A Guide to Understanding UX/UI Design Skills

A group of web designer collaborating on designs

Do you have a passion for design, but you’re not quite sure how to turn your passion into a career path? You might consider earning a digital design degree and pursuing a career in UX/UI. A UX/UI designer is a professional who plays an important role in the development of a company’s products and how those products are marketed to consumers. 

An Overview of UX/UI Design

The acronyms “UX” and “UI” are often used interchangeably. There is quite a bit of overlap between the two specializations, and they are both design skills, but they are not quite the same thing. “UX” refers to user experience, whereas “UI” refers to user interface.

Both of these subfields of design involve creating a seamless, pleasant experience for customers as they navigate a company’s products or services. However, they focus on different aspects of the customer experience. When thinking broadly about UX/UI, it’s helpful to see them as complementary skillsets rather than as competing specializations.

Understanding UX Design

UX, or user experience, is about ensuring that the customer’s journey is as frictionless and easy as possible. UX focuses primarily on the functionality of design.

Let’s look at the hypothetical example of Maggie who needs to hire a senior caregiver for her elderly mom, Juanita, who has diabetes. Maggie goes to a website that has a compilation of profiles of senior caregivers all over the U.S. She needs to narrow down her search to find caregivers near Juanita, and she also wants to find only experienced caregivers who are knowledgeable about diabetes management.

But Maggie quickly gets frustrated because she cannot easily find the search tools that would allow her to narrow down the list of available caregivers according to their location, experience and areas of expertise. She ends up going to a different website instead because the first one was too difficult to use.

Clearly, the owners of the first website did not hire a UX designer. If a UX designer had worked on that website, they would have ensured that it was easy for users to find what they needed quickly and without getting frustrated.

UX design seems like a relatively new phenomenon, developed specifically for websites and apps. However, the concept of user experience actually predates the computer era, although the concept wasn’t given a specific name until 1995 by Don Norman.1

Don Norman was a cognitive scientist who joined Apple in the early 90s. He coined his own job title — User Experience Architect.1 In his view, this term encompassed every aspect of a user’s experience with a particular system. The user experience includes the product itself, the interface, industrial design, graphics, physical interactions and even the user manual.

At Apple, the philosophy is that UX guides a customer along the buying journey not just with a streamlined, easy-to-use website, but also with highly functional Apple stores.2 Every part of the buyer journey is important. In other words, UX design isn’t purely a digital skill, although UX designers do focus primarily on websites and apps.

Exploring UI Design

When you visit a library, there are a number of factors you might consider before you select a book. You’ll likely head to a specific section dedicated to the genre you enjoy, such as science fiction. While browsing the titles, you may search for a specific author, consider the titles and read the book descriptions.

Although people are often cautioned not to judge a book by its cover, in actuality, they often do. If you find the book cover to be visually appealing, you may be more likely to check that book out, even if it’s in a genre you do not typically read.

This analogy highlights the importance of user interface design. UI design is all about the visual aesthetic of a digital product. It encompasses a website or app’s typography, images, font, layout and all other visual elements.

For instance, let’s say you have recently browsed the web in search of information about digital design degree options. You find one website that appears highly informative, yet the text is condensed into one very long block, with little white space to give your eyes a break.

Even worse, the background is black and the text is white, which might give you a headache after a while. You decide that it’s not worth reading through the information, even if it might be useful, and so you click away and look elsewhere. That website had poor UI design.

UX vs UI Design: What’s the Difference?

UX/UI consists of complementary skillsets that work together to create the best possible experience for the user in terms of both functionality and visual aesthetic. They are related concepts and there is a great deal of overlap, but they aren’t the same thing.

Returning to the book analogy, UI design encompasses the book cover, as well as the font and layout. UX design involves the functional elements of the book, such as its character development and plot points.

Another way to think of UX/UI is with the concept of building construction. UX design would refer to the functional elements of the house, including the framing, plumbing, wiring and HVAC systems. In contrast, UI design would refer to the paint colors and the style of flooring or kitchen cabinets.

As you can see, UX and UI work together harmoniously for the maximum benefit to the user. Both UX and UI are essential to the success of a company because no company can survive if its customers are dissatisfied.

Earning a Digital Design Degree to Become a UX/UI Designer

If you enjoy design and you’re interested in UX/UI, you might think about turning your passion into a career. First, you should know that most UX/UI professionals specialize in either UX or UI—not both. Smaller companies may be more likely to hire someone who has both skillsets.

In general, it’s a good idea to have functioning skillsets in both areas, but choose one to specialize in. How can you choose between them? Consider the following:

UX designers are:

  • Analytical thinkers who like to consider how the smaller details fit into the larger picture
  • Project managers who take on a variety of roles
  • Strategic designers who research the market and the product, and then test their ideas over and over again

UI designers are:

  • Decision-makers who can take someone else’s concept and turn it into a beautiful product
  • Intuitive thinkers who understand how to create designs that are universally appealing
  • Skillful professionals who are always willing to revise their work according to feedback

Don’t worry if you aren’t quite sure yet which path you want to follow. A digital design degree will prepare you to pursue either specialization, so you’ll have plenty of time to make up your mind as you work through your studies.

Fuel your passion for the aesthetic element by earning a digital design degree at Grand Canyon University. The College of Fine Arts and Production is pleased to offer the Bachelor of Arts in Digital Design with an Emphasis in Web Design degree program for aspiring UX/UI designers. During the course of your studies, you’ll learn many transferrable skills that apply to a wide range of professions and industries. To learn more about joining our Christian learning community, click on Request Info at the top of your screen.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.


Scroll back to top