are various programs for creating wireframe models, mockups, prototyping, and managing system designs for UIs. Some of the more popular UI tools include:

  • Figma—Web-based interface that handles wireframing, prototyping, and system design

  • Sketch—All-in-one graphic design platform built with collaboration in mind (MacOS only)

  • Adobe XD—Numerous plugins for faster template editing, plus a wide range of ready-made templates; easy to handoff to others in the development pipeline

  • InVision Studio—Great support for animations, micro-interactions, and plugins for greater expansion of UI and other development purposes

  • UXPin—Comprehensive web-based UI design, incorporating feedback processes that can instantly validate ideas; also, transitions wireframes to functional prototypes quite easily

Most of these platforms allow real-time editing and collaborations via drag-and-drop interfaces, all without knowing much about coding. Many UI design platforms are also highly versatile, allowing designers also to handle:

  • Desktops design

  • Websites design

  • App interfaces

  • iOS vs. Android patterns

  • Overall graphic design

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