Skills & Expertise

What Does a UX/UI Designer Do?

Work your design skills to chart your path in this growing field

If you’ve got a design background, an interest in digital products and a desire to work in tech, then becoming a UX or UI designer may be the job for you. But you’re not totally clear: What do UX/UI designer jobs require, and how do you become one?

You’ve come to the right place. We talked to a few industry experts and got the 411. Check out what they had to say.

What exactly does a UX/UI designer do?

First things first: UX and UI design are two different elements of a single consumer experience. UX refers to the user experience, which focuses on how something works and how people interact with it. UI, or user interface, focuses on the look and layout.

Think of UX as the way a car drives, shifts gears or protects you in an accident and UI as the color and design of that car, says Matthew Cogswell, senior art director and UX/UI designer at modop, a digital advertising and marketing agency in Los Angeles.

A UX designer ensures a product makes sense to the user by creating a path that logically flows from one step to the next. A UI designer ensures each page visually communicates that path.

As a UX architect/UI designer at iCiDIGITAL in Chicago, Devin Harold does both. Harold spends some days fully wireframing a system, he says, and others bringing it to life with an appealing color palette, a sense of depth and a bit of interaction.

Designers also research targeted users to develop a clear understanding of their needs, define interaction models, design wireframes, build prototypes and work on brand color. And they conduct user testing and review metrics and focus-group reactions so they’re able to make the necessary tweaks to enhance the product.

What skills do you need?

“A UX designer needs to know how to execute, facilitate and analyze research and data, [and] UI designers need to know composition and graphic design and have a knack for palettes, typography and branding in order to make an interface shine and have its own identity,” says Harold.

The ability to solve problems as well as empathize with the user to understand what he needs is also important. “A mediocre UX designer will think about how the user acts,” says Cogswell. “An adequate UX designer will focus on how the user thinks. But a truly great UX designer will focus on how the user feels.”

Communication and collaboration skills are also paramount, says Eric Guess, a UX designer with iCiDIGITAL in Raleigh, North Carolina. You have to be able to tell a story or paint a picture that helps stakeholders understand the work being done. Designers should be well versed in information architecture and able to organize the information so it’s easy to understand.

Who is a UX/UI designer’s boss?

An art director or creative director typically functions as supervisor, though this can vary from agency to agency.  

Are there other titles with similar responsibilities?

The UX/UI title is ambiguous. A UX/UI designer with Agency A may have the same duties as a web developer at Agency B. Other agencies use titles such as web designer (UI), experience designer (UX) and interaction designer (IxD).

What do I need to get ahead in this position?

Never stop learning, advises Guess. Constantly striving to improve and broaden your skills is a surefire way to shine.

How can I get my foot in the door?

Some designers get a fine arts degree, but it’s not all about that piece of paper. Build a portfolio that shows your work process from beginning to end, especially finished comps. And be persistent—don’t take no for an answer.

Check out open UX/UI designer positions and other digital media jobs on Mediabistro’s job board.

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