When you meet a designer, chances are they won’t specify right away which type of designer they are. There are plenty of design specialties, but usually people immediately think designer = graphic designer. When we’re discussing product design that narrows the field slightly but opens the door for further specialization amongst designers.
Each “type” of design listed here has evolved over the decades out of a combination of early 90’s graphic design and web design. While this list is by no means exhaustive, there are four main design specialties in modern product design, plus an important role played by user researchers.
User Experience Design
1. User experience design is the process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the overall usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product.
UX Designers are the people responsible for improving the overall impression your product has on users. This includes making sure the user is not feeling the bad feelings of frustration, annoyance, and confusion. UX Designers make your product work smoothly.
A UX Designer in the wild might spend their days creating personas to represent their target users. They map user journeys and plan task flows through the product. UX Designers will work with Information Architects, or use concepts from the field, to plan the structure and navigation of the product to improve usability. UX Designers are most famous for their wireframes used to illustrate their design ideas, and prototypes to validate those ideas with real users.
User Interface Design
1. User interface design is the design of user interfaces for machines and software with the focus on maximizing usability and the user experience. The goal of user interface design is to make the user’s interaction as simple and efficient as possible, in terms of accomplishing user goals
Sounds similar to a UX Designer, no? UI Design is a strictly digital subsection of UX Design. The user interface is the means by which the user and a computer system interact. So UI Designers focus on what is laid out on the screen and how you, as a user, interact with it. They make sure your product looks good. User needs are still front and center with a UI Designer, but they are also balanced with business needs such as branding, graphic and visual design. UI Designers are not responsible for developing the brand, they are responsible for translating it to the product
UI Designers work closely with UX Designers to apply visual design to a low-fidelity prototype. They’re figuring out the visual cues necessary to guide a user through the digital task flow. Once their prototype or wireframe is mocked up, UI Designers work with the development team to implement the interface.
Graphic / Visual Design
1. Graphic design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving through the use of typography, photography and illustration. Visual design is the design working in any media or support of visual communication.
2. Visual design as a field has grown out of both UI design and graphic design.
Perhaps best understood, these folks are the ones responsible for creating the visual elements of the interface. The imagery, icons, colour palates, typography, and everything else that you see. One major difference is that Graphic Designers often work in print, and visual designers often work in digital but they are often very similar roles.
A day in the life of a graphic/visual designer might be spent in Adobe creative suite making imagery for the product. They know how to build brand assets and ensure brand consistency across all design elements.
1. Interaction design is the practice of designing interactive digital products, environments, systems, and services. While interaction design has an interest in form (similar to other design fields), its main area of focus rests on behavior.
Interaction designers facilitate users accomplishing their goals by thinking about the ways in which users interact with elements on the interface. Interaction Designers are user-goal oriented, so they are not brought in for static webpages. They are most useful in situations where a user interaction is required. This could be as simple as pushing a button, or as complex managing air traffic.
Nestled firmly in the middle of UX, UI, and Visual Design, Interaction Designers work on design strategy outlining who they are designing for, and what the users goals are. Interaction designers are typically informed through iterative cycles of user research, so they work closely with a researcher or team.
1. User research focuses on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations through observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies. This field of research aims at improving the usability of products by incorporating experimental and observational research methods to guide the design, development, and refinement of a product.
2. Not a designer.
User researchers are not designers. User researchers are often formally trained in cognitive psychology, sociology, market research, or a similar field. User Researchers employ various qualitative and quantitative research methodologies based on the problem they are trying to solve. User researchers will perform usability testing, but they are involved at all stages of product design, and heavily utilized upfront to inform designs.
For Your Team
Each designer has their own specific sets of skills and knowledge. Finding one person to slot into your product team who can do all of the above well is so rare that it almost never happens.
Decide what is the most useful for your product now and hire for that, or partner with a consultancy that can provide a team made up of people skilled in each area. That way you’re getting all the skills and less than what it costs to hire five people on full time.