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UI Design Careers: An Expert Shares 5 Things You’ll Want to Know
User interface (UI) design is at the nexus of technology, psychology and graphic design. It’s all about creating interfaces — such as websites, apps, and devices — that are beautiful but also intuitive and user-friendly.
UI design is a subset of User Experience (UX) design, which looks at the overall user journey. In the last few years, web design roles have become less common, either fading away or merging into UI/UX design roles.
UI designers create the visual layout and style of the digital products we use every day and are indispensable in the design of any new technology or digital product.
As the technology sector booms, so do the demand for talented UI designers. So this is a great area to get into if you’re looking to future-proof your creative career.
We spoke to UI designer Sarah Ballock, who’s been a designer for fifteen years: 4 years in UI, and in web design before that. After working in a variety of roles and companies, including Jeanswest and Mecca, she has just stepped up to a new role as Design Lead at an education marketing company. As well as designing, she now oversees all aspects of UI and UX design, as well as mentoring and coaching junior designers.
Sarah offers five insights into the unique challenges and rewards of being a UI designer and shares what kind of person will thrive in this fascinating, creative career.
1. You’ll have more impact than you think
The most rewarding part of being a UI designer, Sarah says, is knowing the influence that your work has. “We have a lot more impact than people outside design might think.”
For a user, an intuitive, easy-to-navigate design can spell the difference between accomplishing their goal or walking away in frustration. “You want to be able to look at something and instantly know what to do. You want it to be really intuitive and clear.” And the user’s experience, in turn, determines whether a product — and by extension, your organization — is successful in its aims.
“You do get to be really creative, as well,” she says. Creativity plays a big part in job satisfaction for Sarah.
“If you’re a creative person, I think it’s always rewarding to have a creative outlet.”
2. You need to be quick on your feet
Working in the fluid world of tech, no two days are the same. “It’s definitely not Groundhog Day.” On any given day you might find yourself bouncing between being “on the tools,” and collaborating with your other team members. “It’s a good mix,” Sarah says.
A typical day can include:
- Attending briefing meetings
- Collaborating with team members
- Researching design trends
- Conducting competitor design research
- Building prototypes and wireframes
3. A balance between confidence and openness is key
Thinking back to the beginning of her career, Sarah reflects, “I wish I had known just how subjective design is.” As a new designer, you may have an idea that there is one gold standard for design: a correct approach. But, she says, “Everyone can have a completely different opinion on what they think ‘good design’ or ‘successful design’ is.”
She encourages new designers to “always back yourself” and have confidence in their designs. And while feedback is a crucial part of the design process, you must balance being open to feedback with listening to your intuition.
“I’m doing a course at the moment, and there was a really great quote this morning,” she laughs. “‘Not all feedback is a gift.’”
There is a myriad of design disciplines, some of which rely more heavily on subjective tastes. But there’s a reason that UI design stands for User Interface Design: the user comes first. “I think that’s the great thing about user experience design. Because at the end of the day, the user will determine what is a good design and what is successful design thinking.”
4. It’s more than just the visuals
If Sarah could go back in time, and tell her younger self one piece of advice regarding this career path, she says: “I would go back and tell myself that you don’t just want to design something so that it looks good visually — you want to design something that enables a good user experience.”
This is the main challenge of UI design work, Sarah explains: putting yourself in the user’s shoes. While researching and conducting interviews are invaluable tools for a UI designer, there comes a point where your empathy comes into play.
“You’re also trying to basically get inside the user’s mind and try to understand what they’re looking for.”
And with this kind of imaginative guesswork, “it’s very easy to get it really wrong,” she says. “But I think that’s also the beauty of testing and getting feedback and then making improvements.”
5. You’ll need creativity — but also an interest in human behaviour
UI design is all about the interactions between humans and interfaces. It’s a creative, analytical career that would suit “anyone that is creative, that has an interest in human behaviour and an eye for detail”, Sarah says.
You’ll need to bring empathy to the table when designing, and be open to changes. “Sometimes you might think it’s a great idea. And the user will tell you: it’s not.”
As such, a good UI designer is passionate not only about design and technology but most importantly the human element — including why we humans do what we do. Sarah recommends a career in UI design if you’re “someone that’s really interested in how people interact with interfaces and designs”.
Ready to get started?
With the right skills, your design career will be perfectly poised to take advantage of the thriving tech sector. Get started by investigating UI courses today.
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