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Both UX and UI designers work on creating beautiful interfaces, but their involvement and skill sets are required at different times during the design and development process.  So how do you know which career is the best fit for you?  Learn more about what UX and UI designers do on a daily basis to figure out where you’ll excel.

User Experience Design (UX)
User experience designers are skilled at identifying problems and making interfaces as easy to use as possible.  UX designers are known for being obsessed with customers and ensuring the intuitiveness of all designs.  UXers’ work is often less visual than that of a UI designer and requires an understanding of analytics and testing interfaces.  But what does this look like on a day to day basis?

Responsibilities: UX designers take on a variety of roles on a project, so your day to day will change on the stage of the project you’re working on. You might start your morning recruiting or screening potential users for your next usability test, or typing up the script for your next remote user testing.  You could be rethinking wireframes based on technical limitations or feedback that was just analyzed from a user test.  If you’re working on a smaller team, you might take on a wider range of tasks like helping with information architecture or project management and coordination with development teams.

Skills Required:

  • Strategy: UXers must clearly know the goals they’re working towards.  It is to increase sign-ups? Create a clear dashboard of information?  Whatever the goal, the UXers are responsible for creating the strategy to achieve a more usable interface.
  • Research and Usability Testing: You’ll need to understand how to test your ideas to confirm that you’re working on the right strategy. Usability testing requires recruiting users, creating scripts to follow for your tests, and analyzing and presenting your findings.
  • Prototyping: Testing requires prototypes, and for a UXer, this usually means creating wireframes and thinking through interactivity.  Some prototypes might start with a sketch, but a UXer might be responsible for taking them to a higher fidelity with a tool like Photoshop, Balsamiq or Axure.  

Collaborators:  UXers don’t work in isolation.  On a digital project, UXers can expect to work closely with UI designers, project managers, and front-end developers.  They need an understanding of a project lifecycle, to be able to understand basic technical components of a build and to have knowledge of good visual design principles.  

Educational Background: As an emerging career, there aren’t traditional paths to becoming a UX designer.  Oftentimes people who have studied sociology, psychology or human-computer interaction are drawn to the field, but there is no prerequisite and basic skills can be acquired quickly.

Average Salary: According to research from the Nielson Norman Group, entry-level salaries are approximately $63,000, and those with five or more years of experience earn around $90,000.

Sample Job Postings: Here are a few job postings to help you understand what potential employers are looking for in various UX roles

User Interface Design (UI)
User interface designers are responsible for creating interfaces that are aesthetically beautiful - from color palettes to the interaction of a dropdown menu.  UI designers take the wireframes from UX designers and use them like blueprints to apply a wide range of stylistic elements. UI designers are the brains behind the beauty and interactivity of a site.

Responsibilities:
UI designers are typically involved after some UX work has been completed.  You’ll likely start a project with design research and figure out how to apply existing brand guidelines to a new interface.  You’ll make decisions on everything from choosing the best typeface to creating button styles - and you’ll likely have to convince others about your choices.  As a UI designer, you’ll need to understand responsive design and make decisions about how transitions and interactivity work.  As your designs progress, you’ll likely work with UX designers to test your work before it goes into development.

Skills Required:

  • Visual Interface Design: UI designers are responsible for the entire visual interface. This includes everything from putting together style guides that detail how everything from icons to menus should look.
  • Interaction and Animation: This is the area where UX and UI designers might share work.  A UX or a UI designer might be behind the strategy of what touches and taps will do, but a UI designer applies the idea visually so that user to understand an interface without directions.  The interactions a UI designer creates help make an interface intuitive.
  • Front-End Development: HTML, CSS, and Javascript are the key languages needed for front-end development.  While UI designers aren’t always expected to help with development, having front-end development skills are a huge competitive advantage in order to create truly interactive work.  

Collaborators: UI designers can expect to work with other UI designers, project managers, UX designers and a development team, depending on the size of the team.  A UI designer is also responsible for documenting design decisions so that others may apply their guidelines.

Educational Background: Because of the visual nature of UI design, many professionals have a background in fine arts, graphic design or front-end development.  A formal degree in design isn’t required, but a strong portfolio is.

Average Salary: The average salary of a UI designer is $95,000 according to Glassdoor, but salaries always vary based on experience, location and type of organization.  UI designers with front-end development skills typically earn a higher rate because of their ability to help a team code and test designs rapidly.

Sample Job Postings: Here are a few job postings to help you understand what potential employers are looking for in various UI roles

Don’t Decide. Do Both.
Although large corporate job postings or freelance projects may require expertise in one area – the reality is that you don’t need to choose.  You’re at a competitive advantage if you can do both UX and UI design because you can do both the analytical and project management pieces and then add the necessary aesthetics and interactions. You’ll likely get paid more, too.

If you’re interested in building your UX or UI skills - start now! Check out Designlab’s latest courses.

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