Chapter 16: Skills Needed to Become a Great UI Developer

Posted on May 27, 2020 | Updated on January 25, 2021

UX and UI are two distinct things that work in conjunction with one another to present a cohesive, user-friendly website. User interface (UI) involves the functional part of the website. It’s how the site functions for the user when they interact. It’s the bones of the design. User experience (UX) involves the UI along with aspects such as aesthetics. Many would argue that excellent UX can’t exist without strong UI developer skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are around 160,500 web developers in the country.

Not all of them specialize in UI developer skills, and many have multiple disciplines incorporated into their work. So, one day, they might work on the UI of a mobile phone app and the next on tapping into the emotions of site visitors. While UX and UI have distinctive differences and skillsets, you should be well-versed in both. UI designers should learn more about UX design and vice versa, as the two areas work in tandem. Enhancing your UI developer skills should be your first order of business.

What Does a UI Developer Do?

  • Develops an interface that functions in expected ways.
  • Meets user expectations so they don’t grow frustrated and bounce away.
  • Strives for efficiency.
  • Creates seamless interactions.
  • Keeps things simple and easy to navigate.
  • Ensures all forms work.
  • Tests for different device types and how the site looks.
  • Knows front-end and back-end functions.
  • Applies interactive functions.

Developing a robust set of UI developer skills is a matter of understanding the elements that make a site function smoothly.

How Do I Become a UI Designer?

Do you need a formal education to gain the UI developer skills required to land a job or work as a freelance designer? Many designers do not have a college education or they received training in related fields. As with many careers, those with a degree may find it easier to land a job or gain promotions. If you plan to work for a company instead of yourself, a degree becomes more critical in remaining competitive in your field. Most community colleges offer at least some courses in UI developer skills. You can also take a class and gain certifications through online programs. If you plan to get a degree, choose design as your major and add specialty courses on topics such as user interface, user experience and app development. Look for opportunities teaching real-world skills you’ll use on the job. If you prefer not to go to school, you’ll need more on-the-job training. Seek out a mentor and practice on projects for nonprofits and those who will throw volunteer work your way as you develop your portfolio.

Colleges Specializing in UX Design

While it might be a better idea to get an overall education in web development, if you want to just take a few courses or dig deep in UX design, there are a few colleges specializing in the topic:

  • Tandon School of Engineering at New York University in New York City has an integrated digital media track. One of the best parts of this program is their ability to hook students up with internships in the digital media field. The degree takes four years to complete.
  • The University of California has an online course on interactive design. It is an eight-lesson course and is the perfect add-on to an existing degree or to brush up on skills. This course of study will take you about two years to finish as a full-time student.
  • Another two-year degree is through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is in Media Arts & Sciences. The program limits entrances to only 50 students per year, making it a sought-after choice.

In addition to the handful of highly respected schools offering classes, there are courses available online and through local sources. Think about the skills you need to develop and whether you’d like a degree to go with them and decide from there.

Helpful Ongoing Learning for UI Developer Skills

Prior to School

If you are still in the decision phase about learning UI developer skills, you will want to make sure this career is really for you. Play around with some app building programs and read articles about UI design. Try to find a designer working in the field and shadow them to see exactly what the work entails.

During School

While gaining your skills as a designer, pay attention to trends. Is there anything you need to learn? A few years ago, people didn’t think much about voice search. Now, over 25% of Americans have smart speakers in their homes. Knowing what is trending allows you to keep your skills as up-to-date as possible while you’re gaining essential skills.

After Graduation

Once you’ve graduated, keep learning. Attend conferences for web developers, find a mentor and try out new techniques. Pay attention to what your competition is up to. If another UI developer competes in your niche, check out their work and see if you lack skills anywhere.

Is UI Developer a Good Career?

Whether becoming a UI developer is an excellent choice for you depends on your personality. Do you love sitting at a computer for hours and designing? If you enjoy taking on challenges, writing code and using customer service skills, you might love the work. However, there are many ways to make a living, so if you find sitting inside for hours on end stifling, this might not be the best career path for you. Web developers make a decent income. The median wage for web developers is about $73,760 per year. The BLS offers a positive job outlook for web developers. Expected growth is 13% by 2028, which is faster than the average for other occupations. UI development can be a comfortable career with promising possibilities moving forward.

Tips for Building Your UI Developer Skills

Your UI developer skills build over time. Here are some things you can do to enhance your abilities and speed up the learning process:

  • Save time with UI design patterns.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Network with others in your field.
  • Take on pro bono work.
  • Study top UI designers and imitate their styles.
  • Read widely on the topic of UI and changes in the industry.
  • Learn one new skill each month.
  • Get feedback from people smarter than you.
  • Improve your communication skills. You can’t design what you don’t understand.

The best developers never stop learning and gaining new skills. Seek to improve yourself each and every day, and your skills will grow over time. No one starts as an expert in UI design or anything else.

Your Career as a UI Developer

UI design can be highly rewarding and pays well. Develop the skills you need to compete in your location and stay on top of new trends. You may begin by working for a corporation to gain some insight and later branch out on your own. There are pros and cons to working for a company and freelancing. Try both and see which is best for you and your needs as a designer. 

CHAPTER 15: The Top UX Design Courses

The UX Design Guide for All Levels: Introduction

Chapter 1: The Top Front End Technologies for UX Designers
Chapter 2: What is the Difference Between UX and UI?
Chapter 3: The Laws of UX
Chapter 4: Why Mobile UX Matters
Chapter 5: What Is the UX Process?
Chapter 6: Why User Experience Design Is Essential to Everything
Chapter 7: What Is Lean UX?
Chapter 8: The Top UX Design Principles
Chapter 9: The Best UX Tools and Techniques
Chapter 10: How to Become a UX Designer
Chapter 11: Top Mobile UX Design Principles to Remember
Chapter 12: Dark Patterns: The Trickery Behind These Poor UI Tactics
Chapter 13: What Does Good Customer Experience Look Like?
Chapter 14: The Different Types of User Interface
Chapter 15: The Top UX Design Courses
Chapter 16: Skills Needed to Become a Great UI Developer

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at

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