UX designer jobs: User experience vs Interaction vs UI vs Product Designer
What are the roles and responsibilities of a UX Designer, and how do UX roles differ from other similar titles like Product Designer? I think we should find out.
So what is the difference between these designer roles and which UX role should I apply to?
It can be overwhelming to sort out various job titles for designers. Titles change often as the field evolves. I can confidently say this, as I’ve had most of these titles throughout my career.
The roles and responsibilities of all of these UX roles typically include the following:
- Responsible for the end-to-end experience for users
- Craft wireframes, flows, or any other deliverables that support the experience
- Translate business and technical requirements into a usable design
- Create prototypes to bring design visions to life
- Align cross-functional partners around a design solution
To better understand the UX roles, let’s talk about the history of Visual and Interaction Design.
Visual Designer and Interaction Designer
Before design systems, Interaction Designers and Visual Designers were two people working on the same interface but with a different focus.
Every project had an Interaction Designer and a Visual Designer who would pop into the project right before delivery to polish the design.
Interaction designers produced wireframes, flows, and schematics, while visual designers focused on branding, color, layouts, and iconography to enhance the information on the page.
This approach was a bit waterfall in that the interaction designer would start the design and hand it off to the visual designer. Still, the two designers usually sat together to discuss the plan and what information needed to be emphasized with color.
The skill sets of both roles were evident, and in most cases, there needed to be more overlap. It was also assumed that most people couldn’t be equally good in interaction and visual design.
Most people are probably stronger in one of these skills, but it isn’t fair to say that people couldn’t learn to balance their skills by taking UX courses or understanding more. But I digress.
Here’s a real-life example of what that looked like. The image on the left is the wireframe with the interaction designer’s general layout and actions.
The image on the right was after a visual designer added color and tidied up the space to give more prominence to certain elements. Note the spacing and alignment are cleaned up in the graphical version.
That’s also why “wireframe” explicitly referred to grayscale designs. The design deliverable for Interaction Designers was usually a set of grayscale wireframes that mostly showed what the layout should be like, but mostly how the experience should behave.
Visual designers would take those grayscale wireframes, add color, and sometimes change the layout if it made sense for the experience.
Visual designers would also create pixel specs indicating all the padding and spacing between elements to hand off to the engineers. It was laborious work.
Thankfully, tools like Figma have helped feature some of this labor, and design systems do the heavy lifting.
UX Wireframe example, no visual design
Visual designed UX wireframe
The maturity of design systems collapsed into a single role of UX Designer or Product Designer since most design systems have visuals embedded within the components (i.e., padding and color).
Design systems also negate the need to hand off grayscale wireframes, since there’s no need to officially hand off to a visual designer for typical digital products. (Unless you’re in a specific industry like Automotive or Space, there’s likely still a need for a specialized visual designer)
However, in some companies, these roles are separated if projects require specialized skill sets. (Especially in agency environments)
UX role: Interaction designer
The Interaction Designer title is common and has been around for a while. Interaction in the title refers to the interaction between the user and the system.
If you’ve encountered the term Human-Computer Interaction, this encompasses how interaction designers think about designing for people in various contexts and environments.
The interaction is captured through a wireframe or prototype, translating business and user requirements into an interface design.
Modern interaction designers go deep in interaction but are still expected to work within a design system and compose layouts that make the experience usable to ship products.
Interaction designers can think through system flows and interaction states and simplify complex experiences using a user-centered design approach.
If you consider something simple like the interaction that happens when someone taps on a button -this would be the interaction. Navigating where the user goes after tap, how the user knows a tap was registered in the form of feedback.
Interaction designers design experiences based on interactions the user makes.
Their skill set is best used in technical spaces- like a complex mobile app rather than a marketing website, which relies on strong branding and visual elements.
Interaction Designer is a common title used at larger companies like Google and Apple.
UX role: UI designer or UI/UX designer
This might need to be clarified, but UI designer (User Interface Designer) was an older title that was an alternate title for interaction designer.
Somewhere along the way, the title referred to the visual aspect of the user interface, what you would consider the ‘visual’ or ‘branding’ layer. The UI designer title was widespread before the UX designer title became commonplace.
A newer variant is the UI/UX or UX/UI title. The focus on the UI part of the title signals that the person applying should have strong visual design skills.
Some reasons for this are that the role might require more than just working with typical design system components, and you might be creating different visual layouts or need to work with non-standard grids, develop new forms, or scale typography across different scenarios.
Designers have different skill sets, and sometimes, people excel at the underlying system and IA design but aren’t as strong on the visual side. And vice versa, some designers are very strong on the visual side and love to get into the visual details of the design.
The tricky part here is that in most cases, the role will still do the same things as expected from a UX designer, translating business requirements into interfaces.
Depending on the industry, the role might have a different focus. For example, in gaming, UI designers are more akin to an artist, but in tech roles, it’s more like interaction designers, UX designers, or product designers.
UX role: UX Designer
UX Designer or User Experience Designer is the same as an Interaction Designer, the same as a Product Designer. Do you notice a theme ;)?
Although there’s no difference in responsibilities between Interaction Designer and UX Designer, the UX Designer title, in my opinion, better expresses the more prominent role designers have in shaping the end-to-end system.
As a UX Designer, you are responsible for the entire experience beyond user interface elements. For example, how the user onboards onto the product to their customer support experience.
In the past, the UX Designer skillset mainly encompassed interaction design, strategy, and systems thinking.
Interaction design has a lot of roots in Human-Computer Interaction, and being able to think through states and flow is an essential skill for any UX Designer or Interaction Designer.
Problem-solving using a user-centered approach and translating research insights into a usable design solution are core skills for UX Designers.
User experience designer (UX Designer) is a common title used at companies like SAP, Apple, and Adobe.
UX designers’ core responsibilities are developing wireframes, translating business requirements into usable interfaces, and working with engineers and product managers to deliver designs.
While it might seem like a UX Designer doesn’t focus on visual elements, that wouldn’t necessarily be true. As mentioned above, with the advent of design systems, the UX Designer works within design systems and is expected to produce layouts and interface-level design.
Sometimes, people think UX Designers design flows and systems, but they should be solid at laying out a usable design using a design system.
UX role: Product Designer
Product Designer is a new-ish title for user experience, rooted in traditional product design or industrial design. Traditional industrial designers design physical products like shoes, hardware, and everything in between, like tents.
One of the most famous industrial designers of our time is Jony Ive, the former Chief Design Officer of Apple. Ive designed many popular hardware products like the Mac Book and iPhone.
In the tech industry, designers design digital products that are either software or web-based.
The product designer title reflects modern practices in tech in that designers should handle all aspects of design, including visual design and interaction design, as a generic skill set rather than a specialization.
Design systems cover most use cases, but for situations that don’t cover all of them, the product designer should be able to craft a visually usable design to fill the gaps.
For example, it’s common to have one-off situations where you may have to create a new layout, an illustration, or some other highly visual activity.
If you have a command of the visual design skill set, this shouldn’t be an issue. If you lack visual design skills, doing this might be challenging.
This is why it’s essential to balance your skills to ensure that you can tackle any challenge that comes your way.
However, In some organizations, product designer titles reflect the visual design side and are responsible only for design systems.
Developing and creating design systems is a different skill set, so you’ll want to check the role responsibilities for the job requirements.
Companies like Meta, LinkedIn, and Pinterest use the product designer title.
The field is adopting this title more, but since product designers have traditionally focused on industrial product design, for example, Jony Ive’s role as an industrial designer for Apple’s physical products, it might take a lot of work to adopt it fully.
Which UX role should you apply to?
Apply to all of these UX-related job titles.
I’ve had every job title on this list. I’ve been a UI designer, a UX designer, a Product designer, and an Interaction designer.
I had the same core responsibilities: producing wireframes using user-centered design methodologies and distilling complex technology into simple, usable experiences.
I’ve even worked on design systems and created design system components and patterns, but I didn’t have an ‘official’ design system title.
I’ve also been a manager, but I still had a “Lead” title rather than “Manager.”
Titles are highly dependent on the company and where the industry is.
Companies have slightly different needs in the kind of skills they’re looking for in their designers.
For example, Meta requires a more robust visual design skill set, and candidates are assessed on their visual design abilities in addition to interaction design. Other companies won’t focus on visual design but will want a robust interaction design skill set.
The team and project will also dictate the type of skills that are needed. For example, if the company hires someone to design a database builder, the emphasis would be more on interaction rather than visual design.
You should feel comfortable applying to any of these job titles to get into UX. The job requirements should list anything specific you need to know outside the scope of general responsibilities.
Generally speaking, these roles will be similar in the day-to-day work, except for highly visual design-focused responsibilities like design systems.
Your career in design will be an ongoing learning process. Most people have strengths in some areas and aren’t as strong in others. That’s okay! You can fine-tune and upskill both on the job and in your spare time.
I struggled to understand visual design; my core skill set was interaction design. Interaction design came naturally, but I worked to make something look good.
I did a ton of tutorials, studied good design, consulted with people with strong visual design skills, and eventually found my way.
This difficulty is part of the reason I teach design. I know it’s learnable, and I know that while it’s not always easy to learn, if you keep working at it, you will get it.
Apply to those jobs, even if one of your skills could be more robust. Put your best foot forward and lead with your strengths. You’ll be able to learn the rest later.
I hope that helps! Let me know how your job-finding process is going.
Job Interview Strategies for UX Designers
Nail your UX interview with this course focused on the UX interview process. Learn about the whiteboarding UX challenge, common questions that are asked and more.
About Diane Cronenwett
Diane Cronenwett teaches UX courses on advanced UX topics and foundational topics, and has led design experience projects for top-tier Fortune 500 companies based in Silicon Valley (Meta, Amazon, and PayPal to name just a few). Diane is passionate about sharing her knowledge with UX professionals and newcomers to the field to grow their skills in UX, and get to the next level in their career.