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What Is a UX Designer: Qualifications, Skills, & Functions

A user experience designer is not focused on the minutiae of web design. Rather, as the name of the position suggests, a UX designer is tasked with developing, guiding, and optimizing the experience users have when they interact with a website or a piece of software. UX designers are in high demand these days, and that trend is expected to grow.

To qualify as a UX designer, you will need a strong portfolio exhibiting web development projects you have worked on where you delivered valuable results. A lot of people are learning UX design independently by listening to podcasts and reading books. Others learn on the job, filling out roles tangential to other UX designers. Another route is to take a UX design course or complete a relevant program.

If you’re interested in becoming a UX designer or learning more about this job, you’re in the right place. In this article, we explain what a UX designer is and what it takes to become one. Read on to learn more or navigate the article using the links below.

What is UX design?

UX design is a persistent process. It begins with guiding and participating in the early stages of development, wire-framing, brainstorming, and so on. But it persists through the functional life of a website, software package, app, and so on. UX design is about the experience, after all, and experience only matters over a series of events. Therefore, the job of a UX designer is not finished when the product goes online.

That means as a UX designer, part of your job will be to test the product, run teams of testers, and discuss the user experience with actual users in the real world—but even that is not the end of the story. You will need to perform research and look at examples of your website or software produced by the competition in your industry in order to measure their effectiveness against your product and develop adjustments.

In other words, you are not designing the product, the software, the site, or the application. You are designing the experience that users have. You might think of UX design as a kind of reverse behavioral conditioning. You are looking for input from users and using that input to give them what they want, while at the same time making sales conversions more likely to happen. 88% of online users are less likely to visit a site again after having a bad experience. The job of a UX designer is to ensure that users do have a good experience.

88% of users are less likely to visit a site again after having a bad experience.

In short, you are designing an experience that makes customers more likely to make a purchase. Because we are focused on the experience of the user, the idea is that we make the journey down the sales funnel as enjoyable as possible.

What is the difference between graphic design and UX design?

One common analogy is to say that a graphic designer is like an engineer, and a UX designer is like an architect. This comparison will hold true insofar as a UX designer is less concerned with how a feature is built than the effect it has on the user.

differences between graphic designers and UX designers

A graphic designer is tasked with creating visual design assets. They are focused on developing on-brand imagery, effects, and creative assets. The scope of graphic design projects is limited to sets of graphic assets. Their job will be guided by the ideas of the UX designer, who is influential in deciding what a product or interface should do and how it should feel.

The UX designer is interested chiefly in the experience of the user. They engineer the user experience by analyzing metrics, testing products, and producing optimization through a multidisciplinary methodology. The effectiveness of the UX designer depends on his or her ability to see the effect of a given digital asset across time and across sets of user demographics. The UX designer needs to understand how the products or services being sold fit into the lives of the people that use them and develop a user experience that resonates with the lifestyle and needs of the user.

What is a UX designer?

The role of a UX designer is to make the experience of using a website, program, app, or other software accessible and enjoyable. While it is possible for the UX designer to do the job from a completely experience-oriented and subjective standpoint, the more development skills he or she is able to bring to the table, the better.

The primary role of a UX designer is to design and test systems and interfaces, and to have the knowledge and insight to produce meaningful optimization ideas. Suppose, for example, we are UX testing a sales page. In this situation, we will likely scroll through listings, click on listings, and see how the transitions and interactive features respond. We will be looking at the images, deciding if they convey what needs to be conveyed and determine whether the pages are visually pleasing.

A UX designer might perform a purchase to assess how smoothly the transaction runs. Overall, the UX designer is concerned with the look and feel of the website or software. Their job is to look for aspects of the user experience that make moving toward a point of purchase or performing some other desired action less enjoyable and less likely, and to improve these weaknesses.

The UX designer will bring metrics, data, and industry and marketing knowledge to bear on the decisions they make. This role is a hybrid role occupying a space somewhere between management and engineering. The more you know about business, marketing, coding, and design, the more effective you will be in this role.

In short, a UX designer might be seen as a kind of troubleshooter. Their job is to identify areas of the user experience that make the user less likely to perform the desired action and improve them. In this way, the UX designer is a kind of marketing professional, so their knowledge of user profiles and demographics is critical.

A successful UX designer might focus on adding in features that enhance the feeling of quality about a website. A good way to do this is to add popular features like, for instance, an image carousel. Some UX pros will focus on UX design for website carousels as a simple way of sprucing up a website.

What is the difference between a UX designer and a UI designer?

User interface design is a subset of user experience design. The UI is the expressed digital artifacts with which users actively interact. As you read this, you are looking at and dealing with a user interface. Basically, UI design can be considered a drafting phase of UX design.

That is not to say that a UI designer is less important than a UX designer. A UI designer is likely to have a much more technical base of knowledge than a UX designer. Again, a UI designer is more like an engineer and a UX designer is more like an architect.

But a UI designer is also more specialized. To use a construction project as an example, a UI designer might be the person who does the framing, installs the cabinets, and builds out windows. The UI designer creates windows, buttons, and text fields. The user experience is something that they will take into consideration with everything they do.

The UX designer, by contrast, is more of a big picture type of thinker. They are concerned not only with how the user feels about the experience but whether the way the user feels is good for the company's bottom line.

Thinking in terms of career path, a good UX designer is likely to be a former UI designer, or someone with the technical skills to know what is practicable while layering on management, marketing, and industry knowledge to develop full spectrum digital assets. The difference between UX and UI is about scope.

What does a UX designer do?

Up to this point, you might find that the description of a UX designer has been rather vague. That's because a fully qualified and authorized UX designer is a hybrid of different specialties. Ideally, they will not get too rooted in any one of them. Rather they will apply high-level expertise to curate an optimal user experience that serves the needs of the company while keeping the customer engaged and happy.

A well-rounded UX designer:

  • Conducts user research and evaluates user feedback
  • Builds accurate user personas
  • Influences the info architecture of a digital asset
  • Designs user flows and wireframes
  • Builds prototypes
  • Conducts use testing sessions

As you can see, there is a lot of management of the development phases involved in the life of a UX designer. At their core, they are a UI developer. But the best UX designers are people with a solid background in the nuts and bolts of web development who understand marketing and research.

What are the key skills of a UX designer?

A great UX designer is highly skilled and capable of digging into the nuts and bolts of a project and turning out meaningful results. But when they are at their best, they work with a team of skilled professionals who follow their direction to produce a product that stands out from the competition. That is what a UX designer is really all about. Here's a quick look at the basic skill set for a good UX designer.

Skills every UX designer should have

Hard skills:

  • Research
  • Wireframing
  • Prototyping
  • Writing
  • Visual communication

Soft skills:

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Project management

Industry Skills:

  • Wireframing and prototyping
  • UX writing
  • Visual communication & UI
  • User testing

Something that a lot of people fail to understand is the use of empathy in this role. What we're talking about is the empathic ability to intuit, sense, and prognosticate about what the end user will feel when interacting with the product. It's not about being sweet, but rather functional intuition.

The soft skills you will need for the UX designer role are largely temperament based. That means if you're not an empathetic person, UX design is probably not for you. Collaboration skills can be learned, but they are talent-intensive. The industry skills are largely learned skills involving real-world computer knowledge.

Final notes

To some people, the job of a UX designer looks like a cushy management job, while to others it looks like the role of a hard-nosed sales management executive who worked as a coder for 30 years. In reality, it could be either of those things, but it doesn't have to be. A good UX designer is someone who knows what an appealing user experience looks and feels like.

There's an old Japanese saying that goes, "It's better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war." A UX designer might say, "It's better to be a programmer in the marketing department than a marketer in the programming department."

Frequently asked questions

What is the salary of a UX designer?

The pay a UX designer can expect to earn will depend on where they work and what the company can afford to pay. Nevertheless, they are considered highly valuable to leaders who understand digital marketing and the position can be very lucrative. According to Glassdoor, the average UX designer salary as of 2021 is $117,371.

The best way to maximize your earnings is to prove your ability to make money for the company you work for by developing tangible assets and applying accurate metrics that lead to sales and real bottom line numbers. A strong portfolio is key to playing at the higher levels. To start, strong thought leadership in digital brand identity is a good way to convince decision makers that you are the person for the job.

How do I become a UX designer?

The best way to get hired as a UX designer is to have a background in digital marketing and/or web development. You will need a portfolio that shows you have been involved in projects that produced digital assets that proved successful.

The good news is that there are a lot of different angles from which to approach this mode of expertise. You can turn to online resources to learn how to be a UX designer, take a relevant course at a local university or community college, or even apply for an internship that can help you learn the ropes when starting out in the industry. Also, if you want to learn more about what goes into UX design, make sure to read our other article about tips for great UX design.

Do user experience designers have to know how to code?

An architect does not have to know how to frame out the skeleton of a house, but it helps. Likewise, a successful UX designer does not need to know how to write code, but it helps.

The strongest route to a career in UX design is probably through web development, and web developers generally do need to know how to code. What you do need is a keen understanding of how a digital product should work, feel, and perform. And you need marketing expertise to offer insights that will make the product more valuable to the company by giving users what they want.

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