The thing about UX and UI design? It’s a bit like the classic Frank Sinatra song – you “can’t have one without the other”. And yet, some companies don’t always understand the differences between both disciplines. Or, why they should hire for both of these roles, really.
In this article, I’ll help you understand how UI and UX design differ and what skills to look out for to bring the best people on board. Let’s go!
What is UX Design?
User experience design is the process designers follow to create products that are easy to use, help people reach their goals, and, ideally, are also a pleasure to interact with. As you might already know, making sure that your final product meets these criteria isn’t always a walk in the park. While working on the product’s informational architecture, user journeys, and wireframes, designers continuously analyze user and market data. They also collaborate closely with other members of the team, from customer support to software developers, always advocating for the user.
What does a UX Designer do?
The short answer is, quite a lot! User Experience designers need to understand who the target audience is and make sure that the product they’re designing never fails to address their wants and needs.
While the exact responsibilities will vary from company to company, as a rule of thumb, UX designers:
Constantly seek to understand (and advocate for) the user – before even sketching the first low-fidelity wireframe on a whiteboard or piece of paper, UX designers engage in user research. They start off with a general question of who their target user is and why they’d turn to a product like theirs in the first place. This helps understand their target users’ goals, needs, and challenges. I discuss this in more detail in the next section, so stay put!
Draw up and continuously refine the UX design strategy – as in other, non-design-related areas, a strategy is what outlines the purpose of the project. Not only does it let the product team understand the purpose of creating the app/website. It also helps create a logical sequence for the actions and journeys the users will take.
Creates wireframes – I bet that this is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of what a UX designer does on a day-to-day basis. Bear in mind that UX people create wireframes to convey the ideas for the interface – they’re not responsible for pixel-perfect prototypes!
Analyze user interactions – finally, UX designers scrutinize how people use the product – among others, how they go through processes (such as a purchase) or how they find the information they need (via search, via menu, etc.). This lets them constantly refine the user paths.
Now, here’s a deeper dive into the exact skills to look for when hiring a UX designer.
Wireframing & prototyping – wireframes and prototypes allow UX designers to quickly communicate and test their ideas. These can range from low-fidelity, hand-drawn models to interactive, digital mockups. Not only do they let designers take their concepts for a spin. They also serve for UX-UI handoffs. Namely, they are a template UI designers can build upon as they work on high-fidelity mockups.
Information Architecture (IA) – UX design is not ‘just’ about the layout. It’s also about how the user finds their way around the product. Things like switching between menus, walking through categories, engaging with content, and others. Your ideal UX designer needs to understand the principles of IA and apply them to your product’s strategy. This can be anything as simple as creating breadcrumbs, all the way to complex category trees and cross-linking.
User persona research – remember how I’ve mentioned understanding user needs and challenges earlier in this section? Well, this process has a name, and it’s called user persona research. Your UX designers have to look at what they know (and don’t know) about their target audience and create a fictional character that best represents the user. Just like the case of marketing personas, depending on your product, you can have one or multiple personas that display different expectations and needs. If you’re thinking that this calls for investigative skills, then you’re on to something! Designers need to know how to dig deeper when questions remain unanswered, and even worm insights out of reluctant users. This leads me to the next section.
Communication & Interviewing – I’ve put these two skills together for a reason, as having high communication skills comes in handy when UX designers talk to users. And they do so frequently (particularly, if the team doesn’t have a full-time UX researcher). UX designers run usability testing sessions, which can take place in an unmoderated or moderated setting. In the case of the former, users freely explore the product and talk their way through it. As they do, the designer listens and asks follow-up questions. And in the case of the latter, your UX specialist runs a Q&A session and/or has a list of tasks the tester needs to complete. They then observe how the users go about it. Whether moderated or not, one thing is clear – to make these sessions effective, the UX designer needs to know how to ask the right questions. These need to answer not only “what” the users think, but also “why” and “how” their experiences can be improved.
Empathy – there are at least two reasons why this is important. Firstly, no one will want to open up to a grumpy person during a user interview or testing session. And secondly, empathy is what helps designers spot any potential issues and unusual scenarios while analyzing their product’s IA or user interactions. The best UX designer will be the last to assume peculiar behavior in the app or website is the result of, blatantly speaking, the user’s low tech-savviness. So, for instance, someone who clicks around a button might not be in the wrong. A designer would consider things like motor limitations or visual impairment, and if proven true, think about how the product can best address them. That being said, bear in mind that it won’t always be easy for your designer to distance themselves from the product. Ultimately, it’s what they circle their work around every day, and know what’s on the backstage of the interface users see and use.
High organization skills – while I can’t think of a situation where a professional can be chaotic, UX designers must absolutely have everything in order. They must be up-to-date on multiple processes taking place at the same time and put together data from tens of sources! Bear in mind that your UX designer’s organization skills will not only affect their own efficiency but other members of the team as well. After all, the data UX designers analyze and share with others will be used by other stakeholders in the company.
All clear? Let’s now look at how this compares to UI design.
What is UI Design?
UI, short for User Interface, is a visual representation of an application. It includes all the elements you see when you open an app – from call to action buttons, text, images, all the way to entry fields. UI involves designing screen layouts, macro-interactions, and transitions – its role is to ensure that the product is both pleasing to the eye and easy to use.
What does a UI Designer do?
A UI designer's role is to translate the user journey/mvpmatch.co/blog/journey-map created by a UX designer into screens, including visual elements and interactive properties that enable users to move from one stage to another.
To get a better understanding of what it means to be a UI Designer, let’s take a quick look at their responsibilities:
Creating a style guide and making sure everyone follows it to maintain consistency
Ensuring that the user experience is intuitive by designing screens that users will interact with
Creating animations and all other elements which make up UI design
Making sure that the layout displays nicely irrespective of the device used.
You might be wondering – what skills does your ideal UI Designer need? Here are the most desired ones.
Design skills – you probably won’t be surprised to learn that UI designers must have superb design skills. Still, to master them, they first need to get a good grasp of theories, methods, and best practices related to UI design. Among others, these include typography, color schemes, UI design patterns, etc. This theoretical knowledge will help them design with users in mind.
Prototyping – it’s hard to get UI design right the first time, which is why it’s crucial to test designs before you launch the final product. For this reason, prototyping is one of the skills that UI designers should master. Not only does it help them to test the waters. It also allows them to spot any flaws and polish the design to make sure it meets customer expectations.
Familiarity with design tools – I bet you won’t be able to find a single job ad for UI designers, which doesn’t mention being familiar with design tools as one of the requirements. These usually include software like Sketch, Adobe XD, or InVision. The good news is, they’re quite alike, so when someone knows how to use one, they’ll quickly learn the remaining ones.
Communication – good communication skills are necessary for effective collaboration, and this also applies to UI. To turn UI designs into reality, UI designers have to hand them over to developers and explain how each element should function. If they fail to do so, high chances are, that the final product will be far from the UI designer’s vision. They also need to be able to communicate with other stakeholders, like clients, some of whom won’t have advanced tech knowledge. They will have to find the right words to explain their ideas and justify the design decisions to get the client’s approval.
Teamwork – building a product is a team sport; UI designers have to collaborate with UX and graphic designers, developers, project managers, and many other stakeholders. They have to be team players, this means being able to listen to others, sharing their input, and following deadlines. After all, if one team member messes up, it will impact the project outcome.
Empathy – to be able to design with users in mind, UI designers have to put themselves in their users’ shoes, and this requires large doses of empathy. Being empathetic helps designers better comprehend user needs. By understanding other people’s feelings they can find solutions to actual problems, instead of limiting their roles to pure aesthetics.
UX Designer vs UI Designer – The differences
UI and UX designer is often treated as one role – and such an approach is a big no-no. Let’s look at how they differ:
While both UX and UI designers put great user experience at the forefront of their work, they use different means to achieve it. UX designers focus on the product's purpose and its functionality. Meanwhile, UI designers concentrate on the interactions’ quality, making sure the product is flawless and easy to use.
UI design requires more creativity, as it heavily focuses on the visual aspects. UX design is more analytical; it involves a lot of market research to understand customers’ needs and problems.
While UX places a strong emphasis on project management throughout the entire product development process, UI focuses on designing components that will make up the finished product, making it more technical.
To make it a little easier for you to understand the difference between the two, let’s use the house analogy that the CEO of Maze came up with. If UX is the foundation of the house, then the UI is the paint, furniture, and all the decorations you put to make it more yours.
After figuring out how many and what rooms you’ll have, how each will connect to the other, and where you’ll place the doors, windows, and stairs (i.e., after establishing the foundation – UX) you can start thinking about the details (i.e., UI).
Hopefully, this clearly shows that one cannot function without the other, and they’re equally as important.
Should you hire both a UX and UI designer?
The short answer is, yes. While high chances are your UX designers will have some UI design skills and vice versa, they can’t substitute one another. Hearing this might get you wondering – “if these roles need to be done by separate people, then why do many companies mention UI design skills in their job ads for UX designers?” In reality, they make the cooperation between UI and UX designers easier and more effective.
For instance, if your UX designer indicates the need for accessibility features (larger fonts, contrast, or big user interface buttons for the elderly, for one), then the UI designer knows how to translate these concepts into visually pleasing and functional designs. They can then freely discuss the ideas, without the UX designer feeling like they’ve entered unchartered territory. Also, a UX designer who has a certain understanding of UI design and branding will have realistic expectations. They’ll know what the UI designer can and cannot achieve by leveraging their skills and tools.
On that note, beware of falling into the jack-of-all-trades trap. Even if you’re lucky to bring a talented, full-stack designer on board, they’ll be too overwhelmed with the number of tasks they’ll need to juggle simultaneously. In this case, the saying “less is more” couldn’t be farther away from the truth. More designers mean a better-focused design process. And this means a better chance at a great product users love!
It takes two to make design go right
Now that you’ve got a good understanding of what UI and UX designers do and why it’s worth hiring both, the question is – where do you find the best talent?
Luckily for you, you’ve come to the right place. MVP Match will connect you with the world’s best designers and help you with a team setup that suits your project.
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