Despite it being an older and more practiced field, the question of “What is user interface design?” is difficult to answer because of its broad variety of misinterpretations. While User Experience is a conglomeration of tasks focused on the optimization of a product for effective and enjoyable use, User Interface Design is its complement; the look and feel, the presentation and interactivity of a product. But like UX, it is easily and often confused by the industries that employ UI designers – to the extent that different job posts will often refer to the profession as completely different things.
If you look at job posts for User Interface Design, you will mostly find interpretations of the profession that are akin to graphic design. Sometimes extending also to branding design, and even front end development.
If you look at expert definitions of User Interface Design, you will mostly find descriptions that are in part identical to User Experience Design – even referring to the same structural techniques.
So which one is right? The sad answer is: Neither.
But both are close in some ways. Like User Experience Design, User Interface Design is a multi-faceted and challenging role. It is responsible for the transference of a product’s development, research, content and layout into an attractive, guiding and responsive experience for users. It is also a field that, unlike UX, is a strictly digital profession, as per its dictionary definition:
The means by which the user and a computer system interact, in particular the use of input devices and software.
We explain in much greater detail what the definition and role of UI Design is and teach you the skills required to become a UI designer in the CareerFoundry UI Design Course. This includes its relationship to brand, graphic/visual, and front-end design.
Regardless of whether you choose UX design or UI design, it’s important to understand how the other one works and, crucially, how to work with them.
Let’s have a quick look at the UI designer’s responsibilities:
Look and Feel:
- Customer Analysis
- Design Research
- Branding and Graphic Development
- User Guides/Storyline
Responsiveness and Interactivity:
- UI Prototyping
- Interactivity and Animation
- Adaptation to All Device Screen Sizes
- Implementation with Developer
As a visual and interactive designer, the UI role is crucial to any digital interface and for customers a key element to trusting a brand. While the brand itself is never solely the responsibility of the UI designer, its translation to the product is.
You’ll also note the final point which states a responsibility for “implementation” of the design with a developer. While this is generally how UI jobs have worked in the past, you should be aware that the lines are blurring, as the term “Web Designer” (essentially a UI designer who can code) is being replaced by expertise of User Interface Designers. While UX has no need for coding, UI is a role that, as time progresses, will rely on it as part of building interactive interfaces.
So in conclusion:
- User Interface Design is responsible for the transference of a brand’s strengths and visual assets to a product’s interface as to best enhance the user’s experience.
- User Interface Design is a process of visually guiding the user through a product’s interface via interactive elements and across all sizes/platforms.
- User Interface Design is a digital field, which includes responsibility for cooperation and work with developers or code.
Or in analogical terms, UI design produces a product’ skin – a product’s visual/graphic presentation. It’s responsible for the product’s senses – its reactivity and interactivity in response to a user’s input. And its gestures – a product’s guides, hints, and directives that visually leads users through their experience.
5. Is UI Design More Important Than UX Design?
If you’ve read the above paragraphs you already know the answer. But in case you’re unsure, allow me to quote designer and expert Helga Moreno, who put it rather eloquently in her article The Gap Between UX And UI Design:
“Something that looks great but is difficult to use is exemplary of great UI and poor UX. While Something very usable that looks terrible is exemplary of great UX and poor UI.”
So you see, they are both crucial, and while there are millions of examples of great products with one and not the other, imagine how much more successful they might have been when strong in both fields.
And let’s face it, both roles are still confused, misinterpreted, and falsely sought after. So if you’re looking to get into these fields, it’s not a matter of which is more important, but, based on the descriptions above, which is more attractive to you.
6. Which Is Better Paid: UX Or UI Design?
Salaries are of course dictated by many factors, though primarily:
- Project/product type
On average you’ll find that UI and UX jobs have similar salary ranges across startups and minor tech industries. You’ll find however that in tech industries outside the web and mobile fields (e.g. car companies, medical equipment manufacturers, etc) there are more and richer opportunities for UI designers, as the field is not only more established but has a more direct, business-driven application.
Pulling upon averages however, it is possible to find both User Experience and User Interface jobs across the following range of value in central Europe.
- Junior Level Salary €28k – €33k
- Mid Level Salary €38k – €45k
- Senior Level Salary €50k – €80k
- Junior Freelancer €30 – €50
- Mid Level Freelancer €50 – €75
- Senior Level Consultant €75 – €100
*Numbers are based on salary data from Germany and central Europe.
To explore salaries in your area, check out these breakdowns of your earning potential as a UX designer and as a UI designer, and I recommend also taking a look at self-reported salaries on Glassdoor.
7. UX Design vs UI Design: Which Profession Is Right For You?
If you’re wondering whether you’d be a better fit for UX or UI design, check out my video below. I touch on the attributes that will predispose you to working successfully in each area.
And if you want to delve even deeper into the common traits of a UX designer, I recommend this article on what makes for a good fit for a career in UX, and this free tutorial on the skills you’ll need to succeed.