Design · User Experience Design

Is it okay to have separate UX designer and Visual Designer?

Vivian Cromwell

April 23rd, 2015

 I would love to get some suggestion.  I am the founder of a new startup ( still at bootstrap stage).  I have been handling user research and product/user story board etc, but I need designers for the following things:  

1. mobile user experience/user interaction design 

2. brand/app graphics design which may include some new icon designs and character designs.    

I value the interaction design more important then the graphics and would like the UX designer to be close to me and local since there will be a lot of iterations.  However, she is not good at visual design which I may outsource to another agency or 99design who is obviously not local.   At some point, the visual assets need to be integrated into the wireframe and prototype. 

I am a bit worried about the separation between UX design and visual design,  how that may negative impact the product development and turnaround, would love some suggestions and advises if you have dealt with this.  thanks.

Steven Rubenstein

April 23rd, 2015

Yes, you can and should separate these.

UX involves determining how the product should work, functionality, transitions, layout, etc.  This is very different from UI, which involves creating the various buttons, images, styles, etc.

Many designers are good at creating graphics, but designing an application is a combination of software development, graphic design and subject matter expertise -- the business person who can think like the end user and knows what the functionality needs to be.

Few people are truly good at UX on their own. Developers can build (albeit ugly), but are not good at thinking like a user. Designers can make it pretty, but are often not familiar with the development constraints and options for building certain features. Great UX is an iterative process that requires all 3 types of people.

David Schwartz Multi-Platform (Desktop+Mobile) Rapid Prototyping + Dev, Tool Dev

April 23rd, 2015

I agree with everything Steven said above! As a developer, I swear off any pretense of being a visual designer. It disturbs me greatly to see so many job reqs that presume that you can find people who are equally skilled in two distinct areas, one of which is highly analytical and left-brained while the other is highly creative and right-brained. Unfortunately, people seem to think this is a natural pairing of skills just because you use the same tools in many cases for both.

I'm constantly getting hit up to build web apps that require a skilled database designer as well as someone who's intimately familiar with the entire freaking Adobe Creative Suite! These people ultimately wonder why in the world their web apps run so slow. It's because they ask to SEE a VISUAL portfolio of the person's work without evaluating their DEVELOPMENT skills. Oh, yeah, they know SQL, so obviously they can design and build-out an entire database back-end. NOT! 

Ask them to explain the difference between first, second, and third normal form, as well as how they deal with fields that are related but have vastly different update requirements ... do they put them all into the same DB records/files or separate them into different records/files based on how often they're updated? Ask how they approach and utilize stored procs and the difference they make on performance. You're most likely to just get blank stares from them! But, man, their portfolios LOOK GREAT!!! Too bad they don't understand anything that affects performance and couldn't scale-up a design if their life depended on it.

I'd also like to add the following. There's a school of thought (that I tend to agree with) that says your initial prototypes should be as bland visually as possible, even to the extent of looking hand-drawn. The more effort you put into the "look and feel" of prototypes, two things happen: (1) people you give demos to end up commenting more on the visuals than the functions and flow; (2) they also think, "it looks nearly complete". If the demo looks "production quality", and the logic you demo to them works smoothly, they cannot distinguish it from something that's "ready to ship". They think you're blowing smoke up their butt if you say there's a lot more work to be done. You need your software / virtual prototypes to LOOK like prototypes, just like how mechanical prototypes have all sorts of visible flaws on them.

Pedro Reis Co Founder at Colab

April 23rd, 2015

UX and UI specialties can be in different people but they need to talk a lot and often. Depending on your development stage having two vs one can do more harm than good.

Plus, and this is very important, you should use designers to solve problems not to tell them what you want them to do otherwise you're not using theire full potential. Where you are right now doing research and drafting the software is where you should have a designer at your side not later doing a manicure layer on top of what you've build. The perfect lineup should be: Idea (Problem, Vision, Concept) > Design (Product, Graphic, UX, UI, Copy, Branding) > Developer (Architecture, Technology, Frontend, Backend) > Sales (Business model, Marketing, Advertisement, Customer service) > User. As soon as possible put them all talking with each others, that's your job.

If you haven't yet, read this:

PS: 99designs or any of the kind is not how you do it.

Lee-Sean Huang Cofounder/Creative Director at Foossa. I'm a service/venture designer, storyteller, educator, and community-builder.

April 23rd, 2015

Sometimes you get "unicorns" who can do both UX and Visual Design very well, but when you get more advanced and specialized, I find that it is better to go with the "experts" who focus narrowly and deeply on their craft. If you are talking about the MVP of a startup and headcount/budget is a concern, then of course a more jack-of-all trades generalist may be the best place to start.


April 23rd, 2015

Ah no, I have done projects with 2 designers, a branding/visual one and a UX person. Of course they need to cooperate. Dont forget copy, also really important to get right

Alper Cakir

April 23rd, 2015

I am a UX and UI designer, so are all my designers at our agency. Where we all have our stronger sides (visual or analytic) we don't draw a bold line between the two fields. We've been continuously exploring ways to increase efficiency between ux, ui design work and development. Here is a blog post explaining our process for designing MVP's that shortens the time to market;

We believe experience should be above all and visual elements should serve the experience. I wouldn't worry about the aesthetics too much at this stage but overall good UI improves the experience by improving the usability so they are interconnected.

Jake Carlson Software Development Manager at Oracle

April 23rd, 2015

Yes but not yet. IMO you are too small to have someone so specialized. The UX person should really be able to pull her weight with more than one discipline. 

Marc Rowen

April 24th, 2015

Is it OK? Yes, in fact eventually usually required. The problem at the bootstrap phase is finding and being able to pay for quality on both. If you are strong in one area, then you can emphasize finding someone good in your weak area. 

 You said you've been handling some areas, but didn't say whether you're strong. My opinion is that if you are not strong in either area, spend more on user experience and interaction design.

Vivian Cromwell

April 24th, 2015

thanks a lot everyone, really appreciate the feedback.   I am trying to locate a local SF based who can do both as the first choice, if not I want to focus and spend more money on the interaction.  thank you guys!

Jackson Powell UI/UX Designer & Front End Developer

April 24th, 2015

Hi Vivian,

I'm rare in that I specialize in both UI/UX, product development, and visual design. I'm a front-end coder as well. I know of at least one other person who is rare in this way, Greta Harding, and we're both local to you in SF.

If I were you, I'd look around at and LinkedIn to find you a person whose skill sets include user experience design and user interface design, is trained as a graphic designer (foundation), illustration, typography, and is familiar with product development (lean startup) techniques including user testing and market research. 

I know for fact that there are designers out there in SF and the Bay Area who can do all this. Create a good pitch and try to find one. You never know. You might find someone that combines the skills you need and is willing to help you and work with your budget. 

If you want any advice feel free to reach out to me, I love working with startups and helping people with interesting ideas. :)