With the rising popularity of user-centered design, the roles of UI (user interface) designer and UX (user experience) designer have become increasingly in-demand. However, the two fields often get conflated, leading to confusion about the actual responsibilities of each role.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in digital design, you may be wondering—should you become a UI designer or UX designer? While there is some overlap between the two, they are distinct disciplines that require different skills and fulfill different functions.
This article breaks down the key differences between UI and UX design, the day-to-day responsibilities of each role, the skills needed for each career path, and tips on choosing which direction is right for you.
A Quick Comparison of UI and UX Design
Before we dive deeper, here is a brief overview of the core focuses of UI and UX design:
- UI design focuses on the look, feel, and interactivity of a product’s interface. UI designers create the various screens, pages, layouts, buttons, icons, and other visual elements that enable a user to interact with a digital product.
- UX design focuses on the overall end-to-end experience a user has with a product. UX designers identify pain points in the user journey and find solutions to create intuitive, seamless experiences that drive business goals.
In short, UI design is focused on crafting beautiful, functional interfaces while UX design is focused on crafting excellent end-to-end user experiences. Effective UI and UX design requires close collaboration between the two roles.
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Day-to-Day Responsibilities of a UI Designer
As a UI designer, your primary focus will be on designing and refining screens, interfaces, and interactive elements. Here are some of the key responsibilities you can expect in this role:
- Creating wireframes, prototypes, and high-fidelity visual mocks and specs for product interfaces
- Designing creative interface elements like menus, tabs, widgets, slide-outs and overlays
- Selecting visually appealing color schemes, fonts, and iconography
- Iterating on designs based on usability testing and user feedback
- Collaborating closely with UX designers, product managers, and engineers
- Keeping up-to-date with the latest UI trends, patterns, and technologies
UI designers work within the framework of user flows and experiences defined by UX designers to bring interfaces to life through visual design. You’ll spend your time using tools like Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD, and InVision to design, prototype, and hand off production-ready interface specs. Strong visual design skills are absolutely essential for this role.
Day-to-Day Responsibilities of a UX Designer
As a UX designer, you’ll focus on the big picture—crafting end-to-end user experiences and journeys to meet business goals and user needs. Key responsibilities include:
- Conducting user research through methods like interviews, surveys, usability testing
- Identifying pain points in the user journey and developing solutions
- Mapping out user flows, interaction models, and UI specifications
- Prototyping and iterating on UX concepts
- Defining interaction patterns and interface elements
- Collaborating closely with UI designers, product managers, and engineers
- Analyzing site metrics and usage data to identify areas for improvement
UX designers live at the intersection of user needs, business goals, and technical capabilities. You’ll spend your time using tools like Miro, Whimsical, Figma, and InVision to map user flows, wireframe experiences, and conduct usability tests. Strong analytical skills are essential for this role.
Key Skills for UI Designers
To succeed as a UI designer, these are some of the most important skills to have:
- Strong visual design sensibility
- Expertise in interface design principles and trends
- Proficiency with design software like Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD
- Strong typography, color theory, and iconography skills
- Ability to translate high-level concepts into detailed interface specs
- Strong collaboration and communication skills
- Solid grasp of user-centered design best practices
- Animation and microinteraction design skills
- Ability to manage and prioritize multiple design projects
- Familiarity with front-end development
Beyond the fundamentals of visual design, UI designers need to deeply understand interface interactions and be able to craft intuitive UIs suited for the product’s purpose. An eye for pixel-perfect design paired with technical know-how is key.
Key Skills for UX Designers
For UX designers, these are some of the most vital skills:
- Strong analytical and problem-solving skills
- Excellent user empathy and psychology knowledge
- Solid grasp of UX principles and methodologies
- Skilled at synthesizing complexity into intuitive designs
- Proficiency with design software like Figma, Miro, Whimsical
- Strong research, interviewing and writing skills
- Data analysis and synthesis abilities
- Strong collaboration and communication skills
- Solid understanding of web/app information architecture
- Ability to translate research into design requirements
- Comfortable with ambiguity and able to work in gray areas
Beyond a robust UX toolkit, UX designers need a keen eye for detail, critical thinking skills, and the ability to turn broad user insights into targeted experience improvements. Excellent communication skills are crucial when coordinating between various teams.
4 Tips for Choosing Between UI and UX Design
If you’re trying to decide between focusing your career on UI or UX design, here are a few helpful tips:
1. Consider your natural strengths and interests
Think about what types of activities energize you. Do you love pouring over usage data and identifying patterns? Does envisioning new concepts and flows excite you? Or do you prefer more hands-on design work crafting gorgeous visuals? Your innate strengths can help point you towards UI or UX.
2. Look for overlap with your current skills
Think about the knowledge you’ve built in your past roles, education, and projects. Your existing expertise can give one path a head start over the other. For example, expertise in human-centered research may tip you towards UX, while programming skills may suit UI.
3. Understand the day-to-day realities
Carefully consider the typical activities and deliverables outlined earlier for UI and UX roles. The daily work and output for each role can vary significantly. Make sure your choice aligns with how you want to spend your time.
4. Think about career progression
Research possible career progressions down each path. For example, UI designers may progress to specialize in areas like mobile or AR/VR design. UX designers may pursue roles like UX architect or UX researcher. Understanding future possibilities can help guide your decision.
Although UI and UX design have clear differences, they both offer exciting and rewarding careers for visual, analytical thinkers. As a UI designer, you’ll indulge your love of graphics, pixels, and interfaces. As a UX designer, you’ll get to tackle complex challenges and create intuitive experiences. While your personal interests and skills will play a big role, there’s no one right choice—both paths lead to engaging futures.
Hopefully, this breakdown has provided some clarity as you consider whether your talents are best suited for UI versus UX design. With a booming job market in digital design fields, it’s a great time to turn your passion into a profession that lets you help shape better user experiences.
What is the difference between UI and UX design?
UI design focuses on crafting beautiful, functional visual interfaces while UX design focuses on crafting excellent end-to-end user experiences that drive business goals. UI design brings experiences to life through visuals while UX design tackles the overall journey.
Should I learn UI or UX first?
Some understanding of UX principles and methodologies provides helpful context for UI design. However, you can start with either and be successful if you fill in knowledge gaps. Many programs teach UI and UX together.
Is UI or UX design more difficult?
They present different challenges, so neither is inherently more difficult. UI design requires strong visual skills while UX design requires analytical skills. Both take dedication to master. Overall, UX may have a steeper initial learning curve.
How much do entry-level UI/UX designers make?
Entry-level UI designer salaries typically range from $50k-$75k. Entry-level UX designer salaries range from around $65k-$90k on average. Location and company will impact entry-level pay.
Do I need to know how to code for UI/UX design?
Coding skills are a bonus but not strictly required for either role. More important is understanding how UI/UX concepts translate into working features—a basic technical literacy. Some coding for prototyping helps.
What degree do I need for UX/UI design?
No specific degree is required. Many have degrees in design, psychology, human-computer interaction or related fields. Strong portfolios and hands-on skills are most critical for getting hired.
How long does it take to become a UI/UX designer?
It’s realistic to gain competency within 6 months-1 year coming from a design background, or 1-2 years from a non-design background. But expect to continue honing skills throughout your career.
What tools do UI/UX designers use?
Key tools include Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD, InVision, Miro, Whimsical, Balsamiq, and more. You’ll also use software for user testing, analytics, and project management.