Illustration by Lidia Lukianova
As established as UX design is in the tech industry, it’s a field that continues to evolve in a sometimes confusing proliferation of roles and job titles. While this means great things for the field—namely that it is vibrant, dynamic, and in-demand—it presents a challenge when it comes to understanding where you want to go in your career and what salary you can expect when you get there.
So let’s break it down. This guide will outline six common and essential roles in the world of UX—what job titles they often go by, their primary function and required skills, and the salary expectations that come along with each. Read on to get a good understanding of the landscape and where you fit into it.
Other job titles: UX Designer, UX/UI Designer, User Experience Designer, Experience Designer, Product Designer
The role of the UX designer is one you may already be familiar with, but it’s useful to outline it here as a point of comparison for some of the other roles we’ll look at.
UX designers are responsible for everything from user research and personas to user testing, prototypes, and wireframes. Name just about anything that goes into creating a great experience for the people that use digital products, and it’s likely that a UX designer has some involvement with it.
A UX designer’s work generally follows the iterative and dynamic UX design process (not always in this order):
- Empathize with the end user, and advocate for them throughout the design process.
- Define their needs and pain points.
- Ideate for solutions and highlight the ideas that are most impactful and feasible (given business goals and constraints such as budget and deadlines).
- Prototype those solutions by building working models that demonstrate how this new iteration of the product would function.
- Test prototypes with actual users to make sure they actually help solve the problem(s) at hand.
Then the process starts all over again, sometimes with the same needs and pain points, or with fresh ones; sometimes in this order, and sometimes not. The UX designer’s work is never really “done”—and that’s part of the magic! They iterate on products and individual features, always looking for ways to create a more effective, efficient, and delightful user experience.
UX designers collaborate with a broad spectrum of people—including other UX designers, researchers, data analysts, UI and graphic designers, key stakeholders, and the people who actually use the product. This makes communication and organization essential aspects of the skillset UX designers need to be successful, along with many other non-design related competencies.
UX designer salaries
As with most jobs, UX designers’ salaries vary based on how much experience they bring to the table. But it also varies by the type of company they work for. As a general rule, expect a higher salary at a larger, more established company with an existing design team or the resources to build one; expect a lower salary at smaller or newer companies, or those who are just beginning to invest in UX.
All that said, according to Payscale, UX designers in the U.S. earn an average of $74,568 per year (ranging from $51,000 to $108,000).
Common job titles: User Interface Designer, Web UI Designer
UI (user interface) designers often pick up where UX designers’ role leaves off. UX designers deliver prototypes and/or low to mid-fidelity wireframes to UI designers, who take that documentation and transform it into full, detailed wireframes. They hand these wireframes off to the developers to turn it all into a real, out-in-the-world, working product.
Along with those wireframes, though, UI designers have a nuanced understanding of psychology and their specific users’ needs, goals, and preferences. They use this knowledge and their deep understanding of design principles, color theory, and more to select color palettes, typography, and other imagery that will delight their users. They also design polished interactions — buttons, animations and other elements that make the product’s interface truly beautiful and on-brand.
From the outside, the role of the UI designer might sound a lot like that of a graphic designer. But where graphic designers work on the visual plane (what many consider “art”), UI designers study and work to refine the “conversation” between the product and the end user—a conversation that’s carried on through where users’ eyes land on the screen, where they click or tap, and how they feel about their experience with the interface.
UI designer salaries
According to Payscale, the average salary for UI designers in the U.S. is $64,543 (ranging between $45,000 and $93,000).
Common job titles: UX/UI Designer, UX Designer, User Interface Designer, Experience Designer
Even though UX and UI (user interface) design often fall into two separate roles in the design process, it’s quite common for employers to expect UX designers to have UI skills and experience. Sometimes this is simply lumped into the “UX Designer” role. But for employers that are fully aware of the difference between UX and UI and simply want the two areas to be more integrated, this means an iteration on the job title. Enter, the UX/UI Designer.
Rather than ending their work on a given project by handing a prototype over to a UI designer to create the final wireframes and polished interactions that will then go to the developers, the UX/UI designer carries the process all the way through.
This means that a UX/UI designer is every bit at home with user research and testing, prototyping, user personas, and customer journey maps as they are with design patterns, typography, and color palettes.
UX/UI designer salaries
While an initial job search on Indeed for “UX/UI Designer” turns up over 3,000 results, it’s difficult to find average salaries for this role. This may simply be due to the fact that the job title combines what is technically (and commonly) two separate roles.
Do a little digging, though, and you’ll find that Glassdoor places the average base salary in the U.S. at $85,277 per year (with a full range from $59,000-128,000)—higher than the average salary for either “UX Designer” or “UI Designer” roles (the later averaging $64,366 per year).
Common job titles: UX Researcher, User Experience Researcher, Usability Researcher, UX Analyst
A UX researcher understands the full UX design process, but works primarily in those first two stages of the design process—they empathize with the end user and they conduct the research that allows them (and often others on the design team) to define what goals, needs, and pain points that the product needs to better take into consideration.
They conduct user interviews and surveys, carry out usability testing and any other type of testing that will give them insight into how users navigate the current iteration of a product or experience, how they feel about it, and how it does or doesn’t help them accomplish what they’ve come to the product to do. UX researchers are also skilled in synthesizing their research and distilling it into deliverables that will interpret their findings for anyone else involved in the product’s development (designers, developers, stakeholders, etc.).
The UX researcher has, arguably, the most humanizing influence on the design process because their work is closest to the people who use the product; they can advocate for the end user with clear, substantiated data. This is a broad skill set that encompasses strong “people skills” (empathy, communication, conversation), organization, and critical thinking, as well as the ability to produce, analyze, and extract insights from qualitative and quantitative data.
UX researcher salaries
Again, depending on where you work and your level of experience, your salary as a UX researcher could range anywhere from $32,000-314,000 per year, according to Indeed, with the average salary in the US listed as $136,721.
Glassdoor reports a narrower range, however, with an average annual salary of $85,382 (ranging between $56,000-131,000).
Common job titles: UX Writer, UX Copywriter, Content Strategist, UX Content Strategist, Technical Writer, Content Designer
As a job title in its own right, “UX Writer” is relatively new on the scene. A UX writer tackles everything from user research to prototyping and wireframing, but with a specific focus on the words that factor into the user experience. Even more specifically, they attend to microcopy and other copy-based design that facilitates conversational interaction with users.
Because it’s still emerging (the task of writing often falls to copywriters, designers, and developers), you’ll find this role under a variety of titles. UX writing usually ends up in an interface (driving conversions) or in transactional emails (driving engagement and return visits). The goal of this copy is always to meet the user where they’re at and help them accomplish what they need to do—as effectively and efficiently as possible (and, depending on the product, with a flare of brand/personality).
A UX writer’s skillset includes all of the core UX design competencies, with particular emphasis on research skills and a knack for words.
UX writer salaries
Given that this role is the “new kid on the block,” sites like Payscale and Indeed aren’t yet reporting average salaries for UX writers. In a recent survey of their writing community, however, the UX Writing Hub reports that UX writers in the U.S. earn an average of $75,000-$125,000 per year, depending on their level of experience.
Further information from UX Collective reveals average UX writer salaries in the U.S. ranging anywhere from $46,000 to $160,000, depending on location (Maine as the lowest reporting, and California as the highest).
Common job titles: UX Strategist, Technical Strategist
While it’s true that good design is good for business, the needs of the business can sometimes translate into design constraints—resulting in what might be caricatured as business and design being in a boxing ring, at odds with each other. But when business people understand the value of design and meeting the needs of the end user, and when designers understand the power of business strategy in amplifying the reach of the products they design? Well, that’s a different story.
UX strategists work at the intersection of UX and business strategy. They often (though not always) come from a UX background, have an aptitude for business, and over time, develop an ability to integrate user awareness and business needs into the overall strategy of the company and its products.
They combine their powers of negotiation, research, intuition, and communication with their knowledge of UX and their passion for understanding (and meeting) users’ needs. They can communicate well and build relationships with everyone from the CEO to the newly hired junior UX designer. They can also understand and appreciate the details of the design process just as easily as they can keep the big picture in mind and help others understand projects from that strategic point of view.
UX strategist salaries
According to Payscale, UX strategists in the U.S. earn an average annual salary of $83,033 (ranging from $41,000-171,000).
Key takeaways on UX design roles
No matter where you find yourself (or want to go) in your UX career, these five roles (and their job title variations) provide plenty of room for exploration and opportunity to put your greatest strengths to good use. Whether you’ve got a data-driven mind, a knack for research, a talent for business strategy, a way with words, an eye for aesthetics, a heart for creating products that delight users, or all the above—there’s a career in UX to match. Remember, your expected salary will depend largely on where you live, your level of experience, and what type of company you work for.
As the tech industry adapts to the ever evolving needs of users and businesses, and as job titles proliferate, there seems to be an increasing capacity for UX professionals who specialize in a specific area (ie, research, strategy, writing). Even in light of emerging (or established) specializations, there’s still steady demand for talented, multi-faceted, UX generalists who can navigate every facet of the design process.