Navigating between the different terms in the tech world can be tricky, and job titles are no exception. Web developer or software engineer? UX designer or UI designer? Product owner or product manager?
As the different disciplines of the tech world start to cross-pollinate more and more, new roles start to emerge. Today we’re going to look at one of them—the UI developer.
What is a UI developer? Is it a web developer? Is it a UI designer? The answer is, a bit of both. With over 30,000 job vacancies in the United States alone, one thing is for sure—that people with this skillset are in demand.
This guide we’ll look at the field UI design itself, and then at what a UI developer actually does. We’ll look at how this role differs from a frontend developer, and then how you can go about becoming one.
If you’d like to skip ahead to a certain section, just use the clickable menu:
- What is UI design?
- What is a UI developer?
- What does a UI developer do?
- What’s the difference between a UI developer and a frontend developer?
- What’s the difference between a UI developer and a full-stack developer?
- How to become a UI developer
Are you ready? Then let’s dive in!
1. What is UI design?
UI design is the system of designing the appearance of a product interface.
Typically, UI designers will be working on the screens of a digital product, be it a mobile app or a website. As well as the visual aspects of this (so knowledge of color theory comes in handy), they will also be working on the interactive properties of the screen as well (think animations).
If you’d like to dive deeper into just what exactly it is, check out our complete guide to UI design.
For those of you wondering what’s the difference between UI design and UX design, put on your cowboy hat and remember this useful quote from Dain Miller:
“UI is the saddle, the stirrups & the reigns. UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse and rope your cattle”
Alternatively if you need to brush up again on the differences between UI vs UX design, take off your cowboy hat and allow Dee to explain in this video:
Looking at what a UI designer does as part of their work, let’s now explore what a UI developer does, to see how the two differ.
2. What is a UI developer?
A UI developer is a tech professional who carries out the process of conceiving, designing, and coding a user interface flow that provides the smoothest user experience possible.
This process involves not just the combination of design and psychology common to the field of UI design, but also web development as well.
UI developer salaries
Here are some more specific UI developer salaries based on job title, with the data from Glassdoor:
- Junior UI developer: $102,103
- Senior UI developer: $127,111
- Lead UI developer: $135,998
- Principal UI developer: $128,435
- Android UI developer: $102,895
- Mobile UI developer: $118,507
So, now that you’ve seen how well the position pays, just exactly what does a UI developer do?
3. What does a UI developer do?
Another way to better understand this role (and to differentiate it from others, as you’ll see later) is to look at what they do in their day-to-day, and what they are expected to do.
As a result of this broad skillset, being a freelance UI developer can be quite a lucrative career, as you’ll be able to have ownership of the whole process, making the handover incredibly easy as well. On top of that, the client is only employing one person instead of a UI designer and developer (and more).
Due to its project-based nature, you can also get paid per project, choosing when and how many to take on. Once the work is completed, you can add the project to your UI development portfolio, to attract future employment.
The benefits of employing a UI developer are many. Here’s an example: a concern of UI designers would be the style and user flow of a particular app design.
However, a frontend developer may be more concerned with the speed of the application once this design is installed, or how it will be able to integrate with the app backend. A UI developer would be aware of all of these concerns at the same time, leading to a smoother process all around.
So, let’s briefly go over some of the common tasks of a UI developer, as well as some of the skills expected of them.
UI developer tasks
As a result of being responsible across a large process, there’s a wide range of tasks which UI developers are expected to perform. Here are just a few:
- Using the existing company style and UI guidelines to craft a new design based on users’ needs
- Creating a wireframe or prototype of a web or mobile app
- Adjusting and planning the interactive elements of a design
- Planning the execution of that design (the code architecture, which technologies are necessary to build it)
- Coding the frontend of that design layout
- Testing the newly coded design across the platforms and browsers of their users
- and debugging the code behind the new design
UI developer skills
In order to carry out all of these tasks, UI developers are going to employ a range of skills, most of them a combination of UI design and frontend development skills.
Here’s just a selection of those:
- Fluency in HTML/CSS
- Knowledge of UI design tools such as Sketch, inVision, Figma, Adobe XD etc
- Visual communication skills
- Knowledge of how to apply psychology principles to design
- Testing and debugging
- Use of Dev Tools (managing page speed etc)
It’s important to note that these are just a few of the skills you’ll have to learn to become a UI developer. Soft skills such as teamwork and interpersonal skills are also key, and product management skills are also useful to being an effective UI developer.
4. What’s the difference between a UI developer and a frontend developer?
Essentially, the difference is that typically frontend developers do not have the UI knowledge to carry out the design elements of the project. For example, they would typically lack the knowledge of user psychology necessary to perform tasks related to user flow or prototyping, for example, or of the company’s overall UI guidelines.
It’s important to note that in different teams, companies, and industries these terms can vary, as well as the responsibilities associated with them.
Smaller companies will be more likely to either expect their frontend developers to have UI design expertise, and so UI developers might be more suited to that situation.
Larger ones will have both UX and UI designers, as well as front- and backend developers working in a team or department, meaning more capacity for projects across the board.
5. What’s the difference between a UI developer and a full-stack designer?
Another question that you’ll come across when you’re explaining UI development to someone is how it differs from the full-stack designer role.
The short answer is that a UI developer doesn’t tend to deal with the backend of websites or mobile applications, just the frontend. As well as that, a full-stack designer tends to have more UX design experience and skills than UI.
Just like a full-stack developer knows both front- and backend development, so too is a full-stack designer completely responsible for every single touchpoint of the UX design process all the way the building. Often it can even include the likes of UX writing skills as well.
If you’re interested in learning more about what this other role is, check out our full-stack designer career guide.
5. How to become a UI developer
“That all sounds great!” I hear you say. “So how do I get started as a UI developer?”
Because of the broad skillset involving elements of UI design and web development, it makes sense to start by taking courses and working on your skills in both. Unsurprisingly, many UI developers were either UI designers or frontend developers first, and they added the other discipline.
Like with learning any technical skills, these days there are a huge amount of ways to approach this. First, assess your own reserves of time, money, and so on. You can learn autonomously via books or videos, practice with free tools or online courses, or invest in a bootcamp or get a certification.
To give you an idea of what to expect, here is the first development video tutorial:
Courses and bootcamps are a great way to do this, with many options available. These range from classes teaching you from absolute beginner, to others more suited for those wishing to make the switch to UI development. These curriculums are crafted to teach either design to those with a developer background, or frontend developer for designers.
As part of our many offerings, CareerFoundry teaches a specialized Frontend Development for Designers online course.
It’s particularly designed to help those with a background in UX and UI design to learn and apply the technical and soft skills necessary to carry out development work professionally, and is a huge step on the road to becoming a UI developer.
6. Final thoughts
We’ve talked before about why we think UX designers should learn to code, and even if you don’t become a UI developer, it’s an ideal skill to have.
If a UI designer has some frontend development knowledge, they’ll also have an understanding of the limitations. By limitations, I mean for example how the company’s tech stack might make it not possible for the proposed design to be fully realised.
UI developers are key in that they not only have to balance the company’s design intentions with its business goals.
If you’d like to read more about the subject areas of UI design or web development, check out these articles: