This piece is a part of ‘The Career Strategist’ blog series
On the surface, the meaning behind the word “designer” may seem obvious. It’s a person who designs things, right? They make everything pretty. They wear all black. They add a little magic that turns the bare-bones of what software engineers create into something visually appealing to the user. However, when meeting a designer in person, it’s often unclear what kind of work they actually do, especially when they don’t mention their area of emphasis and simply refer to themselves as a “designer.” In an effort to demystify these creative creatures, I’ve written this quick reference guide to disambiguate what design is and which types of designers you may encounter as you go through your career in tech.
Design is more than just making things look aesthetically pleasing. At its core, design is about problem-solving. Designers work with engineering and product teams to identify a problem and brainstorm what features and functions could be used to solve it. Design is strategic, as designers are involved in the end-to-end process, from user research to completion.
Brand designers work to communicate a company’s mission, ideals, and values through their brand. Brand is an elusive term that touches on all parts of a company’s internal and external experience. To the general public, the brand includes the company logo, the type and colors they use on their website, marketing materials, and the tone the company uses to express themselves.
Internally, the brand is reflected in the company culture, executive leadership, organizational structure, and perks. Externally, the brand is communicated in each interaction an external client or customer has with an employee, such as how they’re treated and what type of service they expect to receive. Since brand is so expansive, the job of a brand designer is as well. Their work may include how they present the company’s booth at an industry event, how they display the company logo and colors on swag for employees, or even how the interior decor at their offices is arranged.
Primarily working in print, graphic designers create print materials like posters and brochures to communicate a company’s message and brand. They rely on the design principles around typography, spacing, visual hierarchy, and color to get the company’s mission and vision across.
Visual designers combine the skills of a brand and graphic designer. They’re responsible for the look and feel of a product or brand as well as how this is communicated to a given audience. The elements of visual design that are relied upon in a useful, effective way for the audience include line, shape, negative space, volume, value, color, and texture. Some examples of assets that visual designers create are presentation decks, print collateral, and web layouts.
User experience researchers gather qualitative and quantitative data about user behavior using a variety of methods. For example, they acquire qualitative data by conducting usability studies and field studies, while they gather quantitative data through user interviews and email surveys. This data helps them better understand what users are thinking, feeling, and doing. This aspect of the design process is essential in helping to identify the right problem to solve and developing solutions that are user-centric. Although they’re not often considered designers, UX researchers are involved in the initial stages of the design process to make sure the right decisions are being made.
User interface designers focus on the “look and feel” of a website, app, or other product. This includes anything a user will be interacting with, including the buttons they press in an app and the menus that appear on a website. They’re responsible for the aesthetic choices that fall under layout, type, and color. Visual and UI designers work closely to ensure the product and brand are aligned.
User experience designers focus on how a user interacts with the product. They work with UX researchers to make sure they’re making design choices that are user-centric. For example, UX designers who work at a mobile photo company concentrate on how users view the photos on their app. If the app is social, users will need functionality built out so it’s easier to share their own photos as well as find photos taken by others. If the app is more for image hosting, the social aspect may not be as prominently displayed, if at all. The emphasis, instead, may be placed on displaying photos at scale and enabling users to filter to find a specific photo taken at a particular moment in time.
Broadly speaking, product design combines the elements of user interface and user experience design. Product designers are concerned with how a user interacts with a product, or an aspect of a product, and evaluating if the design is actually solving the problem at hand. They think about the scalability of a design for the long term. Such questions they ask themselves when thinking of scale include, If we implement this design, what should we anticipate changing in the future?, How will that impact this design?, and What are the tradeoffs? Smaller companies and startups may rely on product designers, while large tech corporations may divide the roles into UI and UX designers instead. A product designer at a startup is more well-rounded in their skillset (their knowledge is wide, but not deep) in this scenario.
Now that we have laid the groundwork for the types of designers you might work with in your tech career, we will soon share a three-part interview series we’ve conducted with a user experience designer, product designer, and brand designer who work at Hired.