Constant improvements to software are undeniably crucial. Every company wants to deliver the next killer app that changes both the industry and the way we look at technology.

Product designers work endlessly to determine what the next big thing in the tech world might be and how to turn it into a reality. However, a program with cutting-edge features won’t amount to much if the end-user doesn’t find it accessible and easy to use.

That’s what makes a UI/UX designer so critical in product development. The user interface is how a program or website interacts with the people who use it. In one sense, UI/UX design can be seen as the image of a company in the public eye.

If a business has an outdated or overly complicated online system, a UI/IX pro can help redesign the website or app in question to improve the end user’s experience. Today’s customers demand a smooth, quick, and hassle-free sales journey. So, it’s no surprise a business will pay a top salary to make sure they have the best professionals on their team.

What does a designer in this field actually do, and what’s the difference between UI and UX? Could it be a career worth pursuing? Keep reading for the answers to these questions, as well as some insights into studying requirements and earning potential.

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What Does a UI/UX Designer Do?

At the core of UI/UX design is the goal of creating an intuitive and easy-to-understand online interface. A pro in this field works closely with software developers to ensure that a website’s or app’s features translate into a quality user experience.

“Humanising” technology is an excellent way to summarise the role of a UI/UX designer. After all, fancy gadgets are worthless on the wider market if they’re only accessible to someone with the knowledge of a computer programmer.

The UI/UX design process begins with understanding consumer requirements. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all, so knowing what a customer needs is the first step to delivering a quality experience. Focus groups, surveys, and other forms of market research all play a role in a company understanding its client base.

Once a business has better insights into its customers’ needs, it can optimise its website, app, or e-commerce store interface.  With this, it will be able to meet these requirements while ensuring a seamless user experience. Designing a product that’s logical not only to the developer but also to the end-user is, therefore, crucial.

Optimising end-user experience

Keeping the following customer-oriented questions in mind helps a UI/UX designer better understand how to optimise the end-user experience:

  • Do users struggle with navigating the website or app in question?
  • Can they find everything they need with ease?
  • How can the navigation process be simplified and streamlined??
  • Is the website or app cluttered and overly complicated?
  • If so, how can the interface change so that it’s easy to understand??
  • How can the overall experience of a website or app be improved?

With these and any other relevant aspects in mind, a company can now develop a plan for implementing the required changes. This process often involves developing ‘wireframe’ or ‘prototype’ builds of a new interface. These experimental builds go through extensive testing before any updates are made to the finished product.

Once an app or website has been updated, further research is needed to determine what impact these changes had on customers. The cycle then starts all over again as the company continues to optimise its product and improve the overall user experience. UX/UI design can thus be seen as an ongoing process to perfect the final product delivered to the end-user.

UX/UI
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

What is the Difference Between UX Design and UI Design?

Even people with experience in tech make the mistake of using UX and UI design interchangeably. That’s because the two are often grouped together. Without knowledge of the development process, it may be hard to see the difference between the terms. However, the truth is that UX and UI design are actually two separate processes.

Before we get into more detail, let’s take a look at the most obvious differences between these two sides of a UX and UI designer’s role.

Approach

UX focuses on the practical approach to product design. It’s about the overall experience from the first time a user is introduced to an app, program or website, to the last time.

UI, on the other hand, focuses on the visual elements that allow a user to interact with the product. These include all the finer aesthetic details of a product’s design.

Application

Because it centres around real-life experience, UX design can be applied to both physical and digital items. It helps shape every interaction a customer has with a company or its products and services.

While UI design does, too, its application lies in ultimately complementing the practical aspects of a website, program, or app. It’s, therefore, only used for digital products and focuses on the visual appeal of an interface.

As you can see, there are distinct differences between UX and UI design. Nonetheless, the two work hand-in-hand. Let’s take a closer look at each one and the role they play in developing a product.

UX Design

UX stands for ‘user experience’. This aspect of the design process focuses on the big questions about the end-user and how they interact with the product.

Is the software pleasing to utilise, or is it clunky and frustrating? Can users find what they need quickly and easily?

The best UX pros work to solve problems before they arise. After all, the design of a product doesn’t occur in a vacuum but instead factors in the real-life circumstances that influence the software’s use.

By putting themselves in the customer’s shoes, a UX design team anticipates how someone unfamiliar with the product will use it. This helps fool-proof the software and ensure that it’s accessible to the widest audience possible.

That’s why user research is an imperative part of the UX design process. Determining how the end-user perceives the product is essential for any company in the digital space. After all, design choices can have unintended consequences.

One famous example of these unforeseen results is when Apple transitioned from the iTunes app to the Apple Music app. The change confused many users who didn’t understand the difference between the apps.

The result? An incredible 48% of users didn’t bother with the new app after downloading it. User research can help to foresee these unexpected consequences before they happen and goes to the core of UX design.

Your software might have the next big feature that’ll change the market, but it won’t mean anything if the UX doesn’t line up with what you intended.

With continuous research and insights, a UX designer can better understand, and therefore, improve the user experience.

UI Design

As we’ve seen, UX design focuses on the real-life experience of an app or website and whether it’s difficult or easy to use.

On the other hand, UI or ‘user interface’ design is the process of creating tools to navigate the software. These features include every visual element of the interface, from navigational buttons and prompt to any image the user might see in the layout.

Essentially, it’s a UI designer’s job to ensure that an application’s interface is aesthetically pleasing and matches the desired purpose. Any themes, colour schemes, and visual elements need to work together seamlessly, too.

A number of skills come into play during this process, but UI design can broadly be divided into two categories: visual design and interaction design. Both play a key role in creating a cohesive user interface.

Visual Design

Visual design centres around what the customer sees when using the product. This includes everything from the colour of the background to the size and font of the text and everything in between. It would be easy to see many of the minor visual aspects as insignificant, but even the smallest one plays a vital role in creating a quality user interface.

For example, something as simple as the shape of the buttons can influence whether a user finds your software easy or difficult to navigate. According to Adobe XD, one of the principles of good user interface design is to keep them consistent across the board.

Customers associate visual details with a company’s brand. That’s why you’ll often find a website and its app counterpart are usually similar in design, colour scheme, and navigation.

Interaction Design

On the other hand, interaction design focuses on how someone utilises the interface. This broad category involves understanding customer psychology to anticipate how a user will experience the components of an app, program, or website.

Comprehending how customers perceive the choice of words used in instructions or calls to action is one key element of perfecting a user interface. Having a logical flow between the different areas of your software is also a crucial consideration when it comes to UI design.

It often comes down to considering the smallest design choices that went into a piece of software or online content. For example, a travel website had a function to see more images of a destination by pressing and holding the cover photo for two seconds.

Even though this seems like a short time to the designer, it added friction to the users’ choice and dissuaded them from performing the action. Although a seemingly minor hurdle, it was enough to drive traffic away from the website and to their competitors.

As you can see, both UX and UI play equally essential, yet very different roles in design. The former focuses on the real-life experiences of using a program, website, or app. Meanwhile, the latter is more about the visual aspects and how they affect utilisation of the software.

UX/UI designer
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

How Do I Become a UI/UX Designer?

Now that we’ve gone over what UI/UX design entails and the difference between the two aspects, let’s look at it as a career path.

What do you need to become a UI/UX designer, and how much time does it take? Let’s find out.

Firstly, what traits do you need to succeed as a UI/UX designer?

  • Tech-savvy: This goes without saying in the programming world. Without a natural interest in all things technology, you won’t make it far as a designer.
  • Self-motivated: Before you get your first job as a designer, you’ll have to work on your own to learn the necessary skills. That means you’ll need an internal drive to succeed and stay determined.
  • Empathetic: At the heart of good user interface design is understanding what customers are going through when they interact with software. You’ll need to be able to empathise with the anger and frustration they feel when they have a bad experience.
  • Team player: As we’ve seen, a UI/UX designer has to work closely with other professionals to collaborate on the completed product. You can have all the ability in the world, but if you can’t operate as part of a larger team, you won’t make it far in this industry.

Do Your Research

If you think you have the personality type needed to succeed in this line of work, you’ll want to start doing research on the subject.

You can join UI/UX designer forums and web communities and ask veterans in the field pointers on getting started. Just check that any content you find online is up to date, so you know it’s worth your time.

Some reading material will also be invaluable to you. There is a multitude of books on the subject of UI/UX design with new ideas and theories constantly in development. Here are two fantastic reads to get you started.

  • Don’t Make Me Think, and the updated second edition Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited. These two books from author Steve Krug are considered to be among the definitive texts on web usability. They cover what it means for a website or program to deliver a high-quality interaction with users in an easy and direct way.
  • The Design of Everyday Things, by author Donald A. Norman. In this book, Norman examines the design and how it can apply to all aspects of life. It covers not only digital or web products, but also everyday objects like tables or chairs. Although this may seem superfluous to someone in the tech industry, understanding what pleases people about design and what can frustrate or challenge them is crucial to the UI/UX industry.

Get a Degree or Do a Course

Doing research on your own and sharpening your skills shows you’re a self-starter and is a crucial first step to becoming a UX/UI designer. However, you’ll also want the documentation to prove you know your stuff. That’s where education and online courses come in.

Naturally, having a related degree is helpful for a UI/UX designer looking to break into the field. Design is the most obvious field of study, but other degrees will be helpful as well. Psychology, communication, and English are also common specialisations for graduates who want to start working as a product designer.

Of course, earning a degree isn’t an option available to everyone trying to find their way into UX and UI design. A more accessible route would be to take an online course. With a web-based curriculum, you can familiarise yourself with the design process and the tools and skills you’ll need to succeed in the field.

As well as design courses, it may be helpful to learn related subjects as well. UI designers don’t necessarily need to know how to code. However, familiarity with basic coding systems (HTML or CSS) will give you an edge over another product designer.

Go Job Hunting

Once you’ve done the hard part of learning your design skills, it’ll be time to start searching for positions. Of course, the catch-22 any new UX/UI designer faces is the same challenge most people must overcome when starting a new career. You need work experience to land your first job as a designer…but you need a job to get work experience.

One of the best ways to break out of this cycle and get your feet wet as a UI/UX designer is to find someone who needs a web page overhaul but can’t afford to pay for professional help. Equipped with the knowledge you’ve acquired on your own, offer your services pro bono.

Using your skills for free now can feel like you’re underselling yourself. However, building your portfolio is the first step to securing a full-time job as a UI designer later.

Once you have your first bit of real-world experience in your portfolio, it’s time to start looking for permanent positions. Of course, you should monitor listings to see when new UI/UX design opportunities are posted.

You’ll always have plenty of competitors, so the best advice is to apply, apply, and then apply again. However, these sites aren’t always where you’ll find the best jobs.

Word of mouth is sometimes an excellent way to find UX and UI designer opportunities. Networking can take a bit of effort, but it’ll pay off in the long run.

Search for tech events in your area as these can be easy ways to meet other UI designers. If you had a good relationship with a mentor during your learning process, make sure to reach out to them for advice as well.

Whether you land a job through networking or via a listing, you may think your work is done. Not quite. The field of UX and UI design is one that’s constantly changing. Therefore, you’ll need to keep up to date with the latest industry trends and learn any new applicable skills.

How Much Do UI/UX Designers Earn?

As you might expect, product designers specialising in UI and UX are in high demand. This, of course, translates favourably in the job market.

That said, exactly how much you earn is influenced by your work experience. If you’re just getting into the field, you can expect to earn an average salary of £32,005.43 in the UK. However, with work experience under your belt and a bigger portfolio, you’ll see your earnings potential quickly increase.

A full-time senior UI/UX designer with at least eight years’ experience can earn an average annual salary of £59,104.70 in the UK. Staying in the industry even longer leads to more lucrative rewards. With 13 years’ experience, you can expect an average salary of £62,622.15.

There’s no shortage of companies looking for an experienced UI/UX designer.  So, once you have your foot in the door, you’ll be able to pick and choose the right employer. Companies in a variety of different tech-related fields always need UI/UX designers. The time you invested in learning your skills will start to pay off before you know it.

Final Thoughts

As we went over above, there’s a lot of work that goes into quality UI/UX design. However, with every company trying to deliver the best user experience, there are plenty of opportunities out there for a career in this exciting field.

If this sounds like your kind of job, start learning the different skills you’ll need, today. You’ll be working as a UI/UX designer in no time.  With that, you’ll get to join one of the most important aspects of the software development process.