Design plays a prominent role in our modern society. Think of designer clothes, designer clocks, and even designer cakes. Increasingly, design has become an important differentiation factor and many companies define themselves from the competition through design. In the software world, quite a few directions of designers have emerged. In the following, I would like to shed some light on this variety.
Interaction designers focus on how people interact with their designs. They typically build devices that you can put your hands on, albeit with a lot of software under the hood, such as museum installations or prototypes, to explore new ideas with people. Often, these designers have an art school background and some of them feel and behave a bit like artists. Others, like the critical designers, act as provocateurs. They, for example, explore future scenarios and want to make people think to persuade them to change their behaviors.
User interface designers
User interface designers focus on the design of user interfaces for software applications. That is, they design what you can see on a computer screen. Good UI designers, however, think holistically and design the whole interaction that users engage in with their software. Not surprisingly, some UI designers therefore call themselves interaction designers. UI designers often have a background in computer science or cognitive psychology they feel more like researchers or engineers than as artists.
(User) experience designers
(User) experience designers can be regarded as a new breed of UI designers who put the users overall experience at the center of their design efforts, striving to make the experience the best possible one. This approach is not limited to software and can include any man-made artifact or process such as services (service design) and organizational structures (organizational design).
Visual/graphic designers design the visual aspects of products, be they static or, increasingly, dynamic: colors, forms, shapes, transitions, movements, and more are their realm. Many visual designers go beyond the pure visual aspects in their designs and regard themselves as interaction designers as well.
Initially, Web designers were seen as a kind of visual designers who specialize in Web pages. However, with the evolution of the Web into a dynamic medium, the boundaries between Web, UI, and visual designers get more and more blurred. Nonetheless, their technical domain is the Web and, increasingly, mobile apps based on Web technology.
Proponents of the design thinking approach encourage designers to bring their methods into the business world by either taking part in business processes themselves or by training business people to use design methods. They maintain that "everyone is a designer." By broadening the scope of design, design thinkers led the movement of designers tackling the big problems, such as the redesign of enterprises or large organizations. But there is no movement without a counter reaction. Recently, some designers changed the focus more or less to the opposite and promoted designing the small things. That is, they urge their colleagues to pay attention to the details because these are the ultimate reason why we love or hate products.