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What is UX/UI Design?

You’ve heard the terms UX and UI, and you’re thinking about pursuing a career in the design field. Not surprisingly, you have questions. What is a UX/UI designer? Is it a good career? How much do UX/UI designers make? Most importantly, is 2021 a good year to start a career in UX/UI design?

What is UX design?

User experience (UX) design is the process of designing products that are useful, easy to use, and enjoyable to interact with.

User experience (UX) design is the process of designing products that are useful, easy to use, and enjoyable to interact with. As you might suspect, UX design starts with the user. A user is the person that utilizes technology (physical or digital) to accomplish a goal.

Overall, UX design’s goal is to design products and services that allow users to meet their needs in an effective and satisfying manner. But, it’s not only about the product or service. UX design is about designing the complete user experience, from first setting eyes on a product, to receiving it in the mail, using it for the first time, etc.

Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think says user experience encompasses not only design, but also UX research. At its core, UX research takes a look at how people think and interact with products. UX design seeks to improve these interactions to make products easy, useful, and even addictive.

Since it’s an extensive process, UX design requires a range of skills and techniques including psychology, design, research analysis, prototyping, and usability testing. The great thing is that anyone can learn these skills and techniques to become a successful UX designer.

What is UI design?

User interface (UI) design is the visual styling of an app or website. The concept of UI design is that users must use an interface to accomplish a task.

User interface (UI) design is the visual styling of an app or website. The concept of UI design is that users must use an interface to accomplish a task. For that reason, the interface should be visually appealing and intuitive.

To demonstrate, if a user would like to make a call on their cell phone, they must provide some sort of input (such as a button tap) into their cell phone’s interface).

Then, the input produces the desired output (in this case, the phone call). A UI designer constructs the interface with a thorough understanding of the user and the task they want to accomplish, while simultaneously making it simple and visually pleasing for the user.

With the user at the forefront, UI designers are responsible for both the look and feel of an app or site’s graphic interface. Accordingly, UI design incorporates basic visual fundamentals such as typography, color, contrast, white space, visual hierarchy, complexity vs. simplicity, consistency, and scale. 

Think of Airbnb, the vacation rental booking site.

Upon arrival, you are instantly transported to your desired destination. You navigate the site easily, almost intuitively, searching to book that perfect getaway. A click here and a scroll there, and you find yourself pulling out your credit card, inspired by all the unique places to stay and memorable things to do. This UI design is almost invisible.

Likely, you, the user, didn’t pay attention to the icons and buttons, how they were arranged on the page, or how they relate to each other. But, they have all played a part in your experience in completing your task. How do you know the UI design was good? Because you returned to make another booking, told your friends, and wrote a testimonial on how easy it was to book using Airbnb! This is the power of UI design.

What is the difference between UX and UI design?

Although often lumped together, UX and UI are two different fields. You can think of them as cousins. They are closely related, but not quite the same.

In the words of Jason Ogle from User Defenders: Podcast, “UI is the bridge that gets us where we want to go, UX is the feeling we get when we arrive.”

Moreover, user experience and user interface designers work closely together to create physical products, websites, and more. UX is focused on the user’s experience when interacting with a product or service. It uses a five-stage process to understand the user, define the problem, ideate, prototype, and test.

On the other hand, UI uses artistic components to improve the visual elements of screens, pages, etc. so that users can complete a task.

How do UX and UI design work together?

Some companies hire 'product designers' or 'UX/UI' designers as generalists who have a basic understanding of both worlds and work with projects on an as-needed basis. In other words, the same person may be responsible for everything from initial research, to prototyping, to polishing off the final product. 

Because they're related, it’s not uncommon to hear the terms UX and UI together or used interchangeably. Sometimes the two roles are combined into a single position, depending on the industry or size of the company. These roles are both strategic and execution-based. 

Even if you’re only interested in one role, say UI designer, it’s still good to learn skills for the other role. Often, a role that is focused on only UX or only UI design generally asks for long-term experience working within that space. Having a big picture understanding and a wide range of UX/UI abilities can make you both more marketable to hiring managers and lead to potential growth opportunities.

When working on UX, the UX designers are responsible for whether the user can enjoyably complete the determined task without excessive effort. Therefore, design teams follow a set methodology and design philosophy called “design thinking.”

Design thinking is a term that represents a strategic approach to developing design concepts.

Using the processes in design thinking laid out by Stanford’s d.school (Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test), UX designers combine market research, product development, strategy, and design to create seamless, common-sense user experiences for products, services, and processes.

There are many different areas of UX design.

  • Whereas some UX designers may work on physical products, others work on digital ones, such as websites and apps.

  • No matter the product, it’s the UX designer’s job to understand the user’s intent and mitigate potential usage issues.

  • In the case of a website, this looks like understanding why and how users perform certain actions on the site, why they continue using a site, or what causes them to abruptly leave a site.

In contrast, UI designers must have strong visual design skills.

  • A background in graphic design or visual arts is helpful, but interest and willingness to learn will also suffice.

  • User interface designers are tasked with designing the graphical interface after the UX team has completed the design thinking process (or sometimes in conjunction with).

  • Of course, the user interfaces must be easy to use, visually engaging, and always devised with the user’s end-goal in mind.

  • Thus, a UI designer must not only have an empathetic understanding of the user, but also be an expert in implementing design principles and utilizing industry design tools.

What is a typical UX/UI job description?

In general, UX/UI designers conceptualize a product’s layout and flow to make it user-friendly for the end-user.

This requires many industry-specific skills and knowledge of various technological tools. These are your hard skills.

To clarify, hard skills are capabilities that are job-specific and allow you to complete your duties and responsibilities. Hard skills can be learned on the job, through online courses, or other vocational training.

UX/UI designers have the same mission and similar job descriptions often working hand in hand. Generally, UX design jobs include the following tasks: 
User research
Conceptualization
Design (wireframing, prototyping)
User/usability testing
By comparison, a UI designer’s responsibilities may include:
Interaction design and basic design principles
Wireframing and prototyping
Brand style guides
Competitive analysis on look and feel

Generally, UX design jobs include the following tasks: 

  • User research

  • Conceptualization

  • Design (wireframing, prototyping)

  • User/usability testing

By comparison, a UI designer’s responsibilities may include:

  • Interaction design and basic design principles

  • Wireframing and prototyping

  • Brand style guides

  • Competitive analysis on look and feel

Further, UI/UX designers must have a variety of soft skills, also known as transferable skills. Unquestionably, this is great news for career-changers since you already have a variety of soft skills and knowledge from your previous position.

Since you will often work in teams, two of the most important soft skills are communication and collaboration. Teams may include web developers, art directors, creative directors, and even business stakeholders. You will all work closely together on a number of tasks: researching, brainstorming, designing, solving problems, and giving feedback, to name a few.

Additionally, UX/UI designers need a level of empathy to understand user desires, frustrations, goals, as well as anticipating problems they may have when using the product.

Because usability and enjoyability directly affect product success, and hence the business’ bottom line, a valuable UX/UI designer knows their intended user as well as they know their friends.

UI designers, in particular, also have a unique opportunity to make interfaces accessible for the visually and hearing impaired, thus increasing your product’s popularity.

Plus, accessibility can improve your ranking with Google

Perhaps the most indispensable soft skill is creative problem-solving. UX/UI designers get to come up with ideas and solutions to everyday problems, all the while creating innovative and delightful products and services. The ability to come up with endless ideas and dissect problems from every angle to come up with the best possible solutions is key.

Important skills to become a UX/UI designer:
Communication & collaboration
Problem-solving
Empathy for how someone will use your digital product
Creativity
Familiarity with graphic design principles
Wireframing
Design

Important skills to become a UX/UI designer

  • Communication & collaboration

  • Problem-solving

  • Empathy for how someone will use your digital product

  • Creativity

  • Familiarity with graphic design principles

  • Wireframing

  • Design 

Lastly, UX/UI designers must be familiar with design tools and platforms. UX/UI designers use these tools to wireframe, prototype, and ultimately bring their designs to life. You can choose the software that you like best to start with. Given that your future employer may require you to use a certain platform, it’s prudent to become familiar with and know the ins and outs of several.

Popular design tools that UX designers and UI designers use

Popular UX/UI design tools: Figma, MockPlus, Sketch, Adobe XD

Figma

A free design platform that includes features for both UX and UI design. Designers can create, collaborate, give real-time feedback, share file libraries, prototype, and more using the software. 

MockPlus

An all-in-one product design platform for prototyping, collaboration, and design systems.

Sketch

Create, prototype, and collaborate with this design program. 

Adobe XD

UX/UI software from Adobe to wireframe, animate, prototype, collaborate, and more. Free for personal use.

Why are UX/UI designers important?

UX/UI designers have the special task of shaping the feelings and visual experience people have on apps and websites. Often, this is called design thinking, and that’s pretty powerful. If you think about it, design can either positively or negatively affect a user's experience. 

That’s why these skills are increasingly important (and needed) as more people spend more time online. For instance, a UI designer can help make online shopping, bill paying, or ordering food less stressful.

UX/UI designers are critical to the reputation and success of a business. While leaders contribute cutting-edge ideas and worthy goals, UX/UI designers bring products to life. They ensure that ideas are turned into thoughtful products that are easy to use, useful, and enjoyable. 

It’s safe to say, the greatest ideas will fall flat for the everyday user if they don’t meet these three criteria. And it’s chiefly the responsibility of UX/UI designers to make it so.

The popular show Shark Tank is a great example of how UX/UI designers can take great ideas and run with them. How many times have you seen a product in the beginning stages picked up by a shark? Then, later on, you see the product has been revamped? 

These ideas were tested by talented UX/UI designers who were able to offer expert solutions to help grow these entrepreneurs’ businesses!  

Additionally, companies are forced to adapt as consumers spend more time indoors and online. We saw this in the case of COVID. The businesses that already could sell and market online fared better than those with little or no web presence. In fact, Chipotle was one of the first companies to adapt during COVID. 

Although they did close several stores, their digital ordering, which is up 177% from a year earlier, has helped keep them afloat.

To emphasize, what UX/UI designers do is an integral part of both creating a delightful user experience and a company’s bottom line. And, as the world becomes more digital, they will only become more in-demand.

Is UX/UI design a good career?

Yes, UX/UI design is a great career path! First, user experience is a central part of any product or service. Furthermore, people are spending more time indoors and online.  For that reason, the demand for digital products and services across all industries is greater than ever before.

Industries from healthcare, to fitness, to entertainment, and even education all rely on UX/UI design.

UX/UI designers are as relevant as ever in 2021. In fact, there are currently over 6,600 UX design job vacancies in the US on Indeed.com. What’s more, the closely related “product designer” topped the list of well-paying, in-demand creative professionals in 2020. Not surprisingly,  product design has over 13,000 vacancies!

Plus, the tech industry is booming. They are not only growing, but they’re hiring! True, we learned from the global pandemic that nothing is certain. But, in the wake of COVID-19, the tech industry has been recovering more quickly than other industries. It has been adapting, and many companies are now using tech on a big scale (like cloud services and video conferencing).

Post-COVID, there is also an increased potential for remote work. According to Deloitte, videoconferencing and remote collaboration are at an all time high. It’s a safe bet that you’ll find plenty of opportunities for remote UX/UI design positions, if that’s your preference.

In short, UX/UI design is a good option if you’re looking to future-proof your career, as it affords diverse opportunities across all industries.

How much money do UX/UI designers make?

You’re probably wondering how much UX/UI designers make. Salaries are dependent on a range of factors such as education, skills, years of experience, and cost of living. We’ll list some salaries for major cities below. But, we recommend researching local salary data on a site like Glassdoor. (While you’re there, check out company reviews and interview tips.)

According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a UX/UI Designer is around $100,000. Typically, UX Designers make slightly more than UI Designers.

Avg. salary nationwide

According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a UX/UI Designer is around $100,000. Typically, UX Designers make slightly more than UI Designers.

Avg. salary in New York 

$98,156 is the average base salary for a UX Designer in New York, NY, according to builtinnyc.com. UI Designers make $95,960.

Avg. salary in San Francisco

The average UX/UI Designer in San Francisco, CA makes $112,684, as cited on Glassdoor.

Avg. salary in Los Angeles

The average Junior UX Designer salary in Los Angeles, CA is $93,345, but the salary range typically falls between $81,009 and $114,845. A UI Designer in LA can expect to make $79,936 (builtinla.com).

Avg. salary in Miami

Salary.com lists the range for a UX Designer in Miami, FL at $79,903 to $97,124, with an average salary of $88,347. UI Designers in Miami average $77,089 (Glassdoor).

Avg. salary in Boston

Indeed.com lists the average salary for a UX Designer at $102,208, and $80,833 for a UI Designer in Boston, MA.

Avg. salary in Denver

The average salary for a UX Designer in Denver, CO is $84,397. The average salary for a UI Designer is $70,824. (builtincolorado.com)

Avg. salary in Austin

Built in Austin says the average salary for a UX Designer in Austin, TX is $85,855, and the average salary for a UI designer is $83,767.

Avg. salary in Seattle

In Seattle, WA, UX Designers usually make $109,993, and UI Designers have an average salary of $107,225.

As you can see, UX/UI salaries range depending on location. In the United States, the typical range for UX Designers is $71,627 to $101,545 (salary.com) and for $67,000 to $123,000 for UI Designers (Glassdoor).

Will it be hard for new UX designers to find work in 2021?

Did you know that UX design was one of ten in-demand skills in 2020, according to a LinkedIn report? You can breathe a sigh of relief, because this is excellent news! You’re not too late either.

Not surprisingly, UX designers are in demand in 2021.

And, the need is only expected to grow as user experience is now a Google ranking factor. So, if you’re wondering if now is a good time to start a career in UX/UI design.

As a new UX designer, don't be discouraged. Many companies like to hear the fresh perspective of beginners who often know the latest technological trends. In addition, many tech companies are rapidly expanding. This means they are sometimes looking for multiple hires that are willing to jump in and that rapid growth opportunities are available.

This is also a great time to start studying as employers are increasingly hiring for remote roles post-pandemic.

A study of 278 executives by McKinsey in August of 2020 reported that companies are planning to reduce office space by an average of 30%. (See McKinsey’s take on the future of work after COVID.)

In essence, having studied at an online school and/or taken on remote clients is a great resume booster. To expand, you’ll more frequently see experience working “in a remote environment” or “within a distributed team” on job postings or be asked about it in interviews. 

In order to stand out, consider enrolling in a UX/UI design bootcamp. Make sure you choose a program that offers not only technical knowledge, but hands-on experience. Some programs, such as the Product Design program at Flatiron School, offer extensive career coaching as part of the package. This feature is paramount.

Career coaches can not only help you narrow down your interests, but they also help you revamp your resume and prep for interviews.

How to become a UX/UI designer

To become a UX/UI designer, you should learn both UX and UI individually, how they relate, basic design principles, and design thinking. 

The good thing is that UX/UI design is systematic and based on a set of techniques and continuous improvement. That means anyone, regardless of your background, can learn UX/UI design. You don’t necessarily need a formal degree. All you have to do is be willing to learn and implement your newfound knowledge, techniques, and tools.

A lot of UX/UI Designers are career changers. This may sound worrisome, but it’s actually a good thing. Career changers already have a lot of transferable skills as well as work experience from other industries, which make them great candidates. For the most part, skilled recruiters know how to look at the whole of a candidate’s experiences, not just their recent work in the field.

Now that you’re ready for your new role as a UX/UI designer, you’ll need to learn the required techniques and platforms. What’s the best way to learn? You could self-teach, attend an online course, or study UX/UI design in college. Let’s look at each of these options in detail.

Self-teaching to become a UX/UI designer

If you are willing to invest a fair amount of time, you can teach yourself UX and/or UI design. There are many free courses, video tutorials, articles, and books available for you to learn UX/UI design. 

To self-teach, you’ll first need to build your knowledge and skills. Start by checking out the amazing FREE resources below.

Pros/cons of self-teaching

One of the best things about self-teaching is that it’s free, and you can work at your own pace. While this may be true, teaching yourself UX/UI design could take several years. This means it could take a while before you start your new career and move up the salary scale. As a beginner, it’s also helpful to share ideas and show support within a community of like-minded individuals. It’s much harder to find a community or a design mentor when you self-teach. Plus, keep in mind that being a self-taught UX/UI designer is harder to prove your knowledge in the field, especially if you are trying to get a job in the industry. 

Free resources

  • InVision - Webinars and live training on UX design, leadership, animation, and more.

  • Fast Company - One of the most popular sources for design news.

  • Meetup - Meet with other designers to learn the ins and outs of the field in local meetups, nationwide.

Books

Attend a UX/UI Design Bootcamp to become a UX/UI Designer

If you are serious about jumpstarting your career, consider taking a product design bootcamp. There are in-person courses as well as many online courses. These courses (often called bootcamps) help you acquire the knowledge and practical skills so that you can get started quickly.

Cost

Product design bootcamps range in price from a few thousand dollars to $20,000, with an average cost of $12,436 in 2021 for a UX/UI bootcamp. Many programs are eligible for financing programs and some offer scholarships, like Flatiron School. 

Keep in mind that lower cost bootcamps may only include an introductory content and may be entirely self paced. Don’t let the higher priced courses scare you off. These are typically a better (and worthy) investment because of the career support that may be included and in-depth study of the topic with industry leader instructors. 

Pros/cons of design bootcamp courses

The best thing about product design bootcamp courses is that you can learn everything you need to know quickly. This means you could start working within months of the programs end. It’s also great to collaborate with classmates and receive instructor feedback.

No doubt, these factors will accelerate your learning. On the contrary, the cost may be too high for some learners. And, since everyone learns at a different pace and has different learning styles, a traditional class (online or in-person) isn’t for everyone.

Pursue a college degree in UX/UI design

If you choose to get your Bachelor’s or return to school for a Master’s degree, you will have plenty of options as the field becomes increasingly popular.

What degree do you need to be a UX designer?

In order to become a UX designer, you will first need to get a Bachelor’s in human-computer interaction, psychology, computer science, information systems, or various types of design (graphic, interaction, industrial, etc.). These will give you a good foundation.

Depending on the program, you may be ready to start your career.

Alternatively, you may continue on for a Master’s degree. Check here for a list of UX-related degrees worldwide. 

Cost

The average annual tuition for a four-year college in 2020-20210 was $11,171 for state residents at public universities, $26,809 for out-of-state students, and $41,411 at private colleges, according to US News & World Report. In most cases, this could be upwards of $99,000 total, where a bootcamp is less than $20,000. 

Pros/cons of pursuing a college degree in UX/UI design

Attending a four-year university or obtaining a Master’s degree may offer prestige. However, attending traditional 4-year universities is costly and takes several years to complete. Also, programs are sometimes theory-based, so choose wisely in order to build your job-ready portfolio. You may have to obtain a Master’s degree for additional training.

Build a portfolio for your job search on how to become a UX/UI designer

A mockup on a computer

In order to begin your new career as a UX/UI designer, you must highlight your work experience in a design portfolio. Reading and taking courses will only get you so far. You need to actually do the work, to show future employers that you have the experience needed to get the job done.

Your portfolio will be seen by prospective clients, recruiters, and hiring managers.

In a product design bootcamp you will build a job-ready portfolio and learn the best way to display the portfolio.  

If you’re a budding UI designer, download some free user interface kits to get started from scratch. These kits contain visual elements (buttons, icon, fonts, etc.) that you can use to design your own site. In the same way, you can also use them to redesign existing sites.

Notice some flaws on your dream company’s website? Mock up a new design that is both more functional and visually pleasing, and send it in with your application!

Just like the UX/UI design process, a design portfolio is iterative. As your abilities grow and you gain clients, be sure to make updates!

You can’t become a UX/UI designer overnight. It takes lots of hard work, dedication, and practice. Although previous design skills are helpful, the good news is that anyone with the time and desire to learn can become a UX/UI designer. As we mentioned, it’s not too late to start a career in UX/UI design.