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UI or UX Designers: What is The Difference & Which Do You Need To Hire?

March 13, 2020 · 8 min read

What’s the difference between UX & UI designers?

If you are looking to hire an interface designer for your product, you may be wondering whether you need a UX Designer or a UI Designer for your project. What responsibilities do each of these job titles cover, and is there a meaningful difference between the two?

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The job titles “UX Designer” and “UI Designer” have become increasingly common in recent years, especially in the tech industry. With both titles being used to describe a variety of different jobs, and sometimes even combined into one in the form of the “UX/UI Designer”, there is widespread confusion about the exact definition of these terms.

In this post, we will answer your most pressing questions about UX and UI designers, including what they do, how they work together, and how much you should expect to budget when hiring one. We will also bring you some exclusive insights from designers and industry experts.

What is the Difference Between UX and UI Design?

The terms “User Experience (UX) design” and “User Interface (UI) design” are relatively new. Nowadays, they are mainly used to talk about digital design. However, there is more to the story, especially when it comes to UX. 

The term “User Experience” (UX) was first coined in 1993 by Don Norman, but the field itself is older than that (UX expert Jakob Nielsen traces its origins back to Bell Labs in the 1950s).

In essence, UX refers to the overall experience a customer has when using a product—is it comfortable, functional, and logical to use? The product does not necessarily have to be digital; in its broadest sense, “UX design” can be used to talk about designing a can opener, a pair of scissors, or a push/pull door. But in practice, the modern term is usually used to describe the design of websites, apps, or other digital content. 

On the other hand, UI refers specifically to a digital user interface. A user interface is the medium through which users interact with a digital product. Designing a UI may involve aesthetic considerations such as button colors and image sizes. 

Sam Orchard, Creative Director at Edge of the Web in Warwick, UK, explains the difference this way: “UX designers look at the journey, interactions, wording of labels, error messages and more. UX is about the full experience of the user. UI designers focus on how the product looks, the typography, colours and layout, and how they impact a user’s decisions.” 

How Do UX and UI Design Work Together?

That being said, although UX and UI design are different, they are far from completely separate specialties. It is clear that the two fields are related: while UX design is driven by science and usability research, and UI design is more focused on aesthetics and branding, both considerations are very important when designing a digital product. 

Andrej Antolović, Design Lead at Point Jupiter in Zagreb,Croatia describes the special relationship between UX and UI design:

“Making the UI eye-pleasing and interactive helps to enhance the user experience [UX]... [so] UX and UI really go hand in hand even though they are often divided into two separate fields. Every UX designer should know a lot about the user interface and interactions. The same thing applies to the UI designer; they should understand the purpose of the UI and mold it to answer user wants and needs.”

Why Do Companies Often Advertise UX/UI Roles As One?

Since UX design and UI design are closely related disciplines, it should come as no surprise that companies often combine the two into one role. Enter the UI/UX Designer: a multi-talented individual that understands the fundamentals of both types of design. 

As previously mentioned, in today’s job market, the roles of “UX Designer” and “UI Designer” are far from fixed. Employers use both terms to describe a variety of skills and responsibilities, and sometimes use the two interchangeably. Therefore, it makes sense that some companies would choose to encompass both skill sets in a single job title. 

The choice to combine the two roles into one may be a matter of company size and budget. Michelle Cherian, Design Director at Charity Miles in New York City, explains:

“[A] company may not be large enough to support both roles, and many UX designers also have UI skills and vice versa. At larger companies it is more common to see [these two] divided, along with many other roles, such as user researcher, design strategist, etc.”

However, not everyone agrees that using a combined UX/UI designer is a good idea. Beck Beach, Lead UX Designer at American Airlines, emphasizes some important differences between these two backgrounds. “A UI designer might not know the psychology of how a user will think as they are designing... Many UI designers were graphic designers and many have graphic design degrees. The best UX designers have a psychology and human computer interaction background.”


Do you need a UX designer or UI designer?

Do You Need a UX Designer or a UI Designer for Your Project?

Perhaps you have decided against hiring a combined UX/UI designer. If that is the case, you may be wondering whether a UX or UI designer would be better for your specific project. Which one should you choose?

In order to know which type of designer will meet your needs, it is useful to understand the typical job responsibilities of a UX and UI designer. In their guide to hiring designers, freelance hiring website Toptal lays out some of these responsibilities. Throughout the design process, UI designers may take charge of:

  • Branding

  • Design research

  • Prototyping

  • Design

  • Testing

  • Implementation

Many companies are now choosing to hire UI designers with some development skills, which is why you may sometimes see job titles like “ User Interface Engineer”.

On the other hand, UX designers tend to focus more heavily on the research process (which is why you may also see the job title “ UX Researcher”). UX designers often handle:

  • User flow

  • User/product research

  • Communication between stakeholders

  • Competitor analysis

  • Wireframing

  • Testing

What is the Salary Of A UX/UI Designer?

You may be wondering what you should budget to hire a UX or UI designer. Is there a difference in salary between these two job titles?

Salaries can vary widely depending on many factors, including location, experience, benefits package, and more. Here, we’ll compare average annual salaries in the nationwide US market from a number of data sources, to give you an idea of what to expect.

On their 50 Best Jobs in America list, Glassdoor lists the average salary of a UX Designer as $90,478. Payscale.com gives a lower estimate at $73,857, with Salary.com offering a range of $72,285 to $101,681.

Average UI designer salaries are very similar, although some sources have them listed as slightly lower. Payscale estimates the average User Interface Designer salary in the US to be $64,036, although salaries for the related job titles UI Developer and User Interface Engineer are significantly higher. Salary.com lists the median entry level salary for a UI Designer/Developer as $64,350, while the median senior level salary for the same position is $94,320.

How Do I Find a UX Or UI Designer?

Once you have planned out your budget and decided to make a hire, you will need to start the process of finding a qualified UX or UI designer to help you on a project basis, or over the long term.

To assist you, DesignerHire has put together a guide to some of the top websites where you can find and hire designers online. Some of these are freelance marketplaces (like Toptal or Upwork), while others are social networks or portfolio sites (such as Dribbble and Behance). The pros and cons of each are outlined in detail in the guide.

Conclusion: Things to Think About When Hiring a UX or UI Designer

Finally, we’ll bring you some hiring tips straight from the design professionals themselves.

Beck Beach recommends hiring separate professionals for UX and UI design. She also lists some key skills to screen for: “During the interview, ask the UX designer questions about their experience with user testing, research, and design thinking. If they have no experience with any of those, then they may not be the best fit for the position.”

Andrej Antolović also suggests having designers complete a short test task as part of the hiring process. “People can sell themselves extremely well, and they [may] have a great portfolio since they can select what they want to present in them. [But] a well-crafted task (that is hopefully related to the usual design challenges in the company) will expose any potential holes and flaws in a designer’s process and workflow.”

UX and UI Design: Two Sides of the Same Coin

In conclusion, while UX and UI design are two separate fields, there is no question that they work together as part of the digital design process. Whether you ultimately choose to hire a UX designer, a UI designer, or both is up to you. Hopefully, you should now feel well-equipped to make a decision that’s right for your team and your project.

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