The Role of a Designer in the Tech Industry.

When someone says I am a designer, it means different things to different people because there are a number of different responsibilities that are encompassed in being a “designer”. The role of a designer are in a range of different areas from technology (designing of mobile apps and websites), industrial (designing of cars, furniture and buildings) to print (newspapers and magazines) but our focus is the role of designers in the technology industry which creates interfaces for screen of different devices ranging from mobile phones, laptops, desktop and the likes.

Photo Credit: Krify

Job titles like UX or UI designers are confusing to those that are not inclined to the technology industry and may seem very vague to many people in different lines of endeavor. Professionals within the industry see the term “design” to mean a variety of roles as the case may be.

1. VISUAL DESIGNER (GRAPHIC DESIGNER):

“Produce high-quality visual designs — from concept to execution, including those for desktop, web, and mobile devices at a variety of resolutions (icons, graphics, and marketing materials). Create and iterate on assets that reflect a brand, enforce a language, and inject beauty and life into a product.”

-Visual Designer job description at Google.

A visual designer is the one who pushes pixels. If you ask a non-designer what a designer does, this is probably what comes to mind first. Visual designers are not concerned with how screens link to each other, nor how someone interacts with the product. Instead, their focus is on crafting beautiful icons, controls, and visual elements and making use of suitable typography. Visual designers sweat the small details that others overlook and frequently operate at the 4X to 8X zoom level in Photoshop.

Visual designer work on the real details that others take for granted. Some organizations choose not to have a separate design role but just stick with the graphic designer because this designer creates the final pixel assets. They lay out guides and adjust every single pixel to ensure that the end result is perfect. (See iOS 7 Guide Freebie PSD by Seevi kargwal on Dribble)

Tools used by Graphic Designers include Photoshop and Sketch.

2. INTERACTION DESIGNER (MOTION DESIGNER):

“Proficiency in graphic design, motion graphics, digital art, a sensitivity to typography and color, a general awareness of materials/textures, and a practical grasp of animation. Knowledge of iOS, OS X, Photoshop and Illustrator as well as familiarity with Director (or equivalent), Quartz Composer (or equivalent), 3D computer modeling, motion graphics are required.”

  • Interaction Designer job description at Apple.
Photo Credit: Fastcodesign

Unlike visual designers who usually deal with static assets, motion designers create animation inside an app. They deal with what the interface does after a user touches it. For example, they decide how a menu should slide in, what transition effects to use, and how a button should fan out. When done well, motion becomes an integral part of the interface by providing visual clues as to how to use the product.

Tools used by Interaction Designers include Origami, Flash, Core Composer and AfterEffects.

3. FRONT-END DEVELOPER (UI DEVELOPER):

“The UI Developer is a technical position within the Strategic Payments program. The UI Developer will be accountable for the delivery of high quality software to build out a global data management framework for the Treasury Services business.”

- UI Developer job description at JP Morgan Chase & Co.

A front-end developer specializes in building the front end, or client-side, of a web application, which encompasses everything that a client, or user, sees and interacts with. Front-end development is all about what’s visible to the user. For instance, the interface displaying these very words resides on the front end of a website. They are responsible for creating a functional implementation of a products interface.

According to Pattem and Zhao’s study, the three most coveted front-end development skills are JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. However, this is true for four out of the five web development roles, as JavaScript, CSS, and HTML have always been staples of the industry.

4. BACK-END DEVELOPER (UX RESEARCHER):

“Work closely with product teams to identify research topics. Design studies that address both user behavior and attitudes. Conduct research using a wide variety of qualitative methods and a subset of quantitative methods, such as surveys.”

-UX Researcher job description at Facebook.

A back-end developer is responsible for building and maintaining the back end, or server-side, of a web application, which includes the server, the application, and the database. Back-end development is all about what’s invisible to the user. It’s what happens behind the scenes to display the words you’re reading right now.

A UX researcher is also known as the champion of a user’s needs. The goal of a back-end developer is to answer the twin questions of “Who are our users?” and “What do our users want?” Typically, this role entails interviewing users, researching market data, and gathering findings. Design is a process of constant iteration. Researchers may assist with this process by conducting A/B tests to tease out which design option best satisfies user needs. UX researchers are typically mainstays at large companies, where the access to a plethora of data gives them ample opportunity to draw statistically significant conclusions.

Tools used by Back-end developers include PHP, Python, and SQL. . PHP is a server-side scripting language which powers giants like Facebook and Wikipedia, as well as any website built with Word Press or Drupal (hence its popularity with employers). Python is a general-purpose programming language prioritizing, clean, efficient, readable code, and SQL is a special-purpose programming language used to manage databases.

Photo Credit: Frogdesign

5. PRODUCT DESIGNER

“Own all facets of design: interaction, visual, product, prototyping. Create pixel-perfect mocks and code for new features across web and mobile.”

-Product Designer job description at Pinterest

The role of a product designer isn’t well-defined and differs from one company to the next. A product designer may do minimal front-end coding, conduct user research, design interfaces, or create visual assets. From start to finish, a product designer helps identify the initial problem, sets benchmarks to address it, and then designs, tests, and iterates on different solutions. Some companies that want more fluid collaboration within the various design roles opt to have this title to encourage the whole design team to collectively own the user experience, user research, and visual design elements.

Product designer is a catch-all term used to describe a designer who is generally involved in the creation of the look and feel of a product.

Most companies would just ask to employ a designer, rather than be specific in the type of designer they really want because a common phrase peculiar to new startups is “I am looking for a designer”. What they mean by designer is one who can perform all the roles described above. They want someone that can work on front-end development and logically arrange UI elements on a screen, someone who can make beautiful icons. We just can’t gainsay the fact that the role of a Designer is very broad in scope, therefore the best way to look for the right person for a design job is to state exactly the job description you expect the designer to do within the company’s operations and choose that which best suits the basic task of the individual.

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