Blog / / UI/UX Design

Turning Your Graphic Design Skills Into UI/UX Skills

Not sure how to go from doing graphic design work to doing UI/UX and product design work? Wondering if your graphic design skills are the same as user interface design skills?

If you're a graphic or visual designer who wants to start taking on projects that involve UI/UX or want to snag one of those high paying product design roles, this article can help you more accurately access your skills, understand what you need to learn and how to showcase your newly developed UI/UX skills so you can be more confident about the work you're doing and make the transition easier!

From personal experience, I can tell you that there are a few really big differences between graphic designers and user interface designers. I went from graphic designer to visual designer and then web designer, to UI/UX and finally in my final form as a product designer.

Graphic Designer vs UI/UX Designer Mentality

One of the biggest differentiators between graphic designers and user interface designers there focus and their mentality.

Graphic designers are more focused on static visual elements and thinking about how they present shape, color, light, proportion and emotion.

UI/UX Designers designers are more focused on dynamic visual elements. They are more concerned with components, states and conditionals and how users interact with the visual elements that they put on the screen as well as how those elements look and respond.

And this is informed by tried and true visual and interaction design principles and laws. You've probably come across these design principles, laws and heuristics before such as Jacobs Law, Fitt's Law, Hicks law, Gestalt etc., but what exactly are they and why are they important?

The Laws and Principles that Guide UI/UX Designers

For a user interface or user interaction designer, design laws principles and heuristics provide an understanding of the most fundamental ways we humans perceive and interact with things and they are rooted in scientific studies cognitive behavioral science, psychology, sociology, physics and ergonomics. They serve as guidelines and considerations that designers can apply if they so choose.

How do you know when to apply them?

The answer to that takes us to another related discipline called user experience design. How do we know if this button hover action should fade in slowly or flash wildly? Well that depends on the research you've done about your users (if they are meditators and your interface is intended to keep them be calm, then you probably don't want a big flashing button, but if you are selling Crossfit Memberships well then flash away!)

It's all about context

The reason why UI and UX are often lumped together is because of how nicely one informs the other. We can't make blanket statements that say flashing buttons are bad and slowly fading buttons are good, but we can say flashing buttons are bad for my users compared to fading buttons.

Translating User Research

That's why even if you aren't a UI/UX designer and the one conducting the user research, its still important to understand and be able to translate the user experience research that you do have into your designs.

That's why I consider user interface and experience design more of art meets science whereas I might categorize graphic design more of art meets mathematics

The good news is that if you have a background in graphic design, your skills are very transferable!

There are just a few new skills you'll need to know and new ways to think about visuals that can set you up for a successful transition into a career in user interface and experience design and product design.

Some things you'll want to do:

  1. Learn design principles and laws - Here is a nice collection of the most common ones.
  2. Learn about components and states - Here is how I recommend you do that by learning (and stealing) from design systems.
  3. Get familiar with conditionals and how code works - That doesn't mean you have to learn HTML and CSS but it does mean gaining a general understanding of the inputs, outputs and technical constraints of  the systems we're designing for whether that's a browser or a mobile phone. One great way to do this is to share your designs with a developer and ask them to pick it apart.
  4. Learn about user experience design - A great was to do this is by conducting some user research and doin a competitive analysis.
  5. The best way to do all of this? By building a digital product like a SaaS app or mobile app from scratch.

The UI/UX and product design space is growing so rapidly, but so is the competition with more and more highly trained and highly motivated designers entered the field daily. If you want to future proof your career, have more job opportunities and get paid more for your it helps to know more than just one skill and look beyond your discipline and get familiar with different aspects of product design in order to grow in your career.

So however you decide to do it; understanding and immersing yourself in the design thinking process of talking to users and applying insights, laws and principles into your designs will help you create successful, usable products-- which is what every company and client wants from a UI/UX or product designer.


This post was a collaboration between

Elizabeth Alli, DesignerUp

  • Elizabeth Alli

    Elizabeth Alli

    Mindful designer and mentor helping to create meaningful products and experiences.

    More posts by Elizabeth Alli.

    Elizabeth Alli
  • DesignerUp


    Read more posts by this author.