Is a web designer the same thing as a UX designer? When I lived full-time in Austin, TX, “web designer” was the typical job title. The first thing I noticed when I moved to Berlin is that “UX designer” is the more commonly used term. This led me into an existential crisis. Should I be calling myself a UX designer? A UI designer? Could I call myself a UX or UI designer? Did those terms equate to “web design” or mean something more? Web designer vs UX designer vs UI designer, what’s the difference?
Before I get into defining these terms, I have to say there can be a lot of overlap between them. The internet is relatively new and constantly evolving, as are the jobs that go along with it. In an effort to differentiate job responsibilities and pay scales, these terms were created. But if you work as a web, UX, or UI designer and are good at your job, you need to understand all three.
What Is a Web Designer?
Typically, a web designer is someone who started as a graphic designer and moved into designing websites. That’s how I got my start. I studied art at the University of Arkansas with emphases in graphic design, web design, and photography. My internships and early jobs were graphic design work.
A web designer is focused on aesthetics and beauty, but may not be thinking about the user’s needs and flow through the site. This was also true for me. I didn’t learn much about website strategy or marketing in my web design classes in college. Marketing was a whole other major in the business school across campus. We did have to read Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, but that was the extent of our user experience journey.
It wasn’t until I moved to Austin, TX and started working for someone who was passionate about marketing that I really learned about user experience and conversions and inbound marketing. My boss had a great system for continuing education. He put together an essential reading list, and for each book we read, we got a raise (after we gave a presentation on it to our coworkers). This is when I was introduced to Seth Godin and Stephen Covey and Brian Halligan.
Finally, it’s important to note that most web designers work on websites, not applications. So, if you’re a designer who mainly designs apps for iOS or Android or designs products, you’ll likely call yourself a UX or UI designer.
What Is a UX Designer?
A User Experience (UX) designer focuses on the, you guessed it, user’s experience with a website or app or product. This can be done through brand strategy, user interviews, buyer’s personas, Google Analytics, information architecture, wireframes, visual design, prototyping, and testing. It’s a lot.
But, Sam, don’t you do those things, too? Yes, yes, I do.
User experience is all about understanding the why. Why does a user click on that green button instead of the purple one? Why doesn’t a user scroll to the bottom of the page? Why isn’t the user filling out the form? In order for me to be an effective web designer, I must be a UX designer, too.
As I said above, UX design is typically linked to product or app design and Agile Project Management. But that doesn’t exclude UX from being needed in website builds. A focus on the user is necessary everywhere, online and offline.
What Is a UI Designer?
A User Interface (UI) designer is most concerned with the controls a user uses to interact with the app or website. A UI designer takes the findings from the UX designer and gives the app a visual life.
UI designers focus on:
- The layout of each screen: How should the information be arranged? How much space is needed between elements? Which visual patterns and hierarchies will create an intuitive experience?
- Responsive design: The app must work across all screen sizes.
- Designing the “boring” but necessary stuff: buttons, icons, sliders, and scrollbars.
- Color and typeface choices.
- The interactive bits: How does a button react when the user clicks on it?
- Establishing a style guide for the app or website to ensure consistency for the user.
UI design, like UX design, tends to be more iterative than web design. And UX and UI designers may or may not know a coding language.
Sam, that sounds a lot like stuff you do, too….I know! See my dilemma in knowing what to call myself?
(PS If you’re looking for a UI design job, Toptal has a nice UI hiring guide that you can use to prepare yourself for an interview.)
The Design Umbrella
If we consider Web Design the umbrella, then UX and UI design are specialties, focuses, of it. I enjoy it all, and that’s why Design It Please incorporates it all when designing a website. Anyone who considers themselves a web designer should be well-versed in user experience and user interface.
These terms are also industry-specific. Startups and tech companies most often hire specifically for UX/UI roles. Sometimes, a UX role will focus more on research and information architecture. Sometimes, a UI role will include UX. Sometimes, they’re looking for a web designer who can do it all. It’s all a bit of a mess.
So What Are You?
I am a web designer who incorporates strategy and analysis to understand your user’s experience in order to create a user interface that converts. All while making sure your WordPress website is fast and secure. And I’m okay with that.