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What is a User Interface Designer?

If you’re in the SaaS or PaaS industry, you’ve no doubt considered hiring a UI designer. These talented employees are the backbone of a product design team as a good one can help you create interfaces that encourage end users to get more value out of your product.

This fast-paced role may not be new, but it’s picking up steam around the world. With digital designing jobs growing 16% by 2032, now is a great time to join the industry or hire a professional to serve on your team.

UI designers juggle many responsibilities, like:

  • Creating wireframes and prototypes
  • Gathering competitor data
  • Identifying issues with existing UI
  • Ensuring platform accessibility
  • Building a UI style guide

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Experienced UI professionals — usually paid far beyond the US average of $77,692 — may be tasked with overhauling entire platforms or overseeing teams of designers.

This guide can help you make an informed decision about becoming (or hiring) a UI designer. Once we cover the role’s responsibilities and characteristics, we explore potential hiring triggers when you need to hire one for your team. 

Are you already prepared to hire (or be hired) as a UI designer? We provide a helpful (free!) resource for getting started at the bottom of the guide.

What is a user interface designer?

User interface designers, usually referred to as UI designers, are responsible for creating the visual elements of a product or service. This includes tasks such as designing the layout of screens, brainstorming the look and feel of icons, or even developing an overall aesthetic for the product.

UI designers don’t just work on PaaS or SaaS platforms, although it’s true they’re almost ubiquitous in these fields. You can also see UI designers involved with the development of physical products, including microwaves, car panels, Bluetooth speakers, and more.

There are three main goals of a UI designer: to build ‘sketches,’ to implement changes, and to listen to user feedback. This creates a near-infinite loop of designing, publishing, and refining, typically in regards to user interface content like:

This makes more sense when you look at official definitions. A user interface, by definition, is any place where people and machines interact. Knowing how to build an intuitive design for all user interfaces is a key component of any successful business. Do it right, and you can see a steady stream of users and dozens of five-star reviews. Do it wrong, and there’s a good chance you face a slow death by a thousand cuts (aka one-star reviews). A whopping 90% of users report deleting apps with poor design, which means hedging your bets with a professional designer is always in your best interests.

What if your business employs a user experience (UX) designer? Is that enough to stem the tide?

Yes and no.

Although the role of a UI designer sounds similar to a UX designer, these two roles are not the same. The former focuses on the look and feel of a product, while the latter cares about the overall flow and experience. 

Let’s say you’re building a website to promote your budding brand. Your UX designer would be the first one on the scene, mapping out the user journey and designing the flow for each screen. Once your UX professional has constructed a preliminary outline, your UI designer can start fleshing the scaffolding with colors, images, dynamic content, and more.

As a side note, it is possible to find a unicorn managing both UI and UX design. Just keep in mind they’re in high demand — and demand high salaries in return.

The characteristics of a UI designer

Not everyone has what it takes to be a UI designer. This discipline requires a keen eye for detail and an inherent sense of collaboration. You also need an intuitive sense of other people’s perspectives so you can create simple interfaces with the lowest possible learning curve.

Every great UI designer has these basic characteristics:

  • Strong understanding of visual design principles. These are both inherent and learned skills acquired by paying close attention to users. The most important principles include minimalism and control, especially for new users or less technically proficient individuals. Knowing your audience and what they expect from your product is a great way to gauge the correct layout of your product. 
  • Strong sense of user intent. Good UI designers understand the purpose of your product and implement design elements tailored to specific audiences. Think of the differences between Canva and Photoshop. While both are designed to create custom images, one is for professional designers while the other is mainly for small business owners. The UI for each is extremely different, and yet expertly tailored to individual audience needs.
  • Excellent communication and collaboration skills. UI designers typically work alongside UX designers while building products or platforms. Senior designers may even manage teams of multiple designers, especially in the initial stages of building wireframes and prototypes. UI is an inherently collaboration-heavy field, which means those who enjoy working with others are well-equipped for this career. 
  • Ability to use design tools such as Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD. The average UI designer spends most of their time creating drafts for leadership review. This means they need a great deal of experience using Framer and MockFlow, or at least some hands-on experience with Marvel and UXPin. A basic understanding of industry standard tools allows the UI designer to thrive in any environment. 
  • Ability to think critically and creatively. Not all UI problems are easy to fix, especially when collaborating across different teams. The best designers know how to champion their ideas without railroading others or discounting innovations. Iteration is key in the development of good UI, and a UI designer should understand this well.
  • Ability to perform a competitor analysis. If you can’t beat them, join them, especially when it comes to UI. A seasoned UI professional should be able to analyze competitors and evaluate your platform based on the fundamental principles of design. What is your competitor doing well? How could they improve? You can use these insights to refresh your own UI or consider possible updates in the future.

This is just a surface-level overview of the UI professional’s characteristics. There could be greater or fewer expectations than what’s listed here, depending on the role and the business in question.

There are also many different ways to get into UI design. Many individuals forge their own path, most without formal UI degrees.

If you’re looking for trusted certificates to either upskill or pivot, you may want to check out courses from the UX Design Institute or the UI Design Certification from BrainStation. As always, experience trumps theory. Dipping your feet into an internship or test project could be a better teacher than coursework alone.

When do you need a UI designer?

The benefits of hiring a UI designer are a no-brainer in many industries. Not only do you get extra support for your UX designers, but you also have a full-time expert focused on upgrading the sensory experience of your product.

Here are some other reasons you may need a UI designer:

  • You’re redesigning or expanding an existing product or service. You need to stand out in a crowded marketplace and offer more streamlined features.
  • You’re experiencing usability problems with your product or service. You want to slow the frequency of low reviews and get rid of lukewarm testimonials.
  • You’re ready to improve the look and feel of your product or service. You know there’s more potential just waiting for your product.

Of course, not every business requires a UI designer. Perhaps you lucked out with a UX/UI unicorn, or maybe you can’t afford the salary of a senior UI designer. In either case, you may not want to hire a UI designer if:

  • You’re a younger business with a more limited budget. You may want to start with contractors or freelancers first.
  • You’re not operating in a saturated industry. Less competition lowers your need for picture-perfect design.
  • You have someone on-staff who’s interested in working with your UI. You may be able to delegate work in-house or restructure your team to accommodate the excess.

Again, deciding to hire a UI designer is an extremely individualized decision. It mainly comes down to understanding the needs of your business and finding the right talent to fill the role.

Ready to become (or hire) a UI designer?

A UI designer could be just what you need to convert users into brand ambassadors. It could also help you stand out from the crowd and give you a leg up in a competitive industry.

On the flip side, UI design is an excellent vocation for those with a gift for design. If you have an eye for UI and want to re-define your career, there couldn’t be a better time to ride the wave.

Not sure where to look for jobs in your area? Or struggling to find good talent for your role? We invite you to check out the free resources at DevRel Careers to start the next chapter of your UI designer journey.

Meagan Shelley

By Meagan Shelley

Meagan is a professional writer in VA that specializes in content marketing, research, and SEO. If she's not helping people craft their own stories, she's working on some of her own. When she takes time to step away from the laptop, she enjoys hiking, farmer's markets, and occasional thru-hikes.