A checklist on a tablet, surrounded by six different icons showing the main responsibilities of a user interface UI designer

What Does a User Interface (UI) Designer Do?

by Mads Soegaard | | 47 min read

Behind every memorable digital experience — a seamlessly navigable website or an app that feels like second nature — are user interface (UI) designers. These professionals shape the aesthetics and functionality of any digital interface. 

But what does a user interface designer do?

Whether it's a mobile app, website, or wearable device, a UI designer crafts a product interface's visual elements, layouts, and interactive properties. But there's more than what meets the eye. 

They create bridges between users and technology to make our digital interactions smooth, enjoyable, and efficient. 

We'll lift the curtain on the world of UI design and explore what a user interface designer is. 

If you’re curious about the craft behind your favorite apps or planning a career as a UI designer, then you’ll find this content valuable. 

Let’s discuss the depths of their responsibilities and their impact on our daily digital interactions.

What Is User Interface (UI) Design?

User interface design refers to the practice of creating visual elements and layouts for a digital product. It shapes how users interact with a product. 

UI designers aim to create visually appealing designs with easy navigation for users.

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Learn about UI design in this concise overview video

Concept of UI Design

UI design includes buttons, icons, spacing, typography, and responsive design. It aims to guide the user through a product or website while ensuring every interaction feels natural and logical. 

Unlike user experience (UX) design, which focuses on the overall feel and flow of the user's journey, UI zeroes in on the product's look and interactivity. 

Evolution of UI Design

UI design has transformed dramatically over the years. From the basic, text-based interfaces of early computers to immersive and dynamic 3D designs, the progression of UI design reflects technological advances and changing user needs. As digital devices have become more prevalent, the demand for intuitive and attractive interfaces has skyrocketed.

Illustration depicting three types of common user interfaces, graphical user interfaces, voice controlled interfaces and gesture-based interfaces

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Significance of UI Design

UI design is a deciding factor behind a product's success or failure. A well-constructed interface can propel a product to the forefront. On the other hand, a poorly designed one can push it to the sidelines. 

Users form perceptions within a few moments of engaging with an interface. This makes delivering an immediate positive impression crucial. But UI design's influence extends beyond mere visual appeal. It is fundamental to:

UI design ensures you create captivating, functional, inclusive, and approachable technology for a broad spectrum of users.

What It’s Like to Be a User Interface (UI) Designer?

So, what is a user interface designer? The world of user interface designers revolves around combining aesthetics with functionality. They craft the visual elements and interactive properties that shape our digital experiences. 

Being a UI specialist means walking hand-in-hand with digital innovation. Every button placement, color choice, and typography detail involves meticulous consideration and creativity

Edward Tufte emphasizes that true design prioritizes simplicity and functionality over aesthetics. It's about eliminating unnecessary elements and streamlining user interactions, not making them look pretty.

Design isn’t crafting a beautiful, textured button with breathtaking animation. It’s figuring out if there’s a way to get rid of the button altogether.

– Edward Tufte, American statistician and professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University.

For a UI specialist, the job may also involve understanding the users and the business goals. 

“The goal of a designer is to listen, observe, understand, sympathize, empathize, synthesize, and glean insights that enable him or her to make the invisible visible.”

– Hillman Curtis, American new media designer, author, musician and filmmaker.

Collaboration is a significant part of the role. UI designers often work with user experience (UX) designers, developers, and product managers.  

Design is a process. An intimate collaboration between engineers, designers, and clients.

– Henry Dreyfuss, Industrial design pioneer.

While the role comes with its challenges, you get plenty of rewards. UI designers see their designs come alive when users worldwide interact with them. Positive and critical feedback serves as a tool for growth and innovation. Every project is an opportunity to innovate, learn, and make technology more inclusive and approachable for everyone. 

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User Interface Designer Responsibilities and Daily Tasks

A user interface (UI) designer wears many hats throughout the day. Their responsibilities blend creativity, technicality, and collaboration. Each task they perform aims to craft intuitive, attractive, and functional interfaces that resonate with users and drive business objectives. 

A roadmap to becoming a user interface UI designer that consists of five steps

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Here are some of the daily responsibilities of a user interface designer:

1. Understanding Users

Every UI designer must review user data and feedback. It helps them understand goals, behaviours, and pain points. Analyzing this data informs design choices, ensuring the interface meets user needs. Design personas are a critical part of this understanding.

2. Sketching and Wireframing

Before getting into detailed designs, graphic user interface designers sketch their ideas. Then, they create wireframes using pixelated grayscale widgets. It provides a blueprint of the UI tech interface, including a visual representation of the layout, element placement, and overall design flow.

3. Prototyping

Once wireframes are ready, UI designers create interactive prototypes. They act as the working models of the app or webpage. They also allow designers to test and iterate on their designs. Prototypes give stakeholders a tangible sense of the result and encourage feedback collection.

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Watch this video to understand how important prototyping is in the design process.

4. Design Iteration

Feedback is the backbone of effective design iteration. Based on feedback from stakeholders, team members, or user testing, UI designers tweak and improve their designs. This iterative process ensures the interface meets both user and business needs.

5. Collaboration with UX Designers

UI designers collaborate with UX designers. Their combined efforts ensure an interface's visual elements complement and enhance the user experience.

6. Collaborate with Developers

UI designers work with developers to bring their designs to life. This involves providing assets, ensuring design consistency across different screen sizes, and troubleshooting design-related issues during development. Developers also help with integrating the interface to the backend systems.

7. Staying Updated with Design Trends

UI designers often dedicate some time each day to research. Whether browsing design blogs, attending webinars, or exploring new tools, staying informed is critical to producing innovative designs.

8. Documentation

Documentation helps maintain design consistency, within and across products, especially in larger teams. A UI specialist often creates style guides or design systems that follow guidelines. These systems outline design principles, color palettes, typography, and UI elements.

9. Stakeholder Presentations

Presenting designs to stakeholders is a recurring task. UI designers must communicate their design rationale, gather feedback, and ensure the design aligns with business goals and brand design guidelines.

10. Usability Testing

While not a daily task, usability testing is an essential responsibility for user interface designers. A designer conducts or participates in sessions where real users interact with their designs. Observing these interactions provides invaluable insights and informs future design decisions.

The Road to Becoming a User Interface Designer 

With the growing digital touchpoints in our lives, the significance of intuitive and compelling interfaces also grows. But how can you become a user interface designer? 

Becoming a proficient user interface designer requires technical understanding, a grasp of user behaviors, digital skills, design thinking, and an undying spirit of learning. 

Let’s discuss how to become a UI specialist in seven easy steps after we examine some prerequisites first. 

Do You Need a Degree to Become a UI Designer?

While many UI designers come from formal design backgrounds and hold degrees in graphic design or similar fields, a degree isn't necessary. Portfolios and real-world experience are valuable as much, if not more, than formal education. 

A degree in design systems, computer science, or a related field can give aspirants a good foundation. Many institutions offer specialized courses in information architecture and UI design. Courses in human-computer interaction or interaction design can also help. These equip students with the theoretical knowledge needed for the field.

Take Vivi Shin, who once worked as a fashion visual stylist and switched to UX/UI design within six months of leaving her old job. She faced many challenges, yet she explored her interest in the digital world. Now, she is a product designer for a fintech company in Melbourne.

Dea Minadze talks about becoming a self-taught UX/UI designer. In 2020, while working at the finance ministry and studying law, she considered a career shift. After leaving her job, earning a master's degree, and traveling through Europe alone, she committed to her new career direction.

What Are the Skills You Need to Become a User Interface Designer?

A diagram showing ten key responsibilities of a user interface UI designer

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Being a UI designer requires a combination of technical and soft skills. Here are essential skills for a UI designer:

  • Proficiency in design software: You must understand what programs you should know as a user interface designer. Knowledge of tools such as Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD, and Illustrator is essential. These are standard tools that software designers use when making user interface apps.

  • Understanding of UI principles: You must have familiarity with core UI design principles, including balance, contrast, consistency, and clarity.

  • Responsive design: You must create interfaces that adapt across various devices.

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Have a closer look at crafting versatile digital experiences. Watch this concise guide to responsive design techniques.

  • Wireframing and prototyping: You must lay out the interface's structure and demonstrate interactive designs.

  • User-centered design: You must design with a user-centric approach and work with user researchers, user experience designers, developers and others to achieve solutions that work for real users.

  • Collaboration skills: Multi-disciplinary collaboration is a key component of user-centered design. You may also find yourself collaborating with various project stakeholders.

  • Typography and color theory: You need an understanding of typography and the emotional reactions colors invoke. 

  • Attention to detail: To create precise design layouts, you must cater to minute details.

  • Problem-solving: You should have the ability to find innovative solutions to design challenges.

  • Design process: You must understand the journey from idea inception to the final product.

Now, let’s start with the roadmap to becoming a user interface designer. 

Step 1: Create a Portfolio

A portfolio showcases your skills and versatility as a web user interface designer. But how to build a portfolio as a user interface designer? 

  • Start by working on personal projects or providing freelance services to local businesses. 

  • Highlight your design process, from initial sketches to final prototypes, to demonstrate your comprehensive approach. Add interactive visual elements to make it dynamic and showcase your skills. 

  • Beyond your primary design work, integrating testimonials and feedback from clients or teammates can lend credibility to your skills and work ethic.

Also, consider incorporating a section detailing your learning initiatives, whether attending workshops, webinars, or acquiring new certifications. This demonstrates your dedication to staying updated. 

A brief case study for select projects can also be great. Talk about the challenges faced, solutions implemented, and the impact of your designs on the user experience or business metrics.

Step 2: Gain Experience through Internships or Entry-Level Roles

Hands-on experience is non-negotiable for better learning and securing a good job. Consider internships or junior UI design roles to work on real-world projects. These roles often come with the added benefit of mentorship from experienced professionals. They provide a practical lens into design's collaborative nature and bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and on-the-ground application.

Step 3: Build a Personal Brand

Building a personal brand is a strategic step toward standing out. Your brand should resonate with your design philosophy and values. Engage with the design community, share insights on platforms like LinkedIn, and remain authentic. Over time, this brand identity will build trust and recognition among peers and potential employers.

Step 4: Network and Stay Updated

Engage yourself by joining professional organizations, attending conferences, or participating in webinars. Such involvement offers a dual advantage: it keeps you informed of the latest UI trends while opening doors to networking opportunities.

Step 5: Pursue Relevant Certification Courses

While not always necessary, obtaining a certification from recognized institutions or design courses can strengthen your credibility and validate your expertise in the field.

A list of ten essential skills for user interface UI designer

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Formal education can provide foundational knowledge, open up new opportunities, and contribute to continuous learning. Real-world applications prove equally valuable. Whether through formal education, self-study, or a mix of both, aspiring UI designers have multiple opportunities to enter and excel in the field.

Predicting the Future of UI Design 

The field of user interface (UI) design is constantly changing, with new trends emerging. As we rely more on technology, how we interact with it is also developing. Let's look at the future of UI design and its impact on our digital experiences.

1. Rise of Augmented and Virtual Reality

We are currently seeing massive momentum when it comes to AR and VR, both in terms of advancement and adoption. More companies are adopting augmented and virtual reality into their applications and products, and this is radically reshaping the "big UI" design industry.

In 2024, we expect the combined market value of the AR and VR sector to reach as high as $297 billion. These are serious projections that would motivate even the most old-school UI design teams to pay attention.

As the industry continues to adapt to groundbreaking new technology, UI designers must shift their focus from two-dimensional screens to 3D experiences. This evolution means creating intuitive interfaces that interact with users more spatially. UI designers that recognize this early - and equip themselves with new, necessary skills -  will have the edge.

2. Voice User Interfaces (VUI)

Voice-controlled interfaces, propelled by the success of digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, are gaining traction. Designing for voice requires a shift from visual cues to auditory feedback. They make the role of a UI designer or UI artist more diverse and demanding.

3. Emphasis on Accessibility

With a growing awareness of inclusivity, there's a heightened focus on designing interfaces accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. Future UI designs will prioritize universal design principles. These will empower digital platforms to cater to a broader audience.

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Learn how accessibility shapes user experiences. Get a clear perspective on ensuring accessibility for all users.

Will UI Designers Be Needed in 5 Years?

Yes! The need for intuitive interfaces will grow with time. While automation and AI-driven design tools progress, the human touch becomes critical. Understanding complex user emotions, behaviors, and cultural variations remains irreplaceable. This aligns with the user interface design definition, which emphasizes understanding and creating intuitive digital interactions for users. 

Moreover, with growing technologies, UI designers will be at the forefront. They will be adapting and innovating constantly. Their role will be essential in creating interfaces for new types of devices. This includes experiences in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). 

How to Become a User Interface Designer, and What Can One Expect to Earn?

Becoming a User Interface (UI) designer requires combining creative and technical skills. 

  • Start by pursuing relevant education in design or technology. 

  • Build a portfolio showcasing mockup designs, wireframes, and UI projects. 

  • Familiarize yourself with industry-standard tools like Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD. 

  • Seek feedback, stay updated with design trends, and network with professionals. 

  • Internships or mentorships can offer valuable hands-on experience.

So, How Much Does a User Interface Designer Make after 5 Years?

The salary of a user interface designer can vary greatly based on factors like geographic location, the industry they work in, and their skill set. After five years in the profession, a user interface designer should possess considerable expertise with a substantial increase in salary. 

On average, a UI designer with five years of experience can command a six-figure salary in major tech hubs. However, the compensation might be less in smaller cities or different industries. It's essential to note that continuous learning, upskilling, and staying updated with design trends can also influence one's earning potential.

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