In this article our UI design I’ll dive deep into what a career in UI design really looks like. You’ll find out if you’re the sort of person who’ll excel as a UI designer, as well as come to know the key personality traits common to the best of us. I’ll address the ‘blurred line’ between UX and UI design, the difference between graphic and UI design, and run through what a typical day in the life of a UI designer consists of.
Wondering if UI design is the right career choice for you? Then keep reading to find out more.
What Is UI Design?
During the introductory chapters of our UI Design Course, we touch on how blurred the line between UI and UX is. To anyone new to these design disciplines, understanding exactly what sets them apart can be a daunting task.
At a very high level, the difference between UI and UX can be summed up in one sentence:
UI handles the looks of what you use to interact with the product and UX works on making sure you feel great while you do so.
As true as this sentence is, it doesn’t tell anyone looking to become a UI designer anything about the profession’s nitty-gritty or why it is not UX.
To begin to better understand the differences, think of UI and UX as the muscular and skeletal systems in the human body.
UX is like our skeletal system. It provides the foundation and structure upon which muscles, or UI, will be laid on. Bones in a skeletal system are the basic pieces of the system and must fit together. Naturally, they should also follow a logical order that allows them to function properly.
The muscular system in our bodies is what allows the skeletal system to move. Without it, a skeleton can’t do much. UI is like the muscular system in our bodies as it is what allows users to to get things done around an app or website.
Keep this analogy in mind as you dive deeper into the article and further understand the differences between UI and UX and what a UI designer is all about.
UI Design Is Not Graphic Design
Often, those unfamiliar with the design world and its myriad of disciplines will refer to UI design as graphic design. Although UI does make use of several of the key principles used in graphic design, the disciplines are not one and the same.
User interface design is concerned with the design of digital visual tools users need to interact with a product, which are collectively called a user interface. Using the foundation a UX designer created, a UI designer will create a visual language that is consistently applied across a product.
This visual language is normally made up of UI elements, like buttons or input fields, and for the most part lives on our screens. When used in certain combinations, UI elements will for UI patterns or reusable solutions to common problems in UI design. To better understand what a UI pattern is, think navigation systems, credit card forms, or any other “piece” of an app or website you normally see around the web or on your smartphone.
Graphic design, on the other hand, is the practice of using visual and textual content to communicate ideas. It’s concerned with arranging design elements to help easily and beautifully communicate a message to the viewer. Common deliverables a graphic designer may be asked to produce are advertisements, magazines, books, and posters.
In a sense, UI designers are also graphic designers. They will make use of design elements, like colors, typefaces, or shapes, to produce an interface that clearly communicates with a user.
So what’s the big difference?
For the most part, a graphic designer will produce “static” work or work that is meant to be looked at and not tapped or swiped. UI designers, in contrast, specifically design elements that are meant to be interacted with. Naturally, the thought and design processes behind design that specifically deals with interactivity and design that deals with “static” pieces are completely different.
Day To Day Of UI & UX Designers
Much of what differentiates UI and UX can be appreciated by taking a closer look at what UI and UX designers commonly do on an average day.
On a daily basis, good UI designers focus on designing an interface that we like to say is “invisible.” It’s not that it isn’t there and you can’t see it–it just allows users to focus on completing their tasks using an app instead of trying to figure out how the interface works.
To do so, UI designers will put great thought and care into designing every screen you see under your thumbs or on your screen. This means working on the screen layout–how things are arranged on the screen–as well as designing the different UI elements like toggles, lists or buttons, and patterns to be used on-screen.
UI designers will also be designing interactions, or what happens when users interact with elements on a screen. Below, you’ll see an awesome shot designed by Ivan Bjelajac that showcases the design of interactivity.
On a daily basis, a UI designer will also design beautiful icons. Not only should these be beautifully designed, they should clearly communicate with users.
After designing a product, a UI designer will design a style guide. Essentially, style guides are a set of standards which safeguard the integrity of a product’s design. They’ll specify how UI elements should look, what typefaces to use and how to style them, and will detail anything else revolving around the UI design of a product.
A UX designer is just as busy. According to Peter Morville, you’ll find UX designers making sure products are:
- useful, don’t give your users more stuff they do not need
- it should also be usable
- it should be presented in a desirable manner, AKA easy on the eyes
- it should be findable, or easy to navigate and gather information from
- it should be accessible, or friendly to those with disabilities
- it should be credible
To be able to do so, UX designers will routinely work on usability testing. Said kind of testing will allow them to gauge a product’s success. A/B testing, for example, lets UX designers decide between two options by presenting them to users and having them “vote” on which they like best.
Good products are user-centric. To make sure they always keep the user in mind, a UX designer will develop user personas. These delineate user demographics, behaviors, needs, and goals. They’ll shed light on important considerations a UX designer needs to keep in mind as he or she develops design solutions for a product.
UX designers will also work on developing wireframes, the foundation upon which UI designers will then design off of. Essentially, they are a visual guide that shares the framework of each screen in a product.
Should You Become a UI Designer?
If you’re in the midst of deciding if you want to pursue UI, ask yourself:
- Do you enjoy making sure a product looks its best? As a UI designer, you’ll routinely work with typography, colors, and design elements to make sure a product’s aesthetics are top notch.
- Are you a team player? Often, UI designers are part of a larger team and being able to work with others is key.
- Do you care about producing products that serve others well? UI design is all about the users and making sure you’ve designed an interface that helps them accomplish their goals.
- Do you enjoy expanding your knowledge base? UI changes rapidly. Staying up to date with trends, new tech, and the industry will be part of your job just as much as creating beautiful color palettes!
Responded yes to the points above? Jump on the UI train.
If you’re eager to start your career as a UI designer, check out our UI Design Course. We’ve put great care into designing a program that will take anyone from zero to hero, backed by an amazing community of UI professional mentors from around the globe.
Want to learn a little more about UI designers’ and others’ experiences before making the leap? Check out Eric Bieller’s post, How to Become a UI Designer, in which he shares further insights on UI design, his experience of becoming a UI designer, and why now is the right time to join the booming industry.
What You Should Do Now
- If you’d like a step-by-step intro to find out if UI design is right for you - sign up here for our free 7-day UI short course.
- If you are interested in becoming a UI Designer check out our UI design course (you'll learn the essential skills employers need).
- Find out more about our graduates: their journeys, portfolio projects, and salary increases.
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