User interface (UI) designers define the visual representation of an app or service for end-users. A UI designer is responsible for designing the visual and interactive elements of a digital product, such as a website or mobile application, with the primary goal of creating an engaging user-friendly experience that meets the needs of an audience.
UI designers work closely with user experience (UX) designers to understand the needs, behaviors, and motivations of users. Based on research conducted by UX designers, a UI designer will create wireframes and prototypes for apps and websites that incorporate visual design elements such as typography, background color, layout, and the general flow.
UI designers also work with developers on implementation and functionality on various devices and platforms. They often use tools such as Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD to create apps and website designs.
But what makes a great UI designer, and how can you become one? We spoke with experts and hiring managers to find out!
Is a Formal Education Important for a UI Designer?
“A formal college education is not necessarily important for a UI Designer,” Stefan Kovac, UI designer and software developer at Luabase, tells Dice. “Many opt for a UI Design bootcamp. Personally, I have a formal design education; however, I pursued a bootcamp for programming which enabled me to pursue a career in a hybrid UI Design / Software Engineer role. Many of my colleagues have had great success in their careers [after attending] bootcamps.”
Jon Tilliss, Head of User Centered Design and Clinical Engineering at Vicarious Surgical Inc., adds that it’s “not necessarily” important to have a formal education—and cautions about attending bootcamps: “There are a lot of self-declared UI designers out there who have little-to-no experience or have attended a 3-week bootcamp, but otherwise don't have much practical experience or depth of experience. As a hiring manager, it can be difficult to discern between the ‘real deal’ and the imposters. That's why it's important to show a breadth and depth of experience in your portfolio and showcase your expertise through the way you talk about design (another example of why storytelling and communication skills are important).”
When you’re designing your portfolio, make clear what you contributed to each group project. “Did you just create some wireframes, or did you also lead the visual design?” Tilliss asks. “What's most important to me as a hiring manager is the final output—so be sure to show lots of ‘before and after’ and lead with the final product. Showing some process is good, but the design process is standard.”
In the end, what matters is that you’ve created (or helped create) a compelling final product. Your education is secondary to your ability to communicate ideas and deliver results.
Michael Chepurnyak, founder and CEO at Ein-des-ein, notes: “While a formal education in design or related fields can certainly be beneficial, it is not a requirement for becoming a good UI designer. Many successful designers have learned their skills through self-study, online courses, mentorship, and on-the-job experience. Your portfolio which showcases a variety of design projects and demonstrates your skills and creativity is more valuable than a degree or certification, in my opinion. But it is important to note that formal education can provide a solid foundation in design principles and techniques. Additionally, some employers may still require specific degrees or certifications for certain positions.”
What Stands Out on a UI Designer Resume… and Does a Portfolio Make the Difference?
“This is ironic,” Kovic admits, “but one of the most notable things [about a UI designer] resume is a well-designed resume that does not have too much information—yet still clearly matches the job description provided. In addition, a link to a well-designed portfolio that has a select few projects that clearly demonstrate the candidate's ability to solve a design problem is very crucial. Ideally, these portfolio pieces will also include the design process including flow-charts and low-fidelity mockups in addition to the result.”
Strong portfolios also feature a variety of design projects, which allow the designer to display all their core skills and creativity. Chepurnyak says he wants to see “proficiency in design software such as Sketch, Adobe products, Figma, InVision, and proven experience in designing interfaces for web or mobile apps (once again, we expect examples).”
While all of the experts we spoke to agree a portfolio is key, Tilliss reminds us that in a way, your resume is part of your portfolio, too: “As a designer, everything you create is a design product, including your resume. Your resume should demonstrate your ability to use hierarchy, spacing, and type to create a clean and concise summary of your experience. That said, be careful not to just copy a trendy template that doesn't add value or create a resume that is so visually distracting, a hiring manager can't focus on your experience—don't overdesign your resume. Try not to focus on your design solutions—that's where your portfolio should shine.”
As with other roles, your resume should describe how your work had an impact on your previous employers’ strategy, product releases, and even the bottom line. For example, if you previously worked for a company that released a product, show how your design work allowed that product to succeed in the marketplace. Highlight your ability to work with diverse teams, including product managers and developers, to get things done; design is ultimately a cross-disciplinary art.
“Lastly, if you are really interested in a particular role, tweak your resume so it highlights relevant experience,” Tilliss adds. “It can be helpful to have a couple aspects of your resume that can be modular/modified based on the employer. For example, include a couple bullets that highlight recent projects and swap those out with projects that are most relevant. You don't necessarily need to create a new version of your resume for every role/employer, but if you really want a role, the extra effort can be worth it.”
Sample Questions UI Designers Can Expect in An Interview
Our experts gave us many examples of sample questions you can expect; here’s the full list:
- What is one of the projects/designs you are most proud of?
- How do you think about the relationship between UX design and UI design?
- How would you describe your skills across both UX and UI design?
- What is your experience working directly with developers?
- Describe a time where you had to work closely with developers to balance design quality and ease of development.
- What sets you apart from other designers? What value do you bring that others might not?
- What process do you use when designing a user interface?
- How do you stay up-to-date with design trends and best practices?
- Describe a user interface project you’ve worked on and the process you used to complete it.
- What challenges have you faced when designing user interfaces?
- What tools and software do you use to design user interfaces?
- Can you walk us through your design process? (to assess the candidate's approach to designing user interfaces. Ask about research methods, ideation processes, and prototyping techniques)
- How do you handle conflicting feedback from stakeholders or team members during a project? (Collaboration and communication are essential skills for UI designers, so you need to know about the candidate's ability to navigate conflicts and find solutions that align with both user needs and stakeholder requirements.)
- Could you tell us about a particularly challenging project you've worked on in the past? (It will help you to analyze the candidate's problem-solving skills and ability to overcome obstacles in their work. Ask how the candidate approached a difficult project, what challenges were faced along the way, and what was the result.)
- How would you describe your design process?
- Describe a recent challenge that you solved and the difficulties you faced?
- Can you provide some examples of user research and methods of how it was conducted?
- How do you deal with a stakeholder who is not happy with your design?
UI designers are responsible for ensuring apps and websites work as expected, and that’s difficult. Sometimes you just don’t know what users expect, and there’s no “right” answer that will please everyone. Ultimately, UI designers should be thoughtful, responsible, and continually educate themselves on best practices and modern architecture to ensure their websites and apps are loved by as many as possible at first glance.