What does a UX/UI Designer do?
Binary thinking is so hot right now.
Two ways of doing things; one right, the other wrong, it just depends on who you ask.
My hope is that it’s mostly the strange story-telling rhetoric in much of journalism that enforces this. That in reality, common sense supersedes the lack of nuance.
But for just a moment, let’s apply that lack of logic to the corporate world. Let’s take extreme schools of thought.
As an adolescent artist (read poet) with very deep musings on mortality and black eyeliner, I was convinced that the corporate world was the biggest con humans ever created. To work a 9 - 5 meant that your conversation was banal and that you’d watch your life slip away, waiting for milestones and Fridays.
As an adult artist (read freelancer), I’m now mature enough to know that creativity and fulfilment can be found everywhere.
There is one particularly interesting job that combines creativity and people skills with an understanding of form. UX/UI designer. I wanted to learn more, so I pulled aside one of my colleagues. Here’s the 411.
Can we break down the letter thing?
UI = User Interface
A user interface designer works with the look of a platform or software. That can be color palette or architecture, anything to do with visual swag.
UX = User Experience
A user experience designer curates, assesses and analyzes how a user experiences an interface. It sounds a little bizarre, but think of websites with overwhelming menu bars, or apps that feel like dysfunctional mazes. Without the UX consideration, the flow of a customer, friend or fan can be compromised.
You can exclusively work on one or the other, or you might be a fancy both.
Ok, but what does an average day look like?
Depending on the projects you’re working on, your day can encompass any aspect of research, planning, creating, revising, testing or collaborating.
In a larger corporation, you may be focusing on just one of these phases at any given time. If you’re the only UX/UI designer in the company, you’ll have more to juggle. In real life, because of timeline restrictions or client demands, sometimes some of these phases are skipped.
Let’s look at the lifecycle of a project, from a designer’s POV:
A new software project arrives, shiny and conceptual. It could be creating something completely from scratch, or working on existing product. We’re talking apps, websites, inventory systems, business platforms, any kind of software.
The designer will learn about the scope, the client’s objectives and vision for the look and functionality of the project.
In order to make informed choices with regard to design, research and planning is done. This is amassing and assessing data from the demographic, and creating user personas to tap into desired experiences.
Other useful tools include an information hierarchy, which is like a master map the designer can return to, to make sure they haven’t missed anything. It’s a chart that lays out all the pages a website, app or other platform will consist of, and how they link to one another.
The first stage is creating low-fidelity wireframes, which is essentially a black and white mock-up of the layout of the platform. This may or may not include the navigation bar. Feedback is sought, and then it will be refined and built into a high-fidelity wireframe. This will include branding, typography, images and color. These mock-ups are created using software like Figma or Adobe XD.
Once client approval is achieved, development can begin. The designer will collaborate with the developers to help describe what functionality should be, and make adjustments per developer feedback, too.
When the prototype is ready, the designer may help lead testing of the product. This can be done internally, externally, or a mix of both. In an ideal scenario with a large budget and time, companies will bring in potential real-life users who fit the demographic, to use it without direction. They can then give unfettered feedback which helps shape further revision.
The timeline for a project, its current status and your workload will dictate what you’re working on in a given day.
To delineate the roles, let’s just review which task comes under which designer:
User Research + Personas
Prototype + Testing
Incorporation of Branding
You’ve got my attention. How do I know it’s right for me?
While you can learn a lot in school, a natural proclivity for design principles of color and proportion will best suit those looking to get into UI design. An aesthetic sensibility and creativity are key.
UX/UI design is not an isolated field. While development offers ample opportunity for autonomy and collaboration, in design, you work with and for people
You have to be able to collaborate with others, and not take things personally. Design is subjective, and you’ll have a lot of opinions coming back and forth; you can’t take that onboard. The most important thing is building towards client satisfaction, and you have the privilege of leaving your mark on the way.
Empathy for others, an ability to objectively assess data and tap into alternate points of view is key for UX design. Your ultimate goal is to capture the attention of a demographic, outside of personal opinion.
How do I get started?
There are plenty of specific courses, but you don’t need to go and get a four year degree to get a job. Mostly, employers will be open to those with a degree or experience in a related field, with some short-term training in UX/UI, like bootcamp.
This is the kind of job where first-hand experience counts for way more than study.