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UX vs. UI and industry expectations

Sharing actionable tips from my agency, enterprise, start up, and life experience with a design and developer twist.

If you’re working on a web app or product, you’ve probably heard of the title UX designer, or user experience designer, and UI designer, or user interface designer. These are two common design jobs you’ll find, each with distinctive skills sets, and some overlap. Let’s take a deeper look.

UX designers focus more on solutions to user problems. In order to do this effectively, deep and thorough knowledge of what the user’s needs are is needed. Drawing out the user’s journey through the product, ensuring logic to the flow, and deploying wireframes, prototypes and user testing to ensure things work best are all within the realm of expertise for a UX designer.

UI designers focus more on the visual aesthetics of the product. Designing the user interface has it’s own set of design problems. They are guiding the user through visual storytelling. The nitty gritty details of individual parts of the product’s look and feel, on all different devices the product might be viewed on, are in the UI designers wheel house.

"A UX designer is concerned with the conceptual aspects of the design process, leaving the UI designer to focus on the more tangible elements"

Andy Budd

Both roles should be engaged with each other, product owners, stakeholders, developers and other members of the team to ensure alignment. There is also overlap between the roles. UI designers may not be doing user research, but they are designing elements that typically resemble well known design patterns which have been developed from proven good user experiences. UX designers may not be using those design patterns exactly, but they need to understand how they work in order for their wireframes or prototypes to be effective. Both roles do design thinking, prototyping, and deploy some level of empathy with the user.

From my experience, enterprise UX designer roles came with the expectation that you were also a UI designer. I’ve been in numerous business units that wanted me to employ UX design principals and follow up with the high polished UI to pass off to development.

Sometimes, I would do the front-end development of those UI components. I created ‘kitchen sinks’ with all of the front-end components on a single page. This was before design systems. Then, I would create and manage the design systems for the back-of-the-frontend developers or backend developers. This would sometimes be it’s own title. I’ve heard UX engineer, Design engineer or Design technologist coined for these ‘unicorns’. Somehow in attempting to create clarity between these two types of roles, I feel like I may have slightly complicated things. Such is life. Not everything is as it seems! I do hope this provided some clarity. If not, feel free to ask me about my design and development experiences.


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