The ultimate guide to digital design roles

Design has never been more important to the success of digital products, but when it comes to finding the right designers, many companies struggle.

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Design has never been more important to the success of digital products, but when it comes to finding the right designers, many companies struggle.

One of the biggest reasons for this: they don’t know which kind of designers they need.

Design has never been more important to the success of digital products, but when it comes to finding the right designers, many companies struggle. One of the biggest reasons for this: they don’t know which kind of designers they need.

This is understandable. The number and sophistication of devices and digital platforms means that design is only getting more complex and specialised, so figuring out the people and skills needed can be tricky.

To help navigate the digital design landscape, here’s a guide to common roles and what they do.

Graphic designer

At the highest level, graphic designers are responsible for creating 2D visual assets that effectively convey information. Graphic designers come in many flavours.

Some specialise. For instance, it wouldn’t be unusual to find a graphic designer who has focused on a particular type of work in a particular medium, such as marketing collateral for print.

Others are generalists and capable of producing materials for both print and digital mediums.

Visual designer

The visual designer title is often used interchangeably with the graphic designer title, but in reality visual design is focused exclusively on the look and feel aspects of design – colours, sizes, placement.

Many specialist design roles require a solid understanding of visual design principles. Because visual design knowledge is required by so many specialties, it’s more common to see companies hiring for specialist roles than generalist visual designers.

UX designer

User experience (UX) designers are concerned with the overall user experience of a digital product. This is broad role with a significant amount of responsibility.

UX designers typically perform tasks such as research and user interviews, information architecture definition, wireframing, and oversight of interaction and visual design.

Put simply, the UX designer is the person who owns the user experience from a conceptual perspective.

UX designers frequently work closely with product managers, who own products from a business requirements perspective.

UI designer

Whereas a UX designer has the responsibility of owning the entire user experience, a user interface (UI) designer is concerned with the visual design components of a user experience.

UI designers are typically tasked with creating medium and high-fidelity mockups, as well as style guides, for digital interfaces.

UX/UI designer

Because so much of the “experience” part of a digital product is delivered through its interfaces, it’s quite common to see hybrid UX/UI designers – designers who are expected to have the skills to implement the visual aspects of the user experiences they conceptualize.

Not surprisingly, finding an individual who can competently play both roles can be difficult so when evaluating hybrid UX/UI designers, it’s very important to thoroughly evaluate their skills and backgrounds.

Interaction designer

As the name suggests, in the digital context, an interaction designer focuses exclusively on how humans interact with products. This role primarily entails understanding user goals and behavior.

While interaction design is a true specialty and larger organizations may hire for roles that are exclusively focused on interaction design, interaction is a key part of UX and UI design, so UX and UI designers are frequently expected to cover the interaction designer role.

Product designer

In a world where user experience is king and UX designers frequently have conceptual ownership of products, the product designer title has become more nebulous.

In some cases, the title is used to describe a UX designer, or a UX/UI designer. In other cases, product design is a broad role that encompasses product management, UX and even rapid prototyping using HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Web designer

A web designer is, obviously, a designer focused on designing websites. Web designers are typically tasked with creating high-fidelity mockups for web pages that developers can use for implementation.

Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t. Because websites are constantly becoming more interactive and dynamic, a web designer may need to wear multiple design hats.

For instance, designing a complex web application might require a hefty dose of UX and UI design. For this reason, when building an interactive or complex website, it’s important to evaluate whether or not you have a web designer capable of meeting your needs, or whether you need multiple specialist designers.

This blog post was originally published on Econsultancy.

Comments (2)
  • Howard Stein 11th March 2016 at 12:23 am

    This sums up how blurred the lines are. A good graphic designer can do pretty much all of this. But the job descriptions, for some years now, expect her to do all roles alone. Which often means employers have little idea of the teamwork needed, which means … more hiring! And this is just the surface of the problem. Hiring designers with only two or three years of professional experience means they have not LIVED life, and must depend on assumptions and guesswork as to what a user needs.

    • Brad Smith 17th May 2016 at 12:55 pm

      A good point, but suggesting designers with 3 year’s experience have to rely on guesswork is a bit short-sighted. Often they themselves are the user, and have been the user for a number of years. Comparative lack of experience doesn’t mean young designers cannot understand the needs of the user.