UI, UX: Who Does What? A Designer’s Guide To The Tech Industry

Design is a rather broad and vague term. When someone says “I’m a designer”, it is not immediately clear what they actually do day to day. There are a number of different responsibilities encompassed by the umbrella term designer.

Design related roles span many industries, ranging from industrial design (e.g. cars, furniture) to the traditional print industry (e.g. magazines, publications), to the new media tech industry (e.g. websites, mobile apps). With the relatively recent influx of tech companies focused on creating interfaces for screens, many new design roles have emerged. Job titles like UX or UI designer are confusing to the uninitiated and unfamiliar even to designers who come from other industries.

Let’s attempt to distill what each of these titles really mean within the context of the tech industry.


UX Designer (User Experience Designer)

UX designers are primarily concerned with how the product feels. A given design problem has no single right answer. UX designers tackle this challenge and explore many different approaches to solving a specific user problem. The broad responsibility of a UX designer is to ensure that the product logically flows from one step to the next. One way that a UX designer might do this is by conducting in-person user tests to observe one’s behavior in the wild. By identifying verbal and non-verbal stumbling blocks, they refine and iterate to create the “best” user experience. An example project is creating a delightful onboarding flow for a new user.

“Define interaction models, user task flows, and UI specifications. Communicate scenarios, end-to-end experiences, interaction models, and screen designs to stakeholders. Work with our creative director and visual designers to incorporate the visual identity of Twitter into features. Develop and maintain design wireframes, mockups, and specifications as needed.” — Experience Designer @ Twitter

Deliverables: Wireframes of screens, Storyboards, Sitemap

Tools of the trade: Photoshop, Sketch, Illustrator, Fireworks, InVision

You might hear them say this in the wild:

“We should show users the ‘Thank You’ page once they have finished signing up.”

UI Designer (User Interface Designer)

Unlike UX designers who are concerned with the overall feel of the product, user interface designers are particular about how the product is laid out. They are in charge of designing each screen or page with which a user interacts and ensuring that the UI visually communicates the path that a UX designer has laid out. For example, a UI designer creating an analytics dashboard might front load the most important content at the top, or decide whether a slider or a control knob makes the most intuitive sense to adjust a graph. UI designers are also typically responsible for creating a cohesive style guide and ensuring that a consistent design language is applied across the product. Maintaining consistency in visual elements and defining behavior such as how to display error or warning states fall under the purview of a UI designer.

“Concept and implement the visual language of Airbnb.com. Create and advance site-wide style guides.” — UI Designer @ AirBnB

The boundary between UI and UX designers is fairly blurred and it is not uncommon for companies to opt to combine these roles.

Tools of the trade: Photoshop, Sketch, Illustrator, Fireworks

You might hear them say this in the wild:

“The login and sign up links should be moved to the top right corner.”

Visual Designer (Graphic Designer)

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 4–8x zoom level in Photoshop.

“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 @ Google

It is also fairly common for UI designers to pull double duty and create the final pixel perfect assets. Some companies choose not to have a separate visual designer role.

Tools of the trade: Photoshop, Sketch

You might hear them say this in the wild:

“The kerning is off and the button should be 1 pixel to the left!”

Interaction Designer (Motion Designer)

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