Visual Designer, Graphic Designer or UX Designer: Who Should You Hire?

visual designer graphic designer ux designer

Visual designer, graphic designer or UX designer? What’s the difference, and how can you ensure that you’re hiring the right talent?

If you’re trying to unlock the major advantages UX-focused design offers (and why wouldn’t you given that, on average, every dollar invested in your UX brings in $100 in return), you need the right people with the right skills.

To complicate things a little: if you’ve noticed that people use many of these terms interchangeably, and ‘UX designer’ for a multitude of sins, you’re bang on the money.

Different teams have different setups. Tasks covered by a ‘UX designer’ in one team might be covered by a visual designer in another, who might be a graphic designer in another, and so on.

Equally, just because people use terms interchangeably doesn’t mean they are interchangeable.

Whilst there is sometimes a good deal of overlap between these terms, visual, graphic and UX designers have their own areas of focus too. Knowing which is the best fit for the designer-shaped hole in your team is often the difference between scraping a moderate ROI and achieving a seriously impressive one.

Below, we outline what UX designers, graphic designers and visual designers are – and how to tell which you need.

What is a UX Designer?

UX designers focus on how users interact with your product, system or service.

They take an end-to-end approach, ensuring that individual elements of your design work together to make your product a joy to use. These elements include:

  • Visual design: how your interfaces appear to your users
  • Content design: how you display key information to your users
  • Interaction design: how you encourage users to interact with your product

It’s sometimes a little awkward splitting off ‘UX designer’ from other aspects of product design in this sense. Your UX is created by the sum of your interaction design, your visual design and your content design – it’s not a separate fourth discipline that works alongside them.

So…what does a UX designer do?

Sometimes, in smaller teams, a UX designer will cover some or all of the areas above. There’s a large crossover in skillsets, particularly between interface and visual designers, so startup UX designers often shoulder:

  • Initial user research
  • Building user stories and personas
  • Mapping out user journeys
  • Designing how users will interact with the interface
  • Designing visual aspects of the interface
  • Prototype building
  • UX writing
  • User testing

As teams get bigger and have access to more resources, the UX designer’s role becomes more specialized. Whilst this will vary between businesses, teams with more resources often split into the following roles:

  • UX designer: in charge of end-to-end UX and interaction design, designing user journeys, creating personas and guiding different design elements together to create a viable prototype.
  • UX researcher: conducts initial user research to establish user needs and project focus, conducts testing of working prototypes and reports on findings.
  • Visual/graphic/interface designer: designs user interfaces and the visual elements that create them (see below for differences!).
  • UX writer/content designer: creates and optimizes the content your product will display to customers.

(N.B many UX teams don’t employ a specialist content designer, choosing to use their marketing department’s copywriter instead. Learn more about the pros and cons of doing so here).

When Does My Project Need a UX Designer?

So let’s think about what your project needs…

Does it need someone who can offer a holistic view of your product, ensuring an attention-grabbing, consistent and intuitive experience for users throughout?

Or, do you feel like your overall UX is pretty spot on and that it’s only really let down by specific elements of your design, like poor use of images or unclear content?

UX designers are big-picture designers. They usually have other skill sets too (you probably won’t struggle to find UX designers that are also visual designers, for example), but this end-to-end focus defines whether you need a UX designer or something a bit different.

If you need end-to-end UX support, plus maybe some visual or interaction design support alongside this, a UX designer should be your go-to. For specific design elements, look for a more specialized hire.

Visual Designer vs Graphic Designer: What’s the Difference?

You’ll have noticed above that we mentioned that visual and graphic designers are responsible for the visual elements of your product’s design.

But…what is a visual designer? What’s the difference between a visual designer vs a graphic designer?

Firstly, it’s very easy to get hung up on the differences between these two terms! Many people use them interchangeably – so, arguably it’s more important to be clear on your requirements for new hires or contractors than to use exactly the right term in the job ad.

That said, there are a couple of differences to be aware of:

Graphic designers work with images, color, text and typefaces to communicate key messages, often creating these from scratch using digital design tools. They position visual elements on digital interfaces and other media (online and print ads, for example) for maximum effect.

Visual designers may or may not create visual elements from scratch, but they do design interfaces via optimum placement of different elements on the page. If they don’t create these from scratch, these are likely to be sourced from third party libraries.

Visual designers commonly take responsibility for the overall ‘look’ of a digital product – this includes building templates for different parts of your interface and contributing color schemes, typeface choices and more to overall style guides.

So, a quick, bullet-point summary:

  • Both deal with the visual side of your UX design work
  • You are more likely to find a graphic designer creating typefaces or images than a visual designer. Visual designers may use pre-existing design elements instead of building their own.
  • Visual designers may take a more overarching view of your product than traditional graphic designers, creating style guides and templates.

Of course, as the skill set is so similar, many visual designers also work as graphic designers and vice versa. If you need someone with experience in both of these disciplines, you should be able to find the right hire relatively easily.

What About Interface Designers?

Another type of UX designer to worry about? Afraid so.

Don’t worry – this one’s relatively simple.

Interface designers are simply visual designers that focus exclusively on digital interfaces. If you’re building a digital product, interface designers and visual designers will be broadly interchangeable.

Businesses advertise for interface designers (also known as ‘user interface’/UI designers) to be clear on the experience they are looking for. Visual and graphic designers work on a range of projects, including print and online ads and general branding. Interface designers focus solely on digital product design.

Does My Project Need a Visual Designer or a Graphic Designer?

Much like the ‘UX designer vs specialist designer’ question above, which one is precisely suited to your needs will depend on what sort of focus you need.

If you want ‘big picture’ design, for example creation of style guides or general interface design, look for a visual designer. You may need to use pre-made design elements (via a vector art library, for example), but you’ll be rewarded with well-designed, consistent visuals on your product end to end.

If you’re more concerned with creating unique, eye-catching visual assets for your product, look for a graphic designer. They create images and typefaces, designing from scratch to ensure key brand assets truly stand out.

Our Project Needs All of the Above on a Budget – What Now?

So much design work, so little time…and so little budget. We’ve all been there.

If you’re running a tight ship, designer cost can be difficult to squeeze into your budget. Getting more than one full time hire is likely nothing but a long-term pipe dream.

If this is you, your best compromise is to look for a general UX designer with experience in visual design. This is because:

  • UX designers are used to working on end-to-end projects in a way that more specialist designers aren’t
  • There’s a huge crossover in skills between UX and visual designers. Many UX designers start as visual designers and vice versa
  • It’s more likely that UX designers will have experience in user research than visual or graphic designers. This is vital to building a successful product

Option 2: Outsourcing

What if we told you there is a way to get all of those design features you want whilst staying under budget?

It doesn’t have to be ‘visual designer vs graphic designer’ or ‘UX designer vs visual designer’. Outsourcing gets you access to all the design expertise your project needs at a more achievable price point.

Hiring in-house is expensive and time consuming. In the US, you’re looking at an average salary of $97,000 for a UX designer – and if you want the best of the best, expect to pay upwards of $120,000 pa. Don’t forget to factor hiring costs into this sum!

Outsourcing to a product design and development agency like Tivix gets you instant access to design talent as and when you need it. Our global network of talent allows us to find exactly the right designers for the job at hand. You don’t need to sacrifice brilliant visual design for a good overall UX to meet budget or headcount – all the design expertise you need is included in our service.

Not only is this cheaper than hiring in house, it’s also quicker. We can scale a team instantly as soon as we’re onboard, saving both the long-term expense of permanent hires and the slowdowns associated with hiring a full in-house team.

Give us a call today to see how we could help with your UX requirements.