The Truth About UX/UI Designers
March 29, 2019
UX/UI Designers are real. They aren’t a mythical creature, as many are quick to suggest. It’s a real design position filled by real designers, many of whom are capable of great work.
The UX/UI designer works on both the design’s user experience and the user interface. In the right position, they’ll create easy-to-use, effective, and delightful designs. As a collaborative team member, they’ll bring applications and websites to life. Hiring a UX/UI designer is very attractive to small teams, especially when there’s only one available design opening.
Once on board, they specify the overall flow and feel of the design, while getting into the specifics of every interaction. The UX/UI Designer’s expertise contributes to the design’s information architecture, visual design, and interaction design. Some UX/UI designers can even write preliminary front-end code to demonstrate their intention with the design.
If this sounds too good to be true, you’re in good company. There are lots of designers who contend that no such designer exists. They believe nobody can do all those things.
The truth is they are wrong. There are UX/UI designers in the world. Good ones, too.
UI + UX = UX/UI
Any designer is only as capable as the skills, knowledge, and experience they’ve accrued over their career. However, there’s no hard-and-fast rule about which skills, knowledge, and experience they can acquire.
If we think of experience design as five levels of resolution: eco-system design, organization-wide design, application/site-wide design, screen design, and conversation design. To successfully design in each resolution, the designer needs the requisite skills, knowledge, and experience to get the most out of that resolution’s specific tools, methods, and principles.
A UI designer focuses on what’s on each page or screen of a design. They draw on their expertise to know how to layout the information on the screen. They design effective forms and dialogs to guide users to efficiently and effectively interact with application or web site.
A UX designer employs different expertise, looking at the entire application or website works as a whole. They design the navigation, the overall interaction model, and how the user accomplishes their overall goal.
A UX/UI designer has the skills, knowledge, and expertise to work at both the application/site-wide resolution and the screen resolution. They can zoom into the screen resolution when that’s what’s required, then zoom back out to the application/site-wide resolution to work on the bigger picture.
Expertise is Not a Zero-Sum Game
There’s a common belief that anyone who tries to do both UX and UI design won’t produce quality work The old mantra “Jack of all trades. Master of none.”is often recited in these instances.
This thinking assumes that learning is a zero-sum game. That if you’re a UX designer, then you couldn’t possibly also do UI design work well. You’d never have enough time or opportunity to learn the necessary skills to master both effectively. This just isn’t true.
Think of it this way: It’s quite possible to be both a highly-skilled UX designer and an excellent ukulele player. (In fact, there are several excellent ukulele-playing designers in our community.) Putting in all the hard work to master the ukulele doesn’t make your design skills deteriorate. Why would learning UI skills suddenly deteriorate your UX skills?
When skills overlap, there’s added benefit. There’s not a whole lot of overlap in the skills needed to master both the ukulele and UX design. However, there’s a fairly large overlap in the skills needed to master both UX design and UI design. Mastering what’s necessary at an additional level of design resolution will make you a better designer, not a worse one.
There’s nothing special about UX and UI skills. We could easily be talking about service design skills or chatbot design skills.
Skills are something anyone can learn. Put in the effort, get lots of practice, and find a good teacher and mentor. You’ll successfully learn all of the skills you need.
Designers with the right motivation and find themselves in the right opportunity can put in the hard work to master both UX and UI skills. You frequently see this with hardworking designers in organizations where they’re essentially a design-team-of-one. They have no option other than to build up their UX and UI skills together.
The Challenges of Hiring UX/UI Designers
It’ll take time to master both UX and UI design. When you’re looking to hire someone, you’re looking for someone who has been working in design for a while.
Not every designer has developed both of these skill sets. The pool to recruit candidates from is much smaller than when you’re seeking a UX designer or UI designer. The smaller pool will make hiring more difficult.
While UX/UI designers are in growing demand, there are not many available. The laws of economics dictates that they should demand a higher salary than their more plentiful counterparts. It may even be higher than if you hire both a UX and a UI designer separately.
This all means looking for a UX/UI designer will take longer and cost more. If you’re in an geographic area where there are very few people with both UX and UI skills or your salary budget is too small, a UX/UI designer may be outside your reach.
A Growing Number of UX/UI Designer
Every year, more designers are acquiring the expertise they need to tackle both UX and UI work. As teams become smaller and more agile, there are more opportunities for designers to expand their capabilities. This will steadily increase the number of available designers capable of doing both UX and UI work.
Teams currently staffed with both UX designers and UI designers would benefit by providing growth opportunities to acquire their complementary skills. By expanding everyone’s skills, the team itself becomes more agile. This is an effective way to deliver better designs faster.