This week we had a guest lecturer, Ronan, who spoke to us about the design industry. This was a really great lecture as it provided a clear overview of the fundamental differences between UX and UI, what it’s like working for a large company vs a small company and what the differences are between working in-house vs agencies as a designer. As we are now at the critical stage of choosing a placement all of this is vital to help us make an informed decision on what companies to apply with as well as what roles to apply for.
The difference between UI and UX
It used to be that developers would create a product, when the product was complete a designer would be brought t in the make the product look better. This is UI. The Designer is taking a product that has already been made and improving the design of the user interface.
However, as designers, our tendency is to try to solve problems. Once a designer starts to consider the user flow and structural changes e.g. moving a form so that it is more clearly accessible for the user the role that is being fulfilled is no longer just UI, it’s UX. This lead to a transition that brought designers on board much earlier in the process. Designers were no longer coming in at the end to make the product “look pretty” they were now coming in at the beginning of the project to block out and define what the user’s experience/ journey should look like.
In a Nielson Norman Group video post on the topic shown above the following distinctions are made:
UX (User Experience)- Encompasses all aspects of the end-users interactions with the company, its services and its products.
UX is about identifying the needs of the user and then designing solutions to meet that need regardless of mediums. This means considering all aspects of the user experience including having the right information, ease of use and quick and concise customer help. This generally means collaborating with multiple departments.
UI (User Interface)- The look, feel and interactivity of a digital product; the cosmetics of the experience.
User interface refers to the specific user touchpoint or asset the user interacts with. It is the cosmetics of the experience, things like typography, colour, spacing etc. It is highlighted here that UI plays an important role in UX.
The comparison of a cake’s exterior e.g. icing to UI and interior of the cake e.g. ingredient to UX is then made. I feel that all of the above has really cemented my understanding of the differences between the two topics. Where I believe problems occur is that the two are not entirely distinct. UI impacts UX and vice versa.
An apt example of this was highlighted in this weeks lecture, which was the phrase form follows function.
Form Follows Function
Form follows function is a phrase coined by Louis Sullivan and has been applied to architecture and industrial design since the late 19th century. While this is true like UX and UI design Form and Function cannot be separated they are interlinked. Therefore we could say like Frank Lloyd Wright that Form is Function.
This is true of UX and UI as changes to the UI such as a button colour change impacts the User Experience and is therefore causing the designer to make UX decisions.
This makes sense and while it is understandable that agencies and large companies want to divide the roles the fact that the two roles are somewhat intertwined is something that cannot be ignored.
As highlighted in this weeks lecture it is unsurprising that the decision of the roles causes issues in the industry. It is helpful to be aware that the only way to overcome this is through communication.
Good communication is not only important between designers. It is important to be able to communicate across teams. You need to be able to communicate your reasoning behind choices. This is what can make having one person fulfilling the role of UX and UX designer so much easier as that person will have creative control of the project and will not have to compromise and incorporate another person’s creative vision.
A companies focus will be meeting the requirements of a client brief while expending as little resources as possible so there will be instances when we as designers will have to push and negotiate to see our ideas and approaches included in projects. This means contending with other designers ideas, realising that you will not always be right and attempting to hold your own in a competitive environment. This means being able to articulate your thoughts and vision for a design.
Small Agencies VS Large Agencies
Once you have established the type of role you are drawn to you then need to determine what type of company you want to work for. We began by looking at some of the advantages and disadvantages of working for a smaller agency as well as a larger agency.
There are two types of smaller agencies, the first is a boutique agency that specializes in a specific area such as package design the second is an agency that takes on smaller local and national jobs, that maybe have a total of 5 or 6 staff and have no major expansion plans. When going the smaller company route, it’s important to make sure the company is stable.
You may choose to go to a small boutique agency if you know the area of design you want to get into and it’s something quite specific. These types of agencies are generally run by one designer with a good reputation. Ideally, you would want to apprentice with this designer. The best way to go about this is to list out all of the companies you’re interested in and the associated designers and try to make contact with them. It might be the case that you make no leeway with your first, second, third or even tenth choice. It’s important to not let this discourage you. Even if it’s your twentieth choice that gets your foot in the door you can work your way up from there.
Some of the benefits of working in a smaller agency are that you will get exposure to a broader range of roles and tasks in a specific area, the relationships are tight-knit however it will be with a smaller group. Smaller agencies can also mean less pressure to have work done the moment it land on your desk however as there are fewer people in the agency there will be more work to share around so this is not always the case.
On the other hand, large agencies are stable and generally owned by larger companies. In a larger agency, you will fulfil a role as part of a larger system/process. This will also mean that you get to work with larger brands. It provides you with the opportunity to get to know different types of brands, how they worked, what their business model is, how design affects their business model etc. You will also get to learn why brands are interested in creating a new digital design or why they’re interested in doing a new marketing campaign.
By going to a larger company you will have the opportunity to network with a larger group of designers of different levels and may even have the opportunity to see how the creative director tackles problems and solutions in different capacities. However, a downside can be that larger agencies have a “need it now” approach which puts a lot more pressure on designers time-wise in relation to turnaround.
Selling your design to the client
Another important factor that needs to be considered with agency work is that you’re selling subjective design with an objective basis to clients. This means there will be times when you know the work is good, it’s been verified by other team members and the client doesn’t like it. It could be something as simple as a colour or font choice and the client may feel so strongly that they simply want you to leave and think up something new. At this point, you have to sell that design to the client. This is an art in itself and it is something you want to expose yourself to. If someone else is pitching something you’ve worked on it is a good idea to ask to sit in on the meeting and see how they’re selling the work. These skills will be incredibly valuable as you progress in your career as building closer relationships with clients means better design work. As you get to know the client better you have a better understanding of what it is they want and how to deliver.
In or Out
There are two types of in-house companies to consider, companies that are digitally lead and companies that are not digitally. The example of BT was given. BT is a massive company it is not very digitally-led as it is an old company digital has been “put into it”. They have lots of designers however working somewhere like this can be slow and bureaucratic. It may take a year for work you have completed in three months to be released. However, when it is released there is the potential for massive impact. At an agency, you have less reach but your work is implemented more quickly so there is more of a quick win feel.
Examples of large digital-first companies would be Facebook, Google and Apple have a massive design and development workforce. These companies are digitally led. This means you’re working fast, failing a lot and your work has a massive potential impact/reach.
As I have worked previously at a start-up with no experience it was interesting to hear what it was like for a seasoned designer in a start-up environment. What struck me was that the full team was seasoned and there was lots of potential from learning from others outside of the design role. My experience was quite different, everyone was new to the field and learning on their feet. It was a great opportunity for me as I was given a design role with no previous experience and only partway through an HND. I think the best experience for me was working directly with clients, forming relationships and learning how to deliver to their specifications.
However, a start-up environment is not an environment I would go back to without a lot more experience under my belt. The problem I was faced with was regularly knowing that our approach was wrong but not being able to articulate what the problems were or knowing how to find a solution. There was no one to go to for help and as I wasn’t learning digital design at the time (the course I was on was a print-focused Graphic Design course) I, therefore, didn’t know what resources to avail of. I do feel a lot more equipped now as I have gained more understanding of UX and UI design in this course. I am eager to move into an established company environment and gain work experience alongside a team of designers. In an established company, I can learn processes, how to set boundaries etc. That said I wouldn’t rule out taking a position at a start-up in future when I have more industry experience.
I found the discussion session really interesting and helpful. The points that jumped out to me were that 3D design is here to stay so you might want to formalise yourself with blender, communication between designers and developers is key and that you might want to watch out for employers that are very ant-work from home or a business that takes zoom calls with the camera off.
A point was raised during the discussion that 3D might just be a phase however that does not seem to be the case. With free open-source programmes such as blender, everyone has access to 3D software and it is here to stay. I think this is a particular asset for those going down the animation route as even slightly animated 3D design can create interesting rich user interfaces. This is not a skill that I have but is definitely an area that I’m interested in and would love to develop in the future.
A topic that came up that I am particularly interested in navigating is how to work well with developers as designers. The reality is that not all designs are feasible and as a developer builds a product changes will inevitably come as the need arises. To give us as designers a better understanding of this we need to keep an open flow of communication with the software engineers and developers that are building our designs. As this relationship grows we will begin to develop a better understanding of what is and what is not possible.
Finally a slight warning. In most cases working from home is a reality given the Coronavirus Pandemic. However, as we return to work we might want to be careful about joining companies that are too inflexible or are simply unwilling to adjust to working from home. I think companies like this, particularly within the design industry, are relatively few and far between however, it is definitely something to consider when seeking employment. A point that was highlighted as a potential indicator that the company you’re working at is not fostering a collaborative environment is if video call meetings are being taken with camera’s off. These video calls might as well be phone calls and it may be suggestive of a team that is not enthusiastic about collaborative working.
Overall I found today lecture and discussion really helpful in giving me a clear understanding of the different types of jobs within UX design. I think a certain amount of finding a job that is the right fit for you is down to trial and error but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a clear outline of the pros and cons! My current focus is on finding a placement in a company with a larger team and plenty of design leads. I have experience working in a small team as the only designer on board so I am excited to try something completely different so that I can begin comparing and ultimately decide what direction to move my career in. I am currently quite interested in going in-house as for me big impact is a pretty exciting prospect and something I plan to work towards in my career.