Guide to Different Types of Designers for SaaS Product Owners
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Last Christmas I had to choose some headlamps for my family. And it’s not about me lacking creative ideas for Christmas gifts, but as my family lives in Ukraine, they experienced long electricity cuts caused by shellings. So headlamps became more important than ugly Christmas sweaters.
Getting flashlights seemed like an easy task until I started the search online. First, I discovered that the intensity of light is measured in lumens. Then, there were the batteries-powered headlamps or the ones having the USB charger, and numerous options like strobe or red light or red strobe. Then I realized I need one that was simple enough for a grandma to use. Also, let’s not forget about the weight, as it might be hard to wear it on the head for hours.Long story short, it took me a few hours and a few dozen buyers’ reviews to pick the right one.
Same process can relate to hiring designers for your project. If you ever tried to hire a designer, you might know that it’s much harder than you thought. And one of the hardest parts is figuring out what are the types of designers and why there are so many of them.
As a professional design agency, we can confirm that this is not the easiest question. But we’ll try to make some sense of all this mess. We don’t have the ambition to make a complete “types of designers list”, but we can give you an idea of the types of designers that are most relevant for a SaaS business owner. But before that, let’s figure out the roots of such diversity in this profession.
Why are there so many design professions in digital business?
Among the designers themselves, there are polarized opinions regarding professions’ titles. Some say that these names don’t make any sense and make people focus on small differences rather than the main objective of designers' work.
Once we started discussing this topic in our work Slack channel, one of our designers, Aleksandra, said that having several people working on a project can make work go faster if everyone focuses on a separate set of tasks. However, it requires excellent management and coordination. Then, her colleague Natalia sent this picture to the chat.
So you got it, inside the community opinions on the topic vary a lot, and that makes the story even more interesting.
We have to understand that this is not the HR department that decides to make a profession rebranding and start calling all the designers “informational architects” or “user experience analysts”. Many designers choose to name themselves in a certain way because they feel that this word represents them better than just “designer”. What are the reasons for that?
- Narrow specialists earn more (on average).
Naturally, big companies can afford to have big branched departments, while in small companies, where the product team consists of several persons, there is no space (and resources) for such a division. And often, in big companies, the average salaries would be higher.
- Some people feel that the word “designer” has some negative connotations or simply doesn’t explain to other people what they are doing. It may be easier to present yourself mysteriously rather than say a common word knowing that everyone will have their associations.
- Differentiation of roles comes naturally in big companies that employ tens and hundreds of designers. It is the consequence of the increasing importance of design in modern digital products. Although there are theories proving that small teams work better than big ones, it’s hard to go and tell a giant like Google or Dropbox that they should have smaller teams. I bet they know what they are doing.
- The invention of new titles is a sign that the professional field is developing and different types of design tasks require different types of designers. Design teams are growing and people can dive deeper into one specific field knowing that their colleagues will cover other tasks.
Many professions change their names, and it is a very common case for the ones that are closely tied to technology changes. Think of HR managers who started calling themselves “people department” instead of “human resources”. It reflects the shift in attitude towards employees: nowadays companies want to demonstrate how they care about their workers and treat them as human beings, not just “resources”.
Similar things happen with designers.
So, why people are frustrated?
Some designers feel that those different words just blur out the true meaning of the profession, which is creating solutions. And for people who need to hire a designer for a SaaS, all this diversity comes as a confusing factor that complicates the hiring process.
This article aims to help with the latter: we’ll go through the most common design professions that a SaaS business owner may come across when browsing LinkedIn.
Even though this designer position is not the most common to find in SaaS teams, it’s a good start for a designers overview, since the profession of graphic designers is much older than others that are described later in this article.
It is much more common to meet a UX or product designer with a background in graphic design than the other way around. Graphic design degrees, or visual communication, as it is often called, are easy to find in many universities, while very few have options for product design or UX/UI design.
What can a graphic designer bring to your SaaS product?
Graphic designers are great at creating original visual concepts, developing unique style, and helping with a variety of tasks apart from product design. As your company grows, there might be a need for presentation materials, T-shirts, banners for conferences, you name it… Graphic designers typically have more experience with these compared to their colleagues who specialize in digital products only.
This one needs a little explanation. Their specialization is designing web pages, creating the layout, and filling the content. Their main task is to present the information in a way that would be clear and easy to find. Web designers can be very creative and experimental if they want to catch users’ attention and show clients that they can do more than Wix or Squarespace.
Web designers commonly use HTML and CSS, but with modern tools like Webflow and others, web design becomes more and more accessible.
What can a web designer bring to your SaaS product?
If you are still at the very initial stage, you may need a website even before the prototype is done. For that, a good web designer is a good hire.
Motion design becomes more and more popular nowadays when the tools for building responsive websites become more efficient. As many years have passed since the dawn of the internet when websites were loaded with epilepsy-provoking GIFs, animation has gone a long way to an elegant and unintrusive component that doesn’t leave the lists of design trends.
Motion design has become very common on web pages, even if sometimes it’s not very obvious when micro-interactions and micro-animations are used. If you are looking for someone to create a modern website, search for designers with skills in animation software.
At Eleken, we also value when our product designers have such skills. However, if you want to build some heavy motion products like our YouTube blog, for instance, you would need a professional motion designer to do the job.
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What can a motion designer bring to your SaaS product?
Motion designers are essential if you want to make engaging tutorial videos for your product, develop some animation characters to add a playful element to the product, or build a cool website.
Beyond this, motion designers can work closely with your UX and UI designers to ensure that your product's animations and interactions are smooth, seamless, and intuitive. Of course, they wouldn’t be your first hire, but when you want to take your product design to the next level, having a motion designer on board is a good idea.
! Note that Animation designers are not the same as motion designers, even though they have similar skill sets. Animation designers work more with characters and complete scenes, while motion designers work with texts and small animations, such as website elements or video design. Animation designers are less likely to be interested to work with a SaaS product.
User Interface (UI) designer
The task of a UI designer is to create all the visual elements of the interface, from icons and fonts to dark themes and button shadows. To find answers to all questions about this profession, read our article on how to hire UI designers.
What can a UI designer bring to your SaaS product?
Hiring a UI designer is fine at the initial stage when you want to have a prototype for a pitch deck, or at later stages when the design team has grown enough to the point of separating UI from UX designers.
User Experience (UX) designer
Unlike user interface designers who work mostly with visuals, user experience designers focus more on research and users, finding out how they interact with the product and how this process can be improved.
What can a UX designer bring to your SaaS product?
As simple as it gets, UX designers can make your product more easy and more comfortable to use. In some companies, UX and UI teams are separated, but you shouldn’t bother about that unless your company is big enough to have more than 3 designers on board. If you are considering this at the moment,however, read our article on hiring UX designers.
Or is it UI/UX? Anyway, as you might have guessed, they combine the functions of user experience and user interface designers, and they are way more common.
It doesn’t matter which word comes first, since UI/UX and UX/UI are not different types of designers. It is one of the most common designer professions, and they are probably the most searched by SaaS founders who are just starting to build their teams.
What can UX/UI designer bring to your SaaS product?
They can create a design from scratch and ensure that it is both aesthetic and usable. Most clients who come to our agency are interested in UI/UX design services.
Visual designers are responsible for crafting a unified image for the brand across digital communication platforms. Among other types of designer professions, this one is kind of universal but hard to grasp at the same time.
Most people can’t really tell the difference between graphic or UI designers and visual designers, and it’s not because they are ignorant. Indeed, the tasks of visual designers largely overlap with both of them. Unlike graphic designers, a visual designer works with digital design only, and unlike UI designer, they create the visual elements of a SaaS product that are not necessarily interactive, such as logos, icons, illustrations, and branding materials.
What can a visual designer bring to your SaaS product?
Sometimes word “visual designer” can be used to describe a one-fit-all-design-tasks person. However, in some situations, they can be the person responsible for supporting consistent visual language when many creatives are working on the product. That way, they are kind of an art director for SaaS.
Branding designers’ work field includes logos, naming, color scheme, typography, and other elements of visual language that embody the brand's message and values. They can also help define the tone of voice and design all sorts of marketing materials such as slogans, business cards, brochures, and basically everything that can communicate a brand's identity so that it speaks to the target audience.
Unlike visual designers, a branding designer can be hired for a short period to kick-start the brand. After that, they establish guidelines for their brand identity to ensure that all visual elements are consistent and recognizable across all platforms. This includes guidelines for logo usage, typography, color palettes, and imagery.
What can a branding designer bring to your SaaS product?
You can hire a branding designer when you feel that a unique brand is essential to your product success, or when your idea needs good packaging so that you don’t have to make a complete redesign when you grow and realize that the logo designed initially won’t suffice.
This position is commonly confused with UX/UI designer (for a reason, I have to say). The main difference is that product designers take a more holistic approach to the design, taking into account all sort of business objectives and not only usability. It requires them to have knowledge not only of user experience design, but also understand how marketing, finances, and sales operate and work in tight contact with these teams.
The work of product designers doesn’t end with the product launch: they work constantly on collecting feedback and improving the product. To learn more about different types of product designers’ tasks, read our article about product designers and UX/UI designers.
What can a product designer bring to your SaaS product?
They can create a product from idea to eternity, constantly adjusting it to changing users, market, and business demands.
Who do you need to hire first for your SaaS?
Even if you have raised a huge investment round and want to reach design excellence, it doesn’t mean that hiring a big team with UI, UX, graphic designers, UX researchers, and analysts is the best idea.
In most cases, the wise decision would be to start with one product designer who can set the design process on track. Later, if you need faster results, you can hire additional team members and diversify the team when there is a need for some specific work and a narrow specialist.
However there are situations when the volume of work is huge, the deadlines are tight, and there is no time for a lengthy hiring process. In this case, you can always contract a design agency like Eleken — we will provide you with a team of product designers who can start working on your project as soon as two weeks from the moment you schedule the first call.