Solving Common Design Problems With UI Design Patterns

Spend enough time on the web, and you’ll encounter a lot of familiar experiences.

For example, try visiting any news website. Even if it’s one you’ve never seen before, you’ll likely instantly recognize that the site contains news. You’ll also spot a number of clues indicating how to use the site.

The New York Times website resembles many other news sites. The logo in the top center serves as a link to the homepage. Underneath the logo is a series of tabs for each section of news content. The page header also contains a magnifying glass icon allowing the user to search the site. 

Below the header are today’s news articles. The most important article is accompanied by the largest headline, as well as a photo.

And it’s not just news websites that feel alike. Pull up examples from just about any category of digital content—public libraries, athletic shoe stores, social media apps for sharing videos—and you’ll undoubtedly find more similarities than differences in their interfaces.

The reason these experiences feel so familiar is that designers are taking advantage of UI design patterns. Design patterns are common solutions designers use to solve frequently occurring usability problems in user interfaces.

But why are these patterns so popular? How do designers decide where and when to implement them? And are they appropriate for every usability challenge?

Why Do Designers Use Patterns?

Creating familiar experiences reduces the cognitive load required for users to understand and use an interface. Cognitive load is defined as the mental effort required to process information and perform a task.

Web usability consultant Jakob Nielsen provides a rule reminding interface designers to minimize cognitive load: 

“Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.”

In other words, your interface needs to match the expectations of both mobile and desktop audiences who are used to navigating products similar to yours.

But when faced with a common usability challenge within a digital product, such as organizing a large number of news categories, beginning designers might feel tempted to create an alternative to the top navigation pattern found on competitor websites. After all, product designers are hired for their creativity, right? 

However, straying from the familiar pattern wastes the user’s time. Users aren’t visiting to puzzle their way through the designer’s fresh new interface—they’re here to read the news. And if the news that interests them is too difficult to find, they’ll leave.

And from the product team’s perspective, why spend extra design, testing, and development hours creating a novel approach to a navigation problem that’s been solved by countless other news websites?

Working with UI Design Patterns

Is implementing UI design patterns as simple as plugging one into your product’s interface? Not quite. Designers generally follow a four-step process to choose the right pattern and adapt it to the needs of their product and audience.

1. Identify the Problem

Before selecting a UI pattern as a solution, gather as much information as possible about the problem users are having. For example, web analytics might indicate potential subscribers to your news website are bailing out at a specific stage of the checkout form.

Your team should observe users attempting to complete the form in order to thoroughly understand the following:

  • User goals: What motivates users to complete this task? 
  • Pain points: What frustrations stand in their way?
  • Context: What is the user doing when the problem occurs?

2. Find a Common Solution

Now that you understand the pain points facing users, the next step is to research what patterns are available to help solve the problem.

Start by reading about the problem. If you’ve observed that users are struggling to format phone numbers to match the expectations of your checkout form, read up on alternate solutions that don’t require specific formatting.

You might additionally check out sites that compile UI design patterns. Not all of these resources are free, but they can speed up the process of finding patterns and learning more about their implementation.

3. Check Out Examples

Once you’ve identified the most useful pattern to solve your product’s usability problem, test out websites and apps that make use of the pattern. 

  • When, where, and how is the pattern used? 
  • What are the usability benefits of the pattern?
  • Are there contexts in which the pattern might not make sense?

Your review should also evaluate the accessibility and ethics of the pattern. Accessibility means ensuring your interface can be operated by users with disabilities. As for ethics, avoid using dark patterns designed to trick users into performing unwanted actions.  

4. Adapt to Your Product’s Needs

Here’s where your creativity as a designer comes in. You’ll need to adjust your chosen pattern to suit your product in a way that balances all of the following:

  • Desirability: Can users understand and use this pattern to reach their goals?
  • Viability: Will the pattern help fulfill business needs?
  • Feasibility: How easily can the development team implement this pattern?

Beyond Design Patterns

After thoroughly researching a design problem, you’ll occasionally discover that no existing pattern really satisfies your users’ needs. In that case, ideate on some new approaches to the problem. This is where great innovation comes from.

While today we might take popular UI design patterns such as tab bars across the bottom of mobile screens for granted, patterns like these began as a designer’s solution to a problem (in this case, limited mobile screen real estate combined with the need to keep frequently accessed options near the user’s thumb).

When in doubt, follow the advice of Don’t Make Me Think author Steve Krug. “Innovate when you know you have a better idea, but take advantage of conventions when you don’t.”

Ready to Build Your Own Interfaces?

If solving usability problems and designing user interfaces within digital products sounds like a fun challenge, consider applying now to Flatiron School’s Product Design Bootcamp. You’ll learn the design skills you need to build a competitive portfolio and land your first job in the product design industry.

Not sure if you’re ready to apply? Download the syllabus to learn more about the skills you can acquire in our bootcamp, or check out our free Product Design Prep Work to explore the material we teach in the course.

And if you are curious about what students learn during their time at Flatiron, attend our Final Project Showcase.

Life After Graduation From a Product Design Bootcamp

So what’s it really like to graduate from a product design bootcamp? Can a bootcamp really provide the skills necessary to land a job as a junior designer?

The answer is yes—absolutely —provided you’re aware that your hardest work begins the day you graduate.

Completing a product design bootcamp is an achievement surely worth celebrating. But know this: the grads currently succeeding weren’t simply handed a job on their last day of school. Getting their foot in the door took a lot of hustle: networking, refining portfolios, and completing new projects. 

We spoke to Flatiron School alumni about how they used their time between graduation and landing a design industry job.

Define Your Unique Value Proposition

In her Medium article “Your Portfolio is Freaking Boring,” Melody Koh cautions against generic-sounding welcome statements like I am a junior UX designer passionate about solving problems. If your bio sounds like it could describe almost any junior designer, you’ll find it difficult to distinguish yourself.

Alexandra’s Value Proposition Story

One way to define your unique value proposition is to to connect your pre-bootcamp experience to your new UX knowledge. Flatiron graduate Alexandra Grochowski came from a background in the banking industry. After graduation, she began blogging on Medium about the overlap between UX design and finance. One of her posts caught the attention of the marketing director of Amount, a banking software platform. Alexandra started writing for Amount’s blog, which eventually led to a full-time position as a product designer.

Design graduates are sometimes reluctant to highlight their non-design experience in their promotional materials, but this is a missed opportunity. By blogging her insights about the intersection of design and banking, Alexandra established herself as not just another junior design candidate, but instead, a unique voice with a specifically marketable set of skills.

Revise Your Portfolio Thoughtfully

A common mistake among recent product design bootcamp grads is to wait to apply for jobs until their portfolios are perfect. But here’s the thing:

Perfect design portfolios don’t exist.

Since there’s always room for improvement, take a Lean UX approach to developing your portfolio. Revise until it’s complete enough to receive meaningful feedback from industry contacts and mentors. Use the advice you’ve gathered to make improvements. And in the meantime, keep applying for jobs.

Crystal’s Portfolio Revision Story

Flatiron grad Crystal Ma credits her mentor, a designer at a large Chicago marketing technology company, with providing actionable feedback on her portfolio. Recalling her mentor’s advice that hiring managers may spend five minutes or less reviewing each portfolio, Crystal heavily edited her case studies, using block quotes to call out main points and reducing the amount of text in favor of eye-catching visual assets. She also worked to improve her case study storytelling, removing lengthy design process descriptions and instead highlighted moments of discovery that demonstrate the true value of a design project.

Crystal also emphasized a learning moment from early in the interviewing process: “I didn’t realize that for portfolio presentations, it’s typical to use a slide deck. I used to just open up my website and scroll through it. Do not do this. Go and make a simple slide deck in Figma.”

Find Real Stakeholders

Many product design bootcamps don’t require you to work on actual client projects prior to graduation. And in a way, this makes sense. The typical bootcamp experience involves a quick immersion in the principles of UX research, UX design, and UI design. This is followed by projects that provide an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge. The short timelines of these projects don’t always allow students enough time to gather and apply feedback from stakeholders.

However, design projects without stakeholders are less likely to impress hiring managers. These rapidly executed assignments allow students to demonstrate their ability to satisfy target users of a product or service. But what about balancing user goals with business needs?

Working with real stakeholders also frequently involves respecting constraints, such as budget limitations or technology requirements, that are hard to replicate in the classroom. You’ll also find that working with actual stakeholders is a great way to practice your communication skills and build connections that can lead to future job opportunities.

Laurel’s Stakeholder Story: Working With a Non-Profit

For her final student project, Flatiron grad Laurel Klafehn worked with the Immigrant Freedom Fund, a non-profit organization advocating for the end of cash bail that pays immigration bonds for people detained in Aurora, Colorado. Laurel’s client provided tangible, real-world goals—including reworking the organization’s digital presence—to attract more donations from community members, as well as allowing people advocating for their detained loved ones to request help. 

Just as importantly, Laurel learned to work within the project’s constraints, including a limited budget, providing support for users who speak languages other than English, and the need to help families navigate a civil detention system that is intimidating and unclear. Laurel has continued working with the Immigrant Freedom Fund after graduation, demonstrating a high level of commitment and an alignment between her design work and her personal values.

Nonprofit organizations like the Immigrant Freedom Fund can be a useful and rewarding source of real stakeholder work after graduation. To find nonprofit opportunities, try reaching out to your LinkedIn network. Or, search Google for design volunteer opportunities in [your location]. You might also check out some of the websites aimed at connecting volunteers with organizations in need. While a few websites such as UX Rescue are aimed specifically at helping designers make an impact, most offer a more general collection of volunteering opportunities.

Tara’s Stakeholder Story: Leveraging Family and Friends

In addition to partnering with nonprofits, some graduates have used their existing network of family and friends creatively to help them find opportunities to create client work. Flatiron graduate Taras Sarvas graduated from Flatiron shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a moment of high uncertainty where design projects were difficult to find. Taras used this time to design an e-commerce website for San-Tech, a plumbing fixture retail chain located in Ukraine and run by Taras’s father.

Source: Taras Sarvas
Source: Taras Sarvas

Taras also credits part of the success of his job search to letting his personality shine through in his portfolio. Recruiters and hiring managers view dozens of portfolios in a single sitting, so a list of technical abilities alone won’t grab their attention. Taras recalls hearing “multiple times from hiring managers that my portfolio is memorable because I have a silly waving .gif of me on my landing page.”

Network, Network, Network

It’s no secret that networking is essential to developing your career and discovering job opportunities. In fact, after graduating from a product design bootcamp, you’ll need to spend just as much time networking using LinkedIn as you do revising your portfolio, completing new projects, and filling out applications. Especially since having someone in your network refer you for a position is far more productive than filling out online applications at companies where you’ve made no connections.

One common networking mistake is concentrating only on people in a position to offer you a job. Being referred to an open position can be a bonus effect of networking, but the true goal is to build meaningful relationships within the industry, and to learn from other people’s experiences. Establishing industry contacts has tremendous value even when it doesn’t immediately result in a job lead.

Max’s Networking Story

Flatiron grad Max Shakun connected with as many people as he could after finishing the program, including recruiters and hiring managers, junior designers with less than a year’s experience, and more senior professionals. 

Max notes recruiters and hiring managers frequently stated a preference for real-world projects as opposed to school work, which emphasizes our earlier point about the importance of working with real stakeholders. In fact, reaching out to his existing network (including non-designers) led Max to his first client project, participating in a redesign of the non-profit Symphony New Hampshire website with an emphasis on WCAG accessibility compliance.

Source: Max Shakun
Source: Max Shakun

As Max looked for jobs, he learned from the missteps and eventual successes of junior designers who were six months to a year ahead of him in their career path. And as for senior designers, Max found them a valuable source of design mentorship:

“I have found the UX/UI community to be incredibly supportive, and so many senior designers are happy to answer questions you may have about the field and your portfolio. I think the support system likely comes from the built in iterative nature of product design. We all value and appreciate honest feedback!”

Is Product Design Right For You?

If the experiences and portfolios of design professionals like Alexandra, Taras, Crystal, Laurel, and Max have you feeling inspired, consider applying to Flatiron School’s Product Design Bootcamp. You’ll learn the design skills needed to build a competitive portfolio and land your first job in the product design industry.

Not sure if you’re ready to apply? Download the syllabus to learn more about the skills you can acquire in our bootcamp. Or, check out our free Product Design Prep Work to explore the material we teach in the course.

And if you are curious about what students learn during their time at Flatiron, attend our Final Project Showcase.

User Personas in UX Design: When Are They Useful?

Of all design deliverables created by User Experience (UX) designers, few spark as much disagreement as user personas. A Google search for user personas in UX design reveals descriptions ranging from extremely valuable to completely useless.

But what are user personas? Why are professional designers sometimes skeptical of their value? And is it possible to use them effectively? Let’s take a look.

What Are User Personas?

User personas are fictional, archetypal representations of a certain type of target user of a product or service. They exist to document research findings. The better you know the tasks, needs, and frustrations of your target audience, the more realistic and effective your user personas.

User personas are designed to be shared with team members to inspire empathy for members of a particular audience segment and to motivate design decisions that solve pain points faced by that audience.

A user persona describing "reliability researcher rachel"

Source: Personas vs Archetypes

If a product or service has multiple customer segments with different customer journeys and distinct needs and goals, it can be helpful to create a persona for each group.

When Do Personas Lack Value?

Documenting and sharing user research insights and inspiring empathy for target users sound like useful goals, yet many argue against involving user personas in UX design. What characteristics lessen their value?

When They Contain Assumptions

Design teams often begin research projects with assumptions about their target users. In fact, teams will sometimes create what’s known as a proto persona to make these assumptions explicit before beginning research.

Proto personas are fine, as long as your team remembers the following:

  • Always conduct thorough user research to validate or invalidate your assumptions
  • Never allow unvalidated proto-personas to influence decision-making

Making decisions based on unvalidated assumptions actually decreases empathy. A failure to understand who you’re designing for leads to personas based on stereotypes, which means wasted effort building a product your audience doesn’t want and can’t use.

When They Highlight Irrelevant Information

Imagine a hypothetical scenario a user of a digital product might face. This is something design teams should be doing before creating a persona: generating scenarios that respond to very real and very specific pain points faced by your target audience and observed by your researchers.

Imagine your product is a poison control resource for pet owners. Alice, your target user, dropped two of her ADHD meds on the ground, and her labrador mix swallowed the pills before she could pick them up.

As she looks up safety information on her prescription before deciding what actions to take, which of the following descriptions are relevant to Alice completing this task?

  • 34 years old
  • Lives in Seattle, WA
  • Fitness instructor
  • Earns $65,000 a year
  • Favorite brands are Apple, Nike, and Fitbit
  • Extrovert
  • Infrequent social media user
  • Takes her three-year-old labrador mix jogging twice a week
  • Distracted and worried by her dog’s pacing and trembling after ingesting the pills

Only the final two points in this list matter, right? The dog’s breed, age, and health might influence the action Alice takes, and her anxious state impacts her ability to concentrate on your product’s interface and information.

Yet most example personas tend to be bloated with meaningless demographic details.

A detailed user persona describing "Alyssa Wilson" and her personality attributes

Source: 50 must-see user persona templates

According to UX Researcher Indi Young, demographic details actually make user personas in UX design less convincing. Demographics “cause assumptions, shortcuts in thinking, and subconscious stereotypes by team members.”

When They’re Designed at the Wrong Fidelity

A Google search for user personas mostly brings up high-fidelity graphics resembling core portfolio deliverables.

A user persona describing "Drew" and his demographics, motivations, and core needs

Source: 50 must-see user persona templates

But polishing user personas to a portfolio-ready level is a waste of effort. You’re probably aware that UX design is an iterative process; this is no less true of user research. 

User personas reflect your team’s current understanding of your target audience. Each time a new research session uncovers new insights about what motivates your users, adjust your personas to reflect this new understanding. 

Sharing high-fidelity personas with other teams signals that your knowledge of your target user is complete, when in fact it’s ever-evolving.

How to Create Meaningful User Personas

So can user personas in UX design remain meaningful? Yes, provided you follow four important rules.

1) Build From a Specific Scenario

Your user should be facing a specific problem that prevents them from reaching a specific goal.

2) Reflect Actual Research

Personas should share real insights uncovered by speaking to target users and observing the problems they face in context. 

One powerful way to communicate these insights is to include meaningful quotes from research sessions.

“There is nothing better than a choice quote that encapsulates what people are feeling and communicates it clearly. But too often, I see personas using obviously fabricated quotations to communicate what a persona should say, rather than what an actual person did say.” – Christian Ronan, Type/Code

If you’re not sure what your target user would say given a certain scenario, conduct more research.

3) Skip the Demographic Details

When adding details to your user persona, make sure they’re specifically relevant to the scenario you’ve established. Your persona’s salary might matter when completing the onboarding process of a financial investment app, for example. Or your persona’s ethnicity could affect the process of filtering out conditioners inappropriate for their hair texture while shopping for beauty products. 

But whenever demographic details aren’t vital to your scenario, leave them out.

4) Stay Minimal, Low-Res, and Up-To-Date

Resist the temptation to create wordy, highly polished user personas. Instead, focus on emphasizing the goals, needs, and frustrations relevant to users when completing your chosen scenario.

Two user personas side by side describing bodybuilder's and parent's pain points and pleasure points.

Source: The Big Problem with Personas

Each time your user research team uncovers something new about the motivations behind your target audience’s behavior, update your personas to reflect that knowledge.

Is Product Design Right for You?

If learning more about what motivates users of digital products and services sounds exciting, consider applying now to Flatiron School’s Product Design Bootcamp. You’ll learn the design skills you need to build a competitive portfolio and land your first job in the product design industry.

Not sure if you’re ready to apply? Download the syllabus to learn more about the skills you can acquire in our bootcamp, or check out our free Product Design Prep Work to explore the material we teach in the course.

What Do Designers Use Figma For?

Succeeding in the product design industry requires far more than just software mastery. You’ll need the curiosity to observe users to find out what motivates them. You’ll need a passion for solving complex problems, and the ability to articulate your ideas and collaborate with developers and product owners. But if you’ve ever looked into product design as a career, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Figma. After all, most product designers use Figma every single day. According to the 2023 Design Tools Survey, Figma is increasing its dominance every year. It’s now the software of choice for building prototypes and designing user interfaces.

Block chart showing the most popular design software with Figma, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Sketch, and others.

Image source: 2023 Design Tools Survey

But what is Figma, and why do designers love it so much? What do they use Figma to accomplish? And why should prospective designers learn Figma? Let’s take a look.

What is Figma?

Figma describes itself as “the leading collaborative design tool for building meaningful products.”

Essentially, Figma is software that allows designers to create layouts using vector graphics—that is, digital lines and shapes created geometrically, so designers can expand and shrink them infinitely without sacrificing quality. Designers can also import bitmap images like photographs into their layouts.

Alternatives to Figma have existed for decades, however (most famously, Adobe Photoshop for editing bitmap images and Adobe Illustrator for creating vector graphics). What separates Figma from the competition?

Figma Is Browser-Based

Using Figma doesn’t require installing any software. Beginning designers can start experimenting in Figma right away by simply visiting figma.com in a web browser.

Working in a browser offers numerous advantages. If teammates are collaborating in Figma, it makes no difference if one partner works on a Mac and the other a PC, or if one teammate has a different set of fonts loaded than another. Instead of passing files back and forth from computer to computer, Figma files are accessed from and saved directly to the cloud. Changes are saved automatically, and Figma’s sophisticated version history feature allows teammates to keep track of the design’s evolution.

Figma Simplifies Collaboration

If you’ve worked collaboratively in Google Docs, you’ll find Figma’s experience a familiar one. Frequently, designers use Figma to collaborate simultaneously on a single file. Each collaborator is shown as an avatar in the top menu bar and represented with a named cursor as they interact with the design.

Screenshot of Figma with multiple collaborators.

Image source: The Power of Figma as a Design Tool

Designers can also invite stakeholders to leave comments on the work in progress. And Figma even displays code snippets on all design objects in CSS, iOS, and Android formats, simplifying communication between designers and developers.

Figma display with code in HTML.

Image source: Exporting CSS Code

But what if team members are at the ideation stage rather than working on a design project? Figma offers a collaborative whiteboarding tool called FigJam. FigJam’s features are aimed at keeping brainstorming meetings flowing, including a timer, sticky notes, and arrows.

Figma whiteboarding tool FigJam.

Figma Is the Industry’s Leading Prototyping Tool

The 2023 Design Tools Survey indicates that more designers use Figma by far than any other prototyping tool. But what is a prototype, and why are they so important to designers?

When product designers discover a usability problem with a digital product, they don’t jump right into Figma and begin producing polished solutions. Instead, they conduct research, observing users in context and learning as much as they can about the user’s goals, behaviors, and frustrations when the problem occurs. Product designers also speak with product owners to understand the problem’s impact on business objectives.

Once designers better understand the problem, they come up with a hypothesis for what might work as a solution.

Prototyping In Figma

A prototype is a rough version of a design solution that’s just complete enough to test with users and gather feedback. That feedback is used to inform a new hypothesis, which leads to a new testable prototype, until eventually the design team has gathered enough evidence on user behavior to proceed with implementing the solution in the live version of the product. Building and testing prototypes saves the business time and money, since no effort is wasted polishing and developing an unwanted design solution.

Figma screenshot showing prototypic capabilities.

Image source: Guide to prototyping in Figma

Building a prototype in Figma involves designing enough screens to simulate a user flow—the steps necessary for the user to get from a starting point to their goal—and then creating hotspots users can click or tap to navigate from screen to screen. Figma is full of options for overlay and animation effects to add realism to prototype interactions.

And there’s no need to switch tools once your design solution is thoroughly tested and is ready for a high level of polish. Designers use Figma to create beautiful, high-fidelity user interface designs that really shine in their professional design portfolios.

Figma Has a Powerful Free Version

When deciding whether to learn new software, a high price point can be discouraging.

Fortunately, Figma’s pricing plan includes a robust free version. Designers can create three fully collaborative Figma and FigJam files for free. They include access to most of the features found in the paid version. The version history is limited to 30 days in the free version, and some advanced prototyping features are missing, but beginning designers still have an opportunity to explore Figma pretty thoroughly before deciding to upgrade. 

The paid version costs $12/month as of the time of this writing, but is offered free to students and educators.

Figma Is Fun to Learn

Figma has a lower learning curve than other full-featured design software. It also offers a frequently updated help center if you find yourself stuck. Plus the always-active Figma Community offers support, inspiration, and a ton of design components and templates to streamline your design process.   

So what are you waiting for? Log in to figma.com and begin experimenting today!

Want to Learn More About Product Design?

If you’re interested in product design as a career, consider applying now to Flatiron School’s Product Design Bootcamp. During the program you’ll learn design skills to land your first job in tech (including plenty of Figma practice).

Graduates from Flatiron School develop in-demand skill sets that set them up for success in the industry, no matter which path in product design they decide to take. Download the syllabus to learn more about the skills you can acquire in our bootcamp.

Not quite ready to apply? Check out our free Product Design Prep Work and explore the material we teach in the course.

What Do Product Designers and UX Designers Do?

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’re in one of the following positions:

  • You’re considering a career change, and wondering why some schools provide degrees or certificates in product design, while others offer user experience (UX) design
  • You’re new to the design industry, and trying to make sense of job listings seeking product designers and UX designers

The difference between product design and UX design is a good question to be asking. When examining a feature found within a digital product, UX designers focus primarily on whether the user is having a satisfying and intuitive experience, while product designers emphasize the business value of the feature. But in truth, there are far more similarities than differences between the roles.

The Similarities

Both Product Designers and UX Designers Solve Complex Problems

When users experience problems with a digital product, both product designers and UX designers need to employ creative approaches to identify the cause and generate innovative solutions. One common problem-solving strategy used by designers is a five-step, non-linear process called Design Thinking.

  1. Empathize: Get to know your users to understand their goals and pain points.
  2. Define: Name, as specifically as possible, the problem you’re trying to solve.
  3. Ideate: Brainstorm a variety of potential solutions.
  4. Prototype: Create a testable version of one solution.
  5. Test: Observe users interacting with your prototype.
Design thinking: a non-linear process that includes empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

Source: Interaction Design Foundation

These steps will be repeated frequently as new insights about user behavior are revealed.

Both Product Designers and UX Designers Work to Understand Their Users

Product designers and UX designers practice what’s known as human-centered design. When designing or updating a digital product, it’s important to understand the perspective, environment, and goals of the humans who will actually use the product. This involves a lot of research work by the designer. It’s not enough to make assumptions about how users will react when faced with a challenge; designers interview users to understand their point of view, and observe them using the product in everyday situations to see how they really behave and where frustrations occur.

Both types of designers have a special responsibility to make sure their products are accessible. Accessible design means making sure you’ve considered the needs of users with disabilities. Your product isn’t truly usable until everyone can use it.

Both Product Designers and UX Designers Consider Business Needs

While researching users and advocating for their needs is important, succeeding as a product designer or UX designer isn’t as simple as designing new features just because users request them. It’s equally critical to consider business needs.

Overlapping pie chart showing that the overlap between desirability, viability, and feasibility is where the most valuable design is.

Image source: Crowd Favorite

If a proposed change to a product satisfies users but causes the business to become unprofitable, the change should be rejected as lacking viability. Both product designers and UX designers need to work closely with product stakeholders and make sure all design solutions align with the business strategy.

Both Product Designers and UX Designers Work Closely with Developers

In addition to desirability (do users need this?) and viability (does this help the business?), product designers and UX designers communicate frequently with developers to ensure the feasibility of each design solution. Can your product’s development team implement this change? How long will it take?

A common question asked by prospective design students is should designers be able to write code? While learning code certainly doesn’t hurt, many designers don’t know enough code to build their own designs. It does help to learn about general coding principles and ask questions about the challenges developers face, so you’re capable of holding a meaningful conversation about the best way to implement a proposed design.

The Differences

So far we’ve covered the similarities between product design and UX design, but what about the differences?

If you research this question, you’ll find a few common answers.

A Difference in Focus

Product designers and UX designers need to remain constantly aware of both the perspective of the user and the needs of the business. However, as the job title suggests, UX designers spend more time with users, understanding their pain points and advocating for their needs.

Product designers, on the other hand, maintain more frequent contact with product owners and might need to have a more sophisticated understanding of business and market strategy than a UX designer.

A Difference in Fidelity

Some articles suggest that UX designers typically concentrate their time on Minimum Viable Products, or MVPs, to be used in the Prototype and Test stages of the Design Thinking process. MVPs are low-fidelity designs that are just complete enough to place in front of users and generate meaningful feedback during testing. Depending on the circumstances, this low-fidelity design might be pen and paper, a greyscale wireframe, or a more polished design containing an incomplete set of features.

On the other hand, product designers might be asked to spend more time at later stages, once testing is complete, designing the finished product to be placed in front of users. In this case, product designers would be expected to have a deep knowledge of user interface (UI) design, creating the navigation systems users rely upon to access and operate your product.

A Difference in Depth

A few sources claim that the difference between UX design and product design is one of breadth versus depth. According to this definition, UX designers switch projects more frequently and concentrate their efforts on the pre-launch stages of new products. Product designers, meanwhile, form a deeper relationship with a single product, and provide continuous support throughout the product life cycle.

This distinction is debatable, however. The work UX designers perform to observe users in real-life contexts, to identify usability problems and come up with innovative and valuable solutions, is no less meaningful once a product launches.

What’s next for prospective designers

Because there are indeed more similarities than differences between product design and UX design, what should the users profiled in the two bulleted positions at the top of the article do next?

If you’re a prospective student, look to see what kind of work graduates from each program are doing professionally. LinkedIn is a great tool for connecting with junior designers and asking what led them to design school and what advice they have for succeeding as a student and as an emerging job seeker.

If you’re researching design roles, your best bet is to look beyond the job title and read the description and required skills carefully. Some companies use the term product designer and UX designer interchangeably, and listings with identical titles (”Junior UX Designer,” for example) at two different companies might differ in daily duties or areas of focus.

Feeling Inspired?

If you’re thinking about a career in product design, why not take the leap and apply now to Flatiron School’s Product Design Bootcamp, where you’ll learn the design skills you need to land your first job in tech.

Graduates from Flatiron School develop in-demand skill sets that set them up for success in the industry, no matter the path they decide to take.

Not quite ready to apply? Try out our free Product Design Prep Work and try out the material we teach in the course.

Learning How to Learn

This article on “Learning How To Learn” is part of a series developed by Curriculum Design to guide students through the Flatiron School program experience.

We believe that when learners feel autonomous and in control of their learning, they achieve greater success both academically and motivationally. Learning to Learn is designed to offer a variety of resources and tools to help you take control of your online learning journey and life beyond Flatiron School.

Take Ownership Of Your Learning

Taking ownership of your learning journey, through personalized learning, means finding your motivation, being engaged, and personalizing your learning experience with complete autonomy, choice, and responsibility in how you approach your online learning journey. Every learner has a fundamental need to feel in control of what they do versus only being told what to do. When this autonomy is exercised, the motivation to learn and the desire to perform well academically are much stronger.

As you go through the Learning to Learn series, our goal is to encourage you to take ownership of your learning journey- make decisions that matter, pursue directions that feel meaningful, and hold a sense of responsibility and control for both your learning successes and setbacks.

Connect The Dots

Taking the leap to build technical skills takes courage and determination. It can be intimidating to dive into new skill sets and knowledge, but the rewards and sacrifice will be worth it. As you learn, your horizon will expand and the information you collect along the way will start to connect in unexpected ways.

The saying goes, knowledge is power, and when it comes to personal and professional growth, this couldn’t be more true. When we actively seek knowledge through experiences or formal education, we add another “dot” to our mental map. These dots, connected, generate new ideas and help to solve problems in unique ways. Some of the greatest innovators credit their success to continue expanding their knowledge base through both life experiences and deliberate learning sessions.

Continue adding dots to your map.

TL;DR

  • Personalized learning is a great way to improve your skills and knowledge base.
  • Learning on your own can be intimidating to start, but the rewards are worth it.
  • Seek out new experiences and resources to challenge yourself and broaden your perspectives.

What is User Experience Design?

The term “user experience” has been around since the ‘90s. It was coined by Don Norman, a cognitive scientist at Apple, back before Apple became the household name it is today. He focused heavily on user-centered design, which placed the user at the front of the product design process. While “user-friendly” is a term you probably know well, it wasn’t all that popular at the time.

Put quite simply, user experience design is the process of planning the experience a person has when they interact with a product.

UX design focuses on the interaction that a human user has with everyday products and services. The goal of UX design is to make using these products and services, both digital or physical, easy, logical, and fun.

Designing Around The User

So, let’s start at the beginning: the “U” in UX. Why?

As Apple founder Steve Jobs aptly put it, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”

The user is the person who is going to live, eat, and breathe your products. It’s your job as a UX designer to give them an enjoyable, useful experience.

But first, you have to know who they are. Designing a user persona (which is done by a UX researcher, whose role is more back-end and data-based) lets us come up with an ideal user and examine their desires, wants, and frustrations with current solutions.

The bottom line: You have to know who your user is to make something that works well for them.

By placing the user persona at the forefront of the design process, we ensure that we eliminate the user’s pain points and ensure a user-friendly product that they will rave about for years to come (or until you come up with a newer and better version).

Once we’ve established a user persona, the job of a UX designer and his or her team is to think through every step of a user’s journey with the product. All parts of that journey should be memorable and add value to the user. Understanding the target user and the user journey allows designers to delight customers at every stage.

A Sample User Experience

As an example of a great user experience, let’s look at Matt’s user journey with Carvana, a popular website used to sell and buy used cars.

Matt is looking for a new car. He’s tired of haggling with salesmen at the car dealership when he sees an ad for Carvana, the car vending machine. He heads over to Carvana’s website. Excited, he saves a few cars to his wishlist.

Still a little uncertain, he chats with a salesperson at Carvana and then with an acquaintance who recently used Carvana. Feeling ready, Matt finally chooses a car and puts in his payment details. A week later, his shiny new vehicle shows up on his doorstep. This is no doubt the best car-buying experience Matt has ever had!

In this example, it’s clear that Carvana put Matt at the center of their business. 

They figured out who their target user is (Matt and people like him) and their pain point (hates haggling at the dealership). Then, they thought through every step of Matt’s buying journey in order to make the entire product easy to use, incredibly useful, and downright magical.

This is the definition of good user design — to make products that are useful, usable, and desirable.

Make Magic With Product Design

User experience is just one part of Product Design – the overarching concept that combines UX and UI to craft user-centered digital experiences. For those in this field, the digital world is a veritable sandbox where the limits are naught but your imagination. 

Apply Today to take the first step on your path to a career in Product Design.  

If you’re not quite ready to apply, try out the curriculum with our Free Product Design Prep or check out the Product Design Course Syllabus that will set you up for success.

Do I need to be an artist or a coder to study UX / UI Product Design?

The short answer is, NO! You do not need to be an artist or a coder to study UX, UI, or Product Design. 

What is Product Design? 

At Flatiron School, we focus on digital products, such as websites or applications. Product Design is a holistic concept that spans across both UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) design. Learn more about the differences amongst Product Design, UX design, and UI design.

Do I need to be an artist to study UX / UI Product Design?

No! There is a decent amount of drawing  involved in UX / UI Product Design. However, the purpose is to develop or communicate ideas, and that can be done very simply – meaning, it doesn’t take a great deal of artistic talent.

Instructor Jennifer Houlihan demonstrated this firsthand during an instructional session (Sketching For Design) when she had participants turn a simple scribble into a bird. During the session Jennifer states, “Very little drawing is needed to convey an idea. It takes little to communicate powerfully, and it doesn’t require an art degree.”

Do I need to be a coder to study UX / UI Product Design?

There is a debate amongst industry professionals around how much code designers should know. Some believe it’s best to specialize in design so little to zero coding knowledge is required. Others believe that robust coding knowledge is a must-have, as it enables designers to work on broader projects as well as “speak the language” when communicating with developers.

Here at Flatiron School we believe that coding knowledge is a highly useful skill that will ultimately make our Product Design graduates more competitive in the job market. That’s why we teach students the basics – HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). 

“It helps you be a better designer. You’re learning about the principles behind the code because it makes you a better designer and a better team collaborator. Resilient, flexible, and being a collaborator is important to standout in a job marketing. Being a better collaborator – having those mental modules about code – will help you.” – Joshua Robinson, Product Design Director

“Our hiring partners gave us feedback that [they would prefer] entry-level Product Designers to have a basic understanding of HTML and CSS. We cover the basics of HTML and CSS early so that students can play with it on a project level.” – Giovanni Difeterici, Senior Director, Education

In addition to basic web development languages, students will also learn how to leverage responsive designs for various screen sizes and how to hand-off designs to developers. 

Want to learn more?

Our Product Design course is crafted so anyone can be successful – regardless of your skill level. Download our syllabus or talk with an Admissions rep today.

What Does A Product Designer Do?

Product design is an emerging field at the intersection of tech and creative design; product design covers the research, creation, and ongoing improvement of products. Over the past few decades, digital product design has evolved as its own discipline, incorporating the best principles of classic product design while acknowledging the needs of the digital space.

All product designers act as client advocates, holding themselves responsible for seeing that the company delivers a product that meets user needs while also being safe, effective, aesthetic, and true to the company’s brand.

To accomplish this, product designers work with stakeholders ranging from sales and marketing, engineers and developers, and the users themselves. They bring together all requirements and concerns about a product in order to shape the best possible outcome.

At the heart of the role, the product designer must empathize with the end-user of the product to gain a sense of what the end user truly needs from the product. The product designer’s responsibility is to then find an appropriate intersection of client/business needs and the needs of the product end user.

How product designers create value in an organization

Product design can be a great career choice for individuals who want to understand a specific industry or industry segment, and be at the heart of their company’s efforts to provide cutting-edge solutions. It’s a highly visible role within a company, and a good product manager creates value for their organization that goes far beyond their most obvious contributions.

It takes months or years to effectively design, test, and release a product, and that means companies are investing huge sums of capital well before they are in a position to potentially make revenue.

Good product managers care enough about their industry to study it closely, and to make bold predictions about where it will move in the years ahead. Their research will be shared with the firm and can guide executive decision-making on other projects, as well as the efforts of teams ranging from engineers to sales forces.

Great product designers also plan and research how their products are being used once released, and are then responsible for improving their designs to better meet the expectations of users and the needs of the business.

This ability to shift can be especially critical in the fast-changing world of modern technology firms. A quick look at some of the top firms in technology today points to the need for constant evolution. Apple serves as an easy example of this evolution in action; Mac computer sales have fallen to just 10.4% of their revenue in 2020, from 86.2% in the year 2000.

As the market changed, Apple released laptops, iPods, iPhones, iPads, the Apple Watch, and other products to ensure they stayed relevant to the times, even if it meant changing the core of their company’s offerings. The same can be said for Amazon (once an online bookstore).

In every case, product designers serve as critical leaders in helping a firm’s executives and other stakeholders decide how to ensure short- and long-term success for their company. Existing and new customers are rewarded with better products and experiences, and the company benefits across the board

What is the difference between UX/UI designer and product designer?

As digital product design has matured, a number of specific roles have been created to support the most important aspects of the product design discipline. In essence, product design is a more general role, and there are specialized disciplines that make up the skillset of a product designer.

For example, product designers can now be specialized to focus on an application’s information architecture, data, and interfaces (sometimes called system design). In other cases, their focus could be on the interfaces that govern user interaction.

User interface (UI) designers concern themselves with the visual experience of a digital product. They deal with anything related to the aesthetics of the product, from basics (such as fonts and colors) to complex animations or special interfaces that provide the user with an enhanced and unique experience.

User experience (UX) designers are responsible for the user’s entire engagement and experience with the product from beginning to end. From the moment a customer downloads or opens a product, until the moment they finish using it, a user experience designer will have considered the overall flow of the screens or messages they see and other key details such as how and when data is stored for future sessions.

In both cases, these product design professionals are thinking about the user’s experience – and this is obviously critical to product success. But a digital product designer will be operating at a higher level, with equal responsibility for ensuring a quality user experience, and for the back-end design that represents the company’s experiences with the product.

How is a product going to securely capture user data and analyze it in real-time? How will data be delivered back to them? What API partnerships will be needed to connect the product to other key players in the space? These are just some of the many questions a digital product designer will consider in their work.

Anyone interested in a career in digital product management — including UX/UI design — should ensure they are comfortable with the full range of product design skills including:

  • The UX Process — including standard tools, market research, analyzing the competitive landscape and creating prototypes; To manage UX, you should be comfortable thinking abstractly and planning concepts.
  • The UI Process — including design principles, typography and design patterns, creating mockups, designing products that fit OS-specific guidelines, etc. To manage UI, you should be comfortable executing concepts at a granular level.
  • The overall design thinking process, including product design frameworks, conducting research, prioritizing stakeholder needs, and effective communication to all teams throughout the process.

What skills does a product designer need?

Thinking about becoming a digital product designer? Here are some of the top skills you’ll want to develop to help you prepare for finding the best career opportunities in the space.

Fundamental software to know

Digital product designers need to develop expertise in a range of tools in the design and engineering space. While these can vary by industry, some common packages will include the Adobe product suite (including Adobe XD, Illustrator and Photoshop), key product design applications like InVision or Figma, and important collaborative tools like Miro, Slack, and Git.

Of course, this industry is constantly evolving as it develops so you should be willing to learn new tools as they come on the market. Think of this industry as life-long learning. You will never be bored because there will always be something new to learn or a new product to help create.

User research

Product designers need to understand their users and the shifting dynamics of their industry. Qualitative research skills will be needed to conduct focus groups, surveys, user conversations, and other first-hand assessments of the space. But designers will also need quantitative research skills to crunch through the hard data and identity key patterns that will drive their decisions.

Customer journeys and user flows

Once the basic product idea has been identified, the product designer will lead a process of creating customer journeys and user flows to refine the expected pathways the product’s users will follow over the lifecycle of their product use. This serves not only to identify major areas that need focus, but also to communicate the product concepts to internal stakeholders who will be involved in the product’s execution.

Wireframing & prototyping

The next steps will involve taking the product from the idea stage to the prototype stage. Basic walk-throughs of the main product offerings will evolve into sophisticated drafts of the product.

Design and create mobile and/or web interfaces

To reach the prototype stage, the digital product designer will go through the process of developing the product UX/UI. Depending on the company and product size, this may be their direct responsibility or it may involve close collaboration with experts devoted to those spaces.

Information Architecture

An important aspect of designing any product is to determine what information needs to be available to the user at any given time. Not only what type of information should be available, but how it needs to be presented to the user in order to make it crystal clear how to utilize the product. This can come in the form of labels for your pages, menus, and buttons or how a user may navigate your digital product.

Soft skills

Product design is a highly visible and challenging position, and you’ll need to hone a range of soft skills to ensure your best chances of success. Proactive decision-making, strategic planning, and the ability to build trust across stakeholder relationships will be critical to your success, as will everyday admin items such as communication and project management.

But behind all of that will be your deep and genuine interest in problem solving. This may be blue-sky brainstorming, but more often it will be the very real challenge of achieving an extraordinary result in the face of limited budgets, resources, and information. The best product designers will relish this as an opportunity to apply their detailed-oriented obsession with the space, and creative design thinking abilities, to achieve great results.

How do you start a product design career?

Interested in a career in digital product design? Your next step should be to decide the best pathway forward given your time, budget, and previous experience.

Many colleges and universities have undergraduate and graduate programs in product design (in general, and for the digital space specifically). This can be a great opportunity if you are preparing to enter your college career and have the luxury of four to six years to fully study the theory of product design.

At the other end of the spectrum, numerous books and online courses exist on specific elements of product design, such as user interface theory. These can be attractive options for professionals who are focused on inexpensive learning they can pursue at their own pace, and who don’t mind the trade-offs they are making by not having access to live hands-on instruction and the other benefits that come from more intensive forms of education.

For individuals who want to get the best of both worlds, our Product Design (UX/UI) bootcamp may be the perfect solution. In just 15 full-time weeks (or longer timelines for the flexible pace program), you can learn the core skills needed to be a digital product designer, including:

  • The essential components of the User Experience (UX) design process, including the hard and soft skills required to communicate with stakeholders, conduct research, and create product prototypes;
  • The fundamentals of User Interface (UI) design, including typographic, icon, and design library principles; grid systems and other key design fundamentals; OS-specific guidelines for design; and
  • Live project and case study creation that will ensure you have hands-on experience — and an established portfolio that demonstrates and showcases your specific set of skills as a designer — for when you begin your career search.

Students at Flatiron School’s Product Design bootcamp also have access to experienced instructors and like-minded students to create a positive and supportive community spirit of growth.

And because most of our students are seeking to turn their education into an immediate career move, Flatiron School provides individual career coaching for up to 180 days after graduation and access to a vast network of hiring partners ready to help our graduates get their foot in the door at top companies around the world.

Ready to learn more? You can read the syllabus of our Product Design (UX/UI) course online. You’ll also find more details about our student experience, our career coaching benefits, and the next steps to take if you’re ready to begin discussing a future in product design with our team.

Schedule a 10-minute chat with admissions to learn more or apply today.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is current as of 23 November 2021. For updated information visit https://flatironschool.com/

What is UX / UI Design?

If you’ve heard of the term “UX / UI Design” you may be wondering, what is UX / UI design? What does it actually mean?

UX / UI design has become more “trendy” as more and more things move online. Now, with the “internet of things,” nearly everything needs some sort of attention to the user experience.

What do UX / UI designers do? And what even is a user experience?

Here are topics and common questions about UX / UI design that this article will cover...

  1. What is UX design?
  2. What is UI design?
  3. What is a UX designer, and what do UX designers do?
  4. What skills do UX designers need?
  5. What is a UI designer and what do UI designers do?
  6. What are the different types of UI?
  7. What skills do UI designers need?
  8. What’s the difference between UX and UI?
  9. What is a UX / UI designer?
  10. Is UX / UI design a good career?
  11. What is the salary of a UX / UI designer?
  12. How do I become a UX / UI designer?
  13. What are FAQs about UX / UI design?

UX stands for “user experience,” and UI stands for “user interface.” You’ll often see them lumped together as they are two closely related professions that often work hand-in-hand.

So, let’s take it slow and cover everything you need to know about UX / UI design. Let’s get started.

What is UX design?

Simply put, user experience design is the process of planning the experience a person has when they interact with a product.

UX design focuses on the interaction that a human user has with everyday products and services. The goal of UX design is to make using these products and services, both digital or physical, easy, logical, and fun.

You may have spent your fair share of time searching reviews for a new coffee maker. In essence, you’re not only looking for a new appliance, but a product with features that will deliver you, the user, a great experience.

For example, an anti-drip spout, auto-shut off, and a reusable basket are all features that meet the user’s needs, make it easy to use, and give the user control and freedom when using. This is similar to the way UX / UI designers think when developing a web application. They want the user experience to be easy and intuitive.

The term “user experience” has been around since the ‘90s. It was coined by Don Norman, a cognitive scientist at Apple, back before Apple became the household name it is today. He focused heavily on user-centered design, which placed the user at the front of the product design process. While “user-friendly” is a term you probably know well, it wasn’t all that popular at the time.

But, not only are physical and digital products part of UX, but it encompasses all aspects of the end-users interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

About the U in UX: determine what is important to the user

So, let’s start at the beginning: the “U” in UX. Why?

As Apple founder Steve Jobs aptly put it, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.

The user is the person who is going to live, eat, and breathe your products. It’s your job as a UX designer to give them an enjoyable, useful experience.

But first, you have to know who they are. Designing a user persona (which is done by a UX researcher, whose role is more back-end and data-based) lets us come up with an ideal user and examine their desires, wants, and frustrations with current solutions.

The bottom line: You have to know who your user is to make something that works well for them.

user focused design

By placing the user persona at the forefront of the design process, we ensure that we eliminate the user’s pain points and ensure a user-friendly product that they will rave about for years to come (or until you come up with a newer and better version).

Once we’ve established a user persona, the job of a UX designer and his or her team is to think through every step of a user’s journey with the product. All parts of that journey should be memorable and add value to the user. Understanding the target user and the user journey allows designers to delight customers at every stage.

For instance, let’s look at Matt’s user journey with Carvana, a popular website used to sell and buy used cars.

Matt is looking for a new car. He’s tired of haggling with salesmen at the car dealership when he sees an ad for Carvana, the car vending machine. He heads over to Carvana’s website. Excited, he saves a few cars to his wishlist.

Still a little uncertain, he chats with a sales person at Carvana and then with an acquaintance who recently used Carvana. Feeling ready, Matt finally chooses a car and puts in his payment details. A week later, his shiny new vehicle shows up on his doorstep. This is no doubt the best car-buying experience Matt has ever had!

In this example, it’s clear that Carvana put Matt at the center of their business. They figured out who their target user is and his pain points (hates haggling at the dealership). Then, they thought through every step of Matt’s buying journey in order to make the entire product easy to use, incredibly useful, and downright magical.

This is the definition of good user design — to make products that are useful, usable, and desirable.

What is UI design?

design for the UI

UI (User Interface) design is the user-centered approach to designing the aesthetics of a digital product. In essence, they create the look and feel of a website or application’s user interface. An interface is the graphical layout of the application. These interfaces should not only be functional, but they should be easy to use and visually appealing.

UI designers are focused on visual touchpoints that let users interact with a product. This can include typography, color palettes, buttons, animation, and other imagery. Think about all the things you might do on an app – slide to delete, pull down to refresh, enter text, etc. All of these visual elements or animations that allow you to interact with the app must be designed. There’s a lot of similarities between UI and graphic design, but they are not the same thing.

This is where the “nitty-gritty” of Matt’s experience with Carvana happens. Can he easily scan the filter options on the site, do they function accurately, etc. Does he have to log in to their system or can he log in with an existing account like Google or Facebook?

User interface can also refer to other interfaces:

  • Voice-controlled interfaces (i.e. Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant.)
  • Voice user interfaces (VUI’s) are currently improving the user experience, making it easier and faster for users to get the information they need or complete certain tasks. However, for the purposes of this article, we’re sticking to digital interfaces (screens).

To sum up, UI designers are graphic designers whose aim is to create product interfaces that delight users aesthetically while allowing them to easily complete a task.

What is a UX designer, and what do UX designers do?

UX UI designer at work

If you have a background (or interest) in design, brand strategy, or technology, then becoming a UX (User Experience) designer may be the job for you. But first, what does a UX designer actually do?

UX designers act as advocates for the user.

Sometimes, you (the user) feel like you’re the problem when you can’t figure out how to use a product or website. Most of the time, though, it’s not your fault. It’s the UX designer’s job to design with you in mind. They are there to make products and technology not only useful, but enjoyable and easy to use.

UX design research

Before designing a product, UX designers start by researching.

User research usually starts with in-person interviews. These interviews let them understand user motivations and frustrations. The designer also runs user tests to observe user behavior.

By identifying both verbal and non-verbal stumbling blocks, they refine and iterate to create the best possible user experience.

UX designers also ensure that a product logically flows from one step to the next: If a user has a “goal,” then what is the most intuitive way for them to achieve it?

Thinking back to the user persona and user journey, they must always keep the end-user in mind. They also analyze data and patterns. In the ideation stage, they formulate ideas, which they later use to build prototypes and run experiments with real users.

UX design is iterative, meaning the designer’s work is rarely “done.” Instead, they continuously test and improve products over time.

In sum, UX designers have a wide range of job responsibilities:

  • Design user personas and conducting user research
  • Design user flows and wireframes
  • Create product prototypes
  • Test products on real users
  • Improve products over time through continuous testing

The types of projects they work on can vary widely.

UX designers work on apps, websites, and products across every industry. For the most part, UX designers are not responsible for aesthetic design, but instead focus on the customer interaction and journey with the product.

Some UX designers, however, do user interaction design, which primarily concerns the visual styling of an app or website. Others may focus on service design, which concerns itself with designing an overall experience, such as a guest stay at a five-star hotel.

What skills do UX designers need?

UX design skills

Being that the work is quite specific, UX designers need a technical skill set, like design and prototyping with tools like Sketch, Figma and Adobe XD. They also need to understand the design thinking process in order to participate in all aspects of the design process.

In addition to hard skills, successful UX designers also have the following soft skills, or abilities that enable them to function well in the workplace.

  • Research — Research is a key UX design skill. Designers must make actionable insights from the data they collect, both in the initial phases and when testing with real people.
  • Problem-solving — UX designers explore many different approaches to solving a specific user problem in a process known as “ideate.” They not only solve problems during initial prototyping, but they constantly develop and improve products or services as needed to make them more user-friendly.
  • Communication — Communication is crucial as UX design is a highly collaborative process. UX designers also need a level of empathy that lets them look at a product from the user’s point of view. This includes understanding the user’s needs and goals when using the product and being able to communicate them clearly within the team and to stakeholders.

What is a UI designer and what do UI designers do?

what is a ui designer

UI designers often have a background in graphic design, interior design, or visual arts. They are responsible for making user interfaces that are easy to use and satisfying for the user. These are graphical in nature, and include websites, apps, and video games, to name a few.

It’s the UI designer’s job to bring the UX designer’s ideas to life. 

Once the UX team has finished their process and hands over a wireframe, UI Designers are in charge of designing how the product is laid out visually. On websites, they are in charge of the elements on each screen or page in which a user interacts.

Of course, they must design from the user’s point of view. So, although they might be great artists, the design is about the user, not them. What do users desire? They want to navigate a site with ease, intuitively clicking through the pages and finding the information they need without a thought. Therefore, it’s your job as a UI designer to provide just that: an easily navigable product that’s so intuitive it’s almost invisible!

This includes incorporating basic design principles (like balance and contrast) and studying interaction design. It also means carefully choosing the typography, menu styling, buttons, icons, etc. to both represent the brand and satiate the user.

Tasks of a UI designer might include:

  • Execute all visual design stages from concept to final hand-off to web developers
  • Create wireframes, storyboards, user flows, site maps
  • Establish and promote brand’s design guidelines, best practices, and standards

The different types of UI

There are several types of user interfaces to get to know when considering a career in the field.

Command-line interface

The command-line interface (CLI) is a program that accepts text input to execute functions in your machine’s Operating System. It’s nothing new. In fact, it’s the way early computers were used. Rather than clicking with a mouse, users had to know the machine’s language to interact with the computer. It was also linear, meaning the user would type a command, and the machine would respond in either printed output or by displaying a message on the monitor.

The CLI is a powerful tool that allows developers to install software, run programs, and navigate folders with just a few words. Learning to navigate the CLI allows for greater flexibility, especially when dealing with large amounts of data or files.

Graphical User Interface

A GUI, graphical user interface, allows users to interact with digital products through visual elements with very little text input. This is the primary interface used by most people today. GUI’s are intuitive and visually appealing, thus making them easier to learn and use. For example, windows, scroll bars, folders, are all part of the graphic interface. Because some resources are diverted to displaying graphics, GUI can be slower than machines running CLI.

Voice-based interfaces

Voice-based interfaces (also known as VUIs, voice user interfaces) permit users to interact with a system through voice or speech commands. Recent advances in natural language processing made it possible to create products like Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and the Google Assistant. Voice-based interfaces are becoming more popular and have a low learning curve because they require less time spent learning how to use them.

What skills do UI designers need?

Some hard skills are required to become a UI designer. To expand, UI designers must be up-to-date with the latest trends, techniques, and technologies. As far as graphic design, they must have an understanding of visual design, interface design, brand design, layouts, etc. They must also have proficiency in visual design and wireframing tools (Adobe XD, Figma, Sketch, Mockplus). Experience working in Agile/Scrum development processes and learning  HTML, CSS, and Javascript for rapid prototyping are also helpful.

In today’s workplace, both hard and soft skills are equally important. If you are a career changer, you will find the following soft skills you have honed to your benefit.

  • Creativity — UI designers must conceptualize ideas in a visual manner. This means taking sometimes complex ideas or roadblocks and presenting them in a simple, beautiful, and user-friendly way. This takes creativity.
  • Teamwork and communication — The UI designer must be a team player. They work closely with product designers and web developers, so they need to communicate clearly in order to create a successful final product.
  • Adaptability — Technology is constantly changing. Good UI designers embrace change and stay on top of industry trends in order to continuously improve their products and services.

What’s the difference between UX and UI?

UX and UI design are often used interchangeably (which is wrong), but they are two different career paths. While both UX and UI design focus on the end-user, there are some basic differences between the two. It may be best summed up by Web Developer Dain Miller, “UI is the saddle, the stirrups, & the reins. UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse.”

Let’s look a little more closely.

The horse riding example again describes the roles of UX and UI perfectly. They are inextricably linked, but hold two separate roles. Each one contributes to the user’s final experience of riding a horse. Each one must know their target user and the outcome he or she is trying to achieve.

However, UX design is focused more on the user’s journey and solving his problem. In this case, it’s all about the thrill of riding the horse. On the other hand, UI is focused on a product’s tangible elements — how its surfaces look and function in order to complete the task (the saddle, etc).

UX vs UI

A UX designer is typically concerned with the conceptual aspects of the design process and focuses on the user and their journey with the product. They come up with user personas, user journeys, do research, ideate, prototype, and test. They bring ideas to fruition.

On the other hand, UI is focused on the visual and technical elements of the product. Designers create a series of touchpoints in order for users to interact with products. They make sure that users can complete their tasks in an easy and visually pleasing manner.

To put it another way, there are some shared job responsibilities like wireframing, prototyping, and accessibility as well as beneficial soft skills.

UX encompasses all the experiences a person has with a product or service, from beginning to end. UI design is specific to the individual means by which people interact with a product or service. The “face” of the experience, if you will.

What is a UX / UI designer?

If they are two separate roles, why are there job postings for UX / UI designers? Sometimes these are considered two separate fields — UX focusing on research and ideation and UI focusing on aesthetics and branding — but, they are both essential in product design.

UX and UI designers work in tandem, and some companies may hire one person to complete both roles. This is dependent on the industry and company structure, but there may be a good reason for it, as explained below. Additionally, it’s imperative that UX designers understand UI and vice versa.

To this end, UX designers with an understanding of interface design and UI designers with knowledge of user-friendly design can integrate their knowledge into their work. This leads to better ideas, more efficient use of company time, and ultimately, a more marketable hire.

Many companies are now hiring for positions that are UX / UI designer, as a combined role, because it’s important for one person to understand both sides of the equation in order to create the best digital product. Further, a company may want one person — a UX / UI designer — to shepherd the digital product through the entire creation process and this individual can act as a true advocate for the user since they have been involved with the product from the ideation phase.

What are the key skills of a UX / UI designer?

Overall, UX / UI designers are concerned with looking for ways to continually improve products and services. They may start from scratch, or they may make existing products easier to use, faster, or sleeker. To illustrate, how often does your favorite app update? UX / UI designers are always iterating — collecting data, making insights, seeking out the latest trends, testing — in order to make products more useful and user-friendly.

The job description of UX / UI designers varies widely, and posts are found in many different fields. Some small in-house firms may only have enough work or the budget for one designer. Thus, they may hire one person to do both roles.

Others still may prefer to hire people with both skill sets in order to build a large, diverse team and to allow for growth within the company. Then again, product design combines both UX and UI to create functional and intuitive software programs. There are also UX researchers, who take on the brunt of the research and graphic designers, who focus on design only. Sometimes, these roles are combined!

Whatever the case may be, the good news for job-seekers is that UX / UI designers are in demand. UX / UI designers participate in both the design thinking process and execute a visual product. Therefore, they need a range of technical skills like UX research, wireframing and prototyping, interaction design, visual communication, and information architecture.

UX / UI designers also need to show that they are good communicators, team players, are curious, and flexible. They must have an empathetic understanding of the user in order to come up with and execute amazing websites, apps, and physical products.

Lastly, since the titles are often confused or used interchangeably, a business may actually be looking for a UX designer, UI designer, or a product designer. Be sure to read the job posting carefully before applying.

Is UX / UI a good career?

In short, yes.

UX / UI is a good career field to get into if you are both a technical and creative thinker. You also get to help people as you improve the products they use on a daily basis!

But those aren’t the only reasons to get into UX / UI design. Here are some of the top reasons why UX / UI is a good career.

  • In demand — UX / UI designers are in high demand, and the job outlook is good. This is true especially in regards to websites and apps. If people can’t figure out how to use them, it can negatively impact business.
  • Salary — The field offers a good starting salary with opportunities for growth.
  • Technical skills — Anyone with desire and motivation can learn the technical skills that UX / UI designers need to thrive in their careers.
  • Soft skills — Skills like communication, collaboration, and flexibility are just as important as hard skills. This is great news for career changers who bring these skills and prior knowledge to the table.
  • Empathy — The field is all about helping others and solving problems to everyday tasks. If you’re looking for a career that allows you to make a difference, you can do that through UX / UI design.

Learn more: 7 Tip for your First UX / UI Design Job

What is the salary of a UX / UI designer?

UX/UI design salaries

* salary data is included in the following paragraph.

The salary of a UX / UI designer varies depending on experience and location. Entry-level UX designers in the United States can expect $77,108 (includes salary, bonuses, and overtime pay) according to Zip Recruiter.

On average, UX designers earn a salary of $113,109 per year, according to Glassdoor. UI designers earn slightly less at $96,278, while junior positions pay $61,458.

How do I become a UX / UI designer?

There is no one way to become a UX / UI designer. If you have a passion for user-centric design, you could self-teach, attend a bootcamp, or even go back to school. In any case, you’ll need to learn a set of technological skills and build a design portfolio.

Learn more about becoming a UX / UI designer.

Self-teaching

If you’d like to learn UX / UI design on your own, you’ll need some self-discipline and plenty of time. With those two things in place, you’ll find plenty of free tutorials online and books on the subject. You could even meet other designers locally for advice.

The pros of self-teaching UX / UI design
  • The good things about teaching yourself UX / UI design are that it’s free and you can go at your own pace.
  • You also don’t have due dates to contend with, which can be challenging if you’re also working a full-time job.
The cons of self-teaching UX / UI design
  • Amassing the knowledge needed could take several years.
  • You also do not obtain a certification or degree for your effort, which could be a turn off.

Bootcamps

Digital bootcamps are popping up online, offering courses that run from as little as a few weeks to over six months. Bootcamps like Flatiron School’s Product Design program are the most practical way to gain the skills and experience you need quickly. They vary in time commitment and expectations and are much like an intense semester in college.

The pros of UX / UI design bootcamps
  • Many students benefit from the structure of a bootcamp
  • If you learn best through a combination of independent and guided instruction, a bootcamp is a good choice.
  • Bootcamps are also quick to complete and include job-ready portfolio creation, meaning you’ll be on your way to your new job in UX / UI in a matter of months. Some bootcamps — including Flatiron School’s product design course — include 1:1 career coaching, an absolute must for those looking to level up their interviewing and resume skills.
The cons of UX / UI design bootcamps
  • While much cheaper than a four-year degree, bootcamps are still a financial investment, and you may even need to pay a lump sum upfront. But, there are loans and scholarships available.
  • The time commitment and working with remote teams can be a challenge for some.

College

If you’re starting college or would like to obtain a Master’s degree, there are a number of available programs to kickstart your career. Schools offer degrees in Human-Computer Interaction, Human-Centered Computing, Interaction Design, and Information Architecture, to name a few.

The pros of going to college for UX / UI design
  • If you’re concerned about prestige, obtaining a formal degree from a college will be your best bet
  • Because college is typically interdisciplinary, you will learn a lot that you can apply to many positions, giving yourself a leg up on your competition.
The cons of going to college for UX / UI design
  • Getting a degree takes longer and is expensive.
  • Some degrees are very broad, and you may graduate without hands-on experience or 1-on1 career coaching.

If you’re interested in becoming a UX / UI or product designer, Flatiron School’s product design course teaches you everything you need to know to launch a career as a full-stack designer.

Frequently asked questions about UX / UI design

What is a UX / UI designer?

A user experience (UX) designer works on a team to create products that provide meaningful and enjoyable experiences for users. They are concerned with the entire process of product design, from branding to design to useability.

UI (user interface) designers build interfaces in software or other computerized devices. They focus primarily on the overall look, style, and visuals users interact with to complete a task.

When you combine both of these into one position — a Product Designer — you get what we call a full-stack designer.

What does a UX / UI designer do?

UX / UI designers work across all industries to create and improve both digital and physical products. They participate in research and design in order to create user-friendly products and services. UX Designers are focused on the overall user experience, whereas UI Designers are responsible for the visual aspects that users interact with.

Is UX / UI in demand?

UX / UI design skills are highly sought after. In fact, they are some of the top skills in 2021 as cited by LinkedIn. As more people spend more time online, businesses are shifting to be able to serve these users. This means companies are increasingly looking for UX, UI, and product designers.

Does UX design require coding?

UX design does not require coding. However, it’s always helpful to have a basic understanding of code, including HTML and CSS. Knowing a little code helps you communicate with developers and develop realistic expectations. There are also instances in which learning to code may benefit your career, such as at a startup, where you may be required to perform multiple roles.

How can I get into UX / UI design?

You can get into UX / UI design by reading articles, watching videos, and reading popular books. Although you can continue to self-teach, a bootcamp is a great option. At a bootcamp, you will quickly learn the skills you need in a simulated work environment, build a design portfolio, and receive career coaching.

Is UX / UI design a good career?

Yes, both UX and UI design are good career paths. They are both in-demand careers that pay well with a good job outlook. They are also great for the altruistic because you can do what you love while helping people with everyday challenges! Schedule a 10-minute chat with admissions to learn more about the product design program at Flatiron School.