When a new app hits the market and goes viral, it’s not by accident. Application designers need more than a good idea to ensure a product gets noticed; they need a highly functional product that inspires users to tell their friends about it. A great look, feel, and experience provides the spark that can take an app from a few dozen downloads to thousands or millions. Many different elements of the user experience could interfere with the success of an app, from unclear buttons or text to a slow interface or confusing layout.
The key to a successful app or website isn’t just a great concept but also a great user interface (UI) design and user experience (UX) design. These two disciplines are often combined into one term, UI/UX design, but they can also be separate roles with different responsibilities. These detail-oriented jobs require graphic design, programming, marketing, research, and project management skills. Continue reading to find out more about the differences between UX and UI designers and how to step into either profession.
UI Designer Overview
UI designers are specialty graphic designers whose work greatly influences the look and feel of digital products. Consider the web browsers most of us use every day. Every aspect of a browser’s design — from the shape of the buttons to the fonts, icons, tabs, and logos — comes from the UI designer. UI designers who create a new product or work at a startup company might create each design from scratch, so they have a big impact on a brand’s style.
Alternatively, UI designers who work for established companies might have to work within brand guidelines, ensuring their creations match existing products. UI designers aim to make designs that are eye-catching but functional, serving their purpose without sacrificing aesthetics.
UI Designer Salaries and Job Outlook
The average annual salary for UI designers is around $64,000, according to PayScale data from August 2019. The lower 10% of these design professionals make approximately $43,000 annually, and the top 10% make as much as $91,000. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not keep specific data on UI designers but projects the job market for all graphic designers to grow 4% between 2016 and 2026, adding 11,100 jobs during that span.
UX Designer Overview
UX designers make sure apps, websites, and programs of all kinds function as they should. These designers take into account the intended function of a product and ensure it produces the expected outcomes. They do this by conducting product research, testing various designs, and advocating for user needs during the design process. For example, a real estate company might launch a website to help people find a home to purchase. The website might look sharp and modern thanks to the UI designers, but early testers aren’t finding it useful for some reason. UX designers will conduct research and study what’s causing people to stop using the website before they find a house. There could be many reasons — the buttons might not make as much sense as the UI designers intended, the search functions might be too limited, or the pictures might be too low-resolution. If the UX is bad, users will close the website and find a different option. UX designers make it their mission to figure out what it is about the product that consumers aren’t responding to and tweak the design to fix any problems.
UX Designer Salaries and Job Outlook
The BLS does not keep specific data for UX designers, who fall under the bureau’s umbrella of web developer professions. The BLS projects the job market for web developers to grow 15% between 2016 and 2026, adding 24,400 jobs during that span. This is more than double the national job growth average of 7%. PayScale reports the average salary for UX designers at around $73,000, as of August 2019. The bottom 10% bring in around $50,000, and the top 10% earn as much as $107,000 annually.
Similarities Between UX and UI Designers
UX and UI designers work together on products, and there is some overlap between these two careers. Both are crucial to the design of digital products, especially when it comes to merging function and form. UX and UI designers both aim to create a product that works as spectacularly as it looks, whether that’s a mobile-based video game or the touch-screen ordering device installed at a restaurant. UX and UI designers work as part of collaborative teams, constantly testing products, providing feedback, and making modifications to match function with intended outcomes.
Finally, both careers can come from similar academic backgrounds. Programs such as Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in digital media include courses in UX/UI design, as well as graphic design, digital illustration, game design, and motion graphics.
Differences Between UX and UI Designers
Though they work in close proximity, and their careers are sometimes combined into one title, UX and UI designers are not the same. Their specific work on product development, daily tasks, and project objectives, as well as the job skills needed, set the two careers apart.
Interface vs. Experience
The biggest difference between UX and UI designers is their focus as they work on product design. UI designers concern themselves with how a product looks, how the interface moves users through the program, and how it matches with other company products. UI designers concentrate on color, shape, texture, animations, and transitions between screens. They are familiar with design principles and how products look on different devices and browsers.
UX designers care about the way a product looks, but they’re more focused on what users think of the product and how they use it. UX designers are an intermediary between the business and the customer, making sure the product meets customer needs as well as business goals. They concentrate on market research, product testing, and redesign phases, ensuring the product is both beneficial for users and profitable for the company.
UX designers conduct a significant amount of market research as part of their job duties. Since they’re concerned with how customers interact with a product, UX designers must test different versions of it, especially with the demographics most likely to use it. Through this alpha and beta testing, they are able to expose flaws within the product that the UI team might have overlooked, either in the product itself or in its failure to produce the expected outcome.
Market research impacts the work of UI designers, since UX designers provide them with feedback and suggest where changes should be made. However, UI designers conduct most of their design discussions internally, leaving it to the UX team to find any fundamental experience flaws during the testing phase. UI designers might be considering UX as they go, but it’s not necessarily what’s driving their creative process, especially during the initial stages.
UI designers are graphic artists who need design skills above anything else. They must be able to use digital design programs to make their visions come to life. These detail-oriented collaborators work on projects both big and small, handling design from the initial visioning to redesigning the product based on market testing.
UX designers identify any necessary changes before the product launches by looking at it holistically. Not purely concerned with aesthetics, they focus on the function of the product and how consumers interact with it. UX designers use market research skills to run focus groups and synthesize feedback into direction for UI designers on what they need to change. Computer programming skills are also useful, as UX designers are often responsible for displaying research data and illustrating a product’s functionality.
UX vs. UI Design: Which Is Right for You?
Designers who want to step into the digital landscape should consider careers in UX or UI design, where they can put their varied skills to work to achieve meaningful results. Find out more about how Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in digital media could help you step into either of these exciting creative design professions.
Payscale, Average User Interface Designer Salary
Payscale, Average UX Designer Salary
Time, “What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Graphic Designers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Web Developers
UX Planet, “What Is UI Design? What Is UX Design? UI vs. UX: What’s the Difference”