Product, UI, or UX Designer? A Guide to Design Titles
By Raymond Stone on September 28, 2017
“What is an interaction designer?” The inevitable follow-up question I often received regarding my profession back when I dated. My dates expressed the confusion common to those outside of the design industry. Throughout the Web exists numerous debate threads headlined with titles such as, “Difference Between UI and UX,” or, “UI vs. UX vs. IxD vs. Visual,” and so on. I will attempt to clear up that confusion and focus on design terms within the digital world. With the exception of UI Designer and UX Designer, I avoided using any of the words in the titles within their respective definitions.
In its most generic form, a Designer crafts solutions to problems. As a designer in the digital field I now avoid referring to myself as a designer in its most generic form because too many people immediately assume I design clothing. This comes as no surprise considering the multiple industries that use the term, “Designer,” including but not limited to: architecture, digital, fashion, film, and furniture. Within the digital world, a Designer usually dabbles in a bit of everything from creating marketing collateral to building visual comps for responsive websites to putting together presentations for internal use.
Perhaps the most widely known subset of design to those outside of the design community, a Graphic Designer uses a combination of shapes, typography, color, and imagery to optimize the aesthetic communication of a brand or message. A Graphic Designer may work in a wide variety of media, including but not limited to: signage, branding, marketing, and digital. Within the digital world, a Graphic Designer focuses on branding, online marketing collateral, social media graphics, designing UI elements, and creating presentations for internal use.
Now considered outdated by many professionals outside of the freelance world, this title dominated the digital world before the rise of “UI” and “UX,” though I have witnessed a recent slight, yet quiet comeback. A Web Designer plans and then builds the front-end of a website. Tasks may include information architecture, creating icons, building visual comps, sourcing content, front-end coding, using frameworks, utilizing content management systems, and sometimes even back-end coding.
One of the more generic titles, a Digital Designer creates elements for content that involves the use of computer technology. Within the digital world, the Digital Designer does everything a Designer does, but often focuses on a specific subset of design depending on the organization. Based on responsibilities a Digital Designer may resemble a Visual Designer in one company but resemble more of a Product Designer in another company.
The hypothetical love child of a Graphic Designer and a User Interface Designer, a Visual Designer uses a combination of shapes, typography, color, and imagery to optimize the aesthetic communication of a product. The Visual Designer uses design principles to set tones and create moods for products and marketing collateral.
Interaction Designer (IxD)
Among the design titles I need to explain most often to others, an Interaction Designer (abbreviated as “IxD”) creates the functionality of the elements in a user interface. The creation of this functionality includes building wireframes and/or visual mockups at various levels of fidelity to either annotate interactions or demonstrate interactions using prototypes. Designers and/or front-end developers will build prototypes using either a prototyping tool (e.g. InVision) or front-end code. An IxD often builds information architecture such as sitemaps and user flows to build a comprehensive map of the where interactions can take a user and which interactions must occur to take the user to a specific location within an application. Many people conflate Interaction Designer with User Experience Designer, likely due to the fact that most organizations have one but not both. A few large corporations like Google have both.
User Interface Designer (UI Designer)
A User Interface Designer (AKA “UI Designer”) creates the visual elements that enable the user to interact with an item of software or hardware. The UI Designer will use design software such as Sketch, Illustrator, and Photoshop to create UI elements (e.g. icons) and build visual mockups. This involves the use of color, iconography, typography, and imagery to make the interface as attractive and intuitive as possible. Like the Visual Designer, the UI Designer uses design principles to set tones and create moods for products with the ultimate goals to most effectively deliver content and communicate interactions to the user.
User Experience Designer (UX Designer)
Often conflated with either UI Designer or Interaction Designer, a User Experience Designer (AKA “UX Designer) focuses on delivering the best possible emotions to targeted users. The UX Designer seeks to understand the user’s goals along with the obstacles the user faces on the way to achieving those goals in order to deliver the most practical solutions. This involves user research, creating user personas, developing information architecture (especially user flows and users journeys), building wireframes of various levels of fidelity, prototyping, and testing prototypes and early product releases. This designer practices user experience design, also known as UX but less commonly referred to as UXD, UED, and XD. I brand myself as a User Experience Designer, though I have skills and experience that reach every title on this list.
Product Designer (UI/UX Designer)
The term Product Designer likely evokes thoughts among many of what we today refer to as an Industrial Designer, an inventor drafting up CAD models of future physical items before bringing them to life through series of drilling, screwing, hammering, welding, sewing, gluing and/or cutting away at raw materials. Now the most common design title within the digital sector of the tech industry, a Product Designer holistically creates deliverables throughout the lifecycle of a project. This involves creating both interactions and visuals for a product as well as occasionally contributing to the marketing of that product. Replacing the once more common UI/UX Designer title, a Product Designer possesses a general understanding and working knowledge of every other design title without requiring deep expertise in any one area. Deliverables include sitemaps, user flows, wireframes, visual mockups, prototypes, and more.
Additional design titles exist within the tech industry. Some companies rename common titles to conform to their cultures. For example, IBM has a position called Software Designer, which appears to perform the duties of a Product Designer. Other companies combine common titles, resulting in uncommon titles such as Product UX Designer, UX Interaction Designer, or Visual UI Designer, but these never deviate far from the duties listed above.
I hope this helps and I am sure I will hear from you otherwise. I hope to hear from you either way. As a designer by trade, I live on feedback!
Thumbnail and Header: Josefa nDiaz on Unsplash