tldr; UX design is a different skill to UI design. It just is.
Working in smaller agencies or on projects with limited budgets can mean doing more than one job. In the past I’ve worked on projects where I was the visual designer, IA, backend developer, workshop facilitator and the guy who made the tea. For some projects this is simply the way it has to be, there simply isn’t enough budget for a team of specialists.
However working with larger clients, whose budgets do allow for team members to specialise in their areas of expertise, there is one role which I feel needs to be examined, the ‘UX/UI designer’. Who are these people, and what are we hoping they’ll be able to do?
I’ve worked with some great UX designers in my time and some of them have been pretty good visual designers. But the design of the interface was not their primary concern, they were concerned with business value, user research, information architecture and other elements of the context within which users would encounter during the use of their product.
I’ve also worked with some amazing UI designers, some of whom were interested enough in the context of their design to research and ask questions of the types of users who would be using the interfaces they designed. Their major concerns were more aligned to aesthetics, affordance and accessibility. They wanted to ensure that the interface worked within the context of the brand and that its implementation was pleasing for the intended audience.
Now, of course you can be great at all of these things (I’m yet to meet one of these unicorns in person, though I’m told they exist), but chances are if you’re selling yourself as a UX and UI designer you’re more on one side of the line than the other.
I’d expect a UX designer to be able to talk about content audits, taxonomies, user research techniques and how they deliver business value. I want to know how a UX designer would plan their delivery for business case A vs. business case B and why. I’m interested in the types of sessions they would facilitate to provide insight and innovation as well as their thoughts on topics like LEAN and OOUX. I want them to be great communicators, and though I care very much that they understand visual communication it’s not the thing I’m hoping will stand out about them.
For UI designers I want to see a keen understanding of visual structure, a willingness to let their aesthetic personality give way to that of the brand their design is working in service of. How they go about designing for a range of viewports, how they work with negative space, how they develop visual rhythm and create structured interfaces based on components that can be reused. I want UI designers to understand CSS, know how to design for an efficient DOM structure, know the difference between designing for a web-view and native UI and they must be able to code in ECMAScript (preferably ES2015). Seriously.
When we recruit for new team members, we’re looking for people who want to excel at their craft. We expect that UX designers and UI designers will understand and respect the other’s role on a team and provide the great work to support each other. But, and this is important, we expect them to understand the different emphasis and outputs each role expresses during the product development.
Are you a great UX designer? Or is UI designer is a better description? Either way, come talk with us at Zuhlke, we’re always looking for great talent, but you’ve got to pick a team.