UX, UI, or Visual Designer? What’s the Difference, & Which Do You Need?


A haze of confusion surrounds the search for a good designer — starting with simple naming conventions. Who do you need — a visual designer? a UI designer? and UX designer? a front-end developer? What’s the difference?

Search for skills, not for job titles.

I’m a designer myself, and I still get confused by all these titles, too. The simple solution, of course, is to hire for the skills you need, not for the perfect job title. Yet I’ve had many run-ins with potential clients who spend half the discussion trying to hammer out the distinctions between these terms.

More and more stress is being put on designers to know not only how to design, but also how to develop, and sometimes even program. Finding a Renaissance person is going to be an extreme challenge for any company. The Renaissance designer is a very rare species.

In the burgeoning field of UI/UX design, there are all different types of people entering the industry. Traditional print designers, web designers, developers, programmers, and even psychologists are all jumping in. That’s why leaving the title alone during an initial meeting with a potential hire is very important. Instead, get straight to the point. First, ask yourself, “What, specifically, do I need a designer to do for me?” Then, you can cut to the chase when speaking to candidates. Ask, “What can you do very well for my company?” If their specialties align with your needs, you’ve found a match.

Look for experts in a specific field, not a Renaissance man to do it all.

Find out what projects the contractor or potential employee is most proud of, and what makes him or her so proud of it. Don’t focus on how many applications she knows, or if she can code in addition to being able to design the visual aspects of the digital product. Get down to her root proficiency, and build up your design need from there. You know you’ve discovered what she excel at when she lights up at the mention of a certain topic or skill-set.

Yes, it is important that designers have a multitude of proficiencies, but the most important is that they’re rockstars at the ones they’ve proven they possess. In the tech world, things change so often that it’s nearly impossible for a designer to be truly incredible at more than a few, carefully cultivated areas of expertise. You want to make sure you have the best talent in the areas you need most.

Cory Borman has been a professional designer since the early 2000s. He started as a print designer in publishing, working for large firms such as Viacom, Reed Business Information, and Pearson Education. He made his way into the digital world at the height of the dot com boom, designing websites and user interfaces. He is currently a Web Manager for Microsoft’s BizSpark platform.

Stylus image credit: Aiyaz Kidwai

Comments (1)

  1. Hi Cory,

    I read your article in Rocket Space:

    I have a question about ux/ui/visual design. My background is primarily in print…actually 99.99% of it and would like to get into designing/prototyping websites for mobile devices. How can I go about this? I know how to create wire frames, create the visual aspect of websites(no coding though) and know how to optimize images and understand ‘responsive design’ theories. So how can I enter this field even though I have no actual UX/UI/visual design projects? can i even enter it with my background in print/branding (6-8 years of experience in design) or am I stuck in a rut?


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