If you opened up your phone, you'd probably be able to highlight your top three favorite apps to use (maybe even a few of your least favorite). Can you pinpoint why?

Beyond performing a specific task (e.g. maybe one of your top apps is a calendar app because you need it to organize your day), another likely element that works to keep you using the app over a competitor is its user interface (UI).

Or, more simply put, you love how the app looks and how the interactions work.

However, it wasn't a magical fairy godmother that made it look and work the way it does; it's the result of hardworking UI designers.

If you're here, chances are you're either a student/design hobbyist curious about the role of UI designers, or you're considering a switch in career and wondering if UI design is the right role for you.

In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about UI designers, including:

  • What is a UI designer?

  • What are the differences between a UX and a UI designer?

  • What skills do you need to succeed as a UI designer?

  • Typical tasks and responsibilities you'd have as a UI designer

  • Salaries and career outlook

  • How to become a UI designer

What is a UI designer?

A UI designer is a person who designs the visual elements and interactivity of the user interface (what you ‌see as a customer or visitor) on the screen of your device when you're using a website, app, or video game.

UI designers plan and create the overall look, style, and function of these products.

If you're a beginner on this topic, we recommend reading our guide, What is UI design?.

It can be pretty easy for layfolk to confuse the job of a UI designer with that of a graphic designer, but there's one key difference between them. Graphic designers only design static visual content, while UI designers create interactive visual content that emphasizes interactions.

There's another role that often gets confused or lumped into the same job description of UI design – user experience (UX) design. We'll go into further detail on this below.

What are the differences between a UI designer and a UX designer?

When it comes to figuring out the difference between UX designers and UI designers, looking at UX vs UI design ‌is helpful.

Don Norman, the Nielsen Norman Group Co-Founder and ex-user experience architect at Apple, describes UX as the user's entire experience with a company, its products, and its services.

UX design aims to use a human-centered approach to meet users' needs through research. This research includes figuring out problems and solutions, mapping interactions, developing wireframes and prototypes, and more – but always with the big picture in mind.

On the other hand, UI design aims to bring the results of UX research to life. When a UX designer has mapped out a customer journey, the UI designer will create the interfaces that go along that journey – think typography, images, visual hierarchy, and UI elements such as button icons, scrolling, animation, etc.

As you can see, a UX designer is more of a strategic role, while a UI designer is a tactician or executioner. Due to the natural flow of UX into UI design, it's not uncommon to see one person taking on both roles in small teams.

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Typical tasks and responsibilities of UI designers

The role of a UI designer varies depending on the team you're joining, but there are some similar everyday tasks and responsibilities no matter where you go.

Some of the most common tasks include:

  • Creating the digital brand look and feel with "pixel perfect" (this phrase comes up a lot) designs and responsive interfaces.

  • Develop and apply design principles and systems, which can also mean developing a brand-wide style guide.

  • Problem-solving and translating UX insights into well-designed digital experiences.

  • Producing high-fidelity UI designs to communicate ideas and establish the brand's visual language.

  • Participating in team collaboration for brainstorming, ideation, and iteration – usually using the Agile/Sprint methodology.

  • Conducting user research and analysis of existing designs to look for ways to improve them.

  • Conducting competitor analysis to determine how customers might expect a product in your industry to look and function.

  • You may also communicate directly with clients about your design concepts and solutions if you work for an agency rather than in-house.

With the above tasks in mind, it's fairly easy to figure out what responsibilities you'll have as a UI designer, which are typically:

  • Providing seamless customer experiences across relevant devices/channels.

  • Upholding accessibility standards to make sure designs are accessible for users with disabilities.

  • Designing each interface screen.

  • Assessing how customers interact with interfaces.

  • Using industry-standard software to create designs.

  • Being timely with design tasks and keeping on top of project timelines and sprints.

  • If applicable, regularly communicating with clients and other stakeholders during project development.

We spoke to a UI designer, Nicolene van Staden, currently working as a UX/UI designer for Oxford Instruments. She summed up her responsibilities in just two sentences:

"To make the user journey enjoyable and stress-free and keep the client (end user) engaged. Most importantly, to keep the client from feeling lost or frustrated while navigating the application."

What does a UI designer do

Skills you need to succeed as a UI designer

With the above tasks and responsibilities in mind, you can probably guess some of the skills you'll need as a UI designer. It's best to break these skills into "hard” and “soft" skills.

Here are some of the hard skills you'll need to succeed:

  • A high proficiency with Figma and, in most cases, Adobe Creative Suite and Sketch.

  • Proficiency with interaction design principles, color theory, and typography design.

  • Being able to conduct and analyze user research following best practices and guidelines.

  • Demonstrable knowledge of the industry the business operates in.

  • Experience with user-centered design approaches for creating designs and presenting work.

  • Experience working in teams using Agile/Scrum.

  • While not essential, coding is also a "nice to have" skill, e.g. HTML, Javascript, and CSS, so you have a good idea of what's possible regarding software development and communicating with developers on your team.

In terms of soft skills, you'll need:

  • Excellent communication skills – regarding day-to-day project management and presentation skills to get buy-in from various stakeholders.

  • Great time-management and organization skills to manage projects under pressure.

  • An eye for detail and spotting problems, with the ability to solve them effectively.

  • The ability to collaborate well within a team.

  • Adapting to challenges and continuously improving workflows and the product itself.

These are standard skill requirements you'll find in a UI designer job description, but Nicolene also added a few of her own:

"You'll need patience and understanding, as well as the ability to ask the right questions [regarding research and collaboration with team members]. You'll also need to have the self-confidence to be ready to defend the needs of the clients [end users]."

The skills and confidence that Nicolene describes above typically come with experience on the job, but it's still worth thinking about them, even in your first UI role.

Salary and career outlook for UI designers

What does a UI designer do?

So, you think you've got what it takes to be a UI designer, but you're probably interested in what you can earn in the role. Let's take a quick look at the salary ranges you can expect in some countries around the world:

UI Designer salaries, according to Glassdoor (annually, converted into USD):

  • United Kingdom: $47K–$71K

  • United States: $71K–$119K

  • Australia: $46K–$66K

  • Germany: $43K–$56K

  • France: $35K–$47K

  • India: $4.7K–$9.2K

  • Brazil: $7K–$14.5K

  • China:$17K–$29K

  • Japan: $27K–$41K

  • Canada: $44K–$64K

As you can see, the salaries have quite a large range, indicating that the lower salary band is entry-level, while the upper band comes with seniority.

It's also worth mentioning that these salaries have been converted to USD and are relative to the costs of living in each country – countries like the US and the UK have higher living costs than India and Brazil, so the salaries reflect that.

But what about the career outlook?

Thankfully, UI design has a pretty straightforward career path – junior, mid-tier (we've also seen the term "middleweight" in job descriptions), and senior UI designers. Each comes with an increasing salary and responsibilities (e.g. senior UI designers often lead a team of other UI designers).

You also don't have to worry about "AI taking your job" anytime soon. While AI can help UI designers with several tasks, such as coming up with suggestions for user research interview questions and initial design ideas, it's very unlikely to replace all the complexity and creativity involved in the role.

Some roles use a similar skillset that you can take on if you work as a UI designer for a few years and fancy a change – UX design is an obvious choice, but you can also look towards UI architect, UI developer, visual designer, interaction designer, and product designer.

How to become a UI designer

What does a UI designer do?

If you're looking to switch careers from a similar field (such as UX) to a UI design career, it's all a matter of drilling into your transferable skills and optimizing your resumé to reflect them. Then, in your interview, showcase what you can bring to the table from the perspective of your previous roles.

On the other hand, if you're new to the industry, you'll still need to highlight your transferable skills, but you'll also want to follow these recommendations:

  • Take a UI design course or do a UI design boot camp: While some employers don't find course achievements and boot camp projects particularly valuable, they're still worth doing to help you better understand the foundational principles and build up your skills in the field.

  • Look for junior roles: While that might be stating the obvious, one factor to consider is that businesses hiring for junior roles will expect to offer you more training to help you on the job.

  • Create a killer portfolio: If you've never worked on a UI design project for a business, you'll need a great portfolio and resume to showcase your designs. A common way to do this is by creating a blog or GitHub of case studies where you show your design process, describe the reasoning behind your design choices, and even document building a minimum viable product (MVP). You can then share your blog with prospective employers. It's also worth joining Dribbble to get peer feedback on your designs.

  • Network with UI folks on LinkedIn: Make sure your LinkedIn account is up-to-date and optimized for attracting senior people in the UI space. From there, try connecting with existing UI designers and people who could be your future managers. If you spot a company you really want to work for, look for the UI team leaders and connect with an introduction so your name becomes recognizable. You might even get great advice from them as you progress in your job search.

It's also worth noting that while many UI designers have degrees in fields such as graphic design or computer science, you don't need a specific degree to become a UI designer. Most employers prefer practical and demonstrable experience in UI design over a degree.

Nicolene is a UI designer without a specific degree, and this is what she said about landing her role:

"I am self-taught and a lot of my skills were transferable. I was fortunate enough to land a job that was willing to train me for their needs."

Start preparing for your UI design role

Becoming a UI designer is an exciting and rewarding experience, and if it's your first time looking for a UI designer role, you'll want to be as prepared as possible.

One way you can do this is by familiarizing yourself with the tools you'll need for the job – naturally, that includes Figma and Adobe Creative Suite. However, you can also get a leg-up by becoming familiar with usability testing tools.

Lyssna is a usability testing platform that offers moderated and unmoderated tests, including prototype testing and design surveys, both critical components of UI design.

Signing up is free, and you get access to unlimited tests and surveys to help you build your knowledge of usability testing. Give it a try and boost your resumé today.

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Alexander Boswell is the Founder/Director of SaaSOCIATE, a B2B SaaS, MarTech and eCommerce Content Marketing Service and a Business PhD candidate. When he’s not writing, he’s playing baseball and D&D.

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