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Roles in UX: What's in a name?

Mike Jongbloet

Oct 30 2017

Umbrellas

User Experience as a term has been around for over 20 years, but it is still a relatively young domain. Conversations and arguments about what UX actually is and isn’t are ongoing.

One aspect of “UX” for which there’s no clear consensus is the roles we work within and hire into. In speaking with leaders of other agency teams, in-house teams and contractors I’ve heard a plethora of job titles, role descriptions and typical working days for a user experience professional.

These include UX Consultant, UX Designer, UX Researcher, UX Analyst, UXer, UX Architect, and UX Strategist. Then there are the roles that don’t have UX in their title – Content Designer, Researcher, Visual Designer, UI Designer, Information Architect, Interaction Designer… the list goes on.

In a recent survey about job titles within UX it was found that between 178 respondents there were a staggering 69 different job titles! This makes hiring and attracting talent very difficult – what role do we advertise for to attract the right person!?

A user experience really is wide ranging.

I’m not suggesting that these roles don’t exist. Of course they do. A genuinely great user experience is the result of all these disciplines coming together to create a solution. The image below from Dan Willis demonstrates this well. (I actually saw Dan Willis speak at Leading Design 2017 the other day, he’s awesome!)

UX Umbrella

Picture credit to Dan Willis.

Depending on the makeup of an organisation, one person may cover all of these roles, or they may be split across multiple people. Some organisations may even hire specifically into each individual role.

But this doesn’t help when it comes to designing and hiring into your team.

So do we need these different job titles? And why has this explosion of titles happened in the first place?

User experience is not just UI.

The eagle eyed amongst you might notice that User Interface design is missing from the image above. That is because a great UI comes about as a result of combined good visual design and interaction design. Both of which are critical elements of the user experience, but only a sliver of the UX spectrum.

As more people have taken on the UX Designer job title, I’m seeing an increasing number of applications from designers whom I would describe as having a UI Design skill set.

I suggest that this is why we’re witnessing an ever growing list of job titles, as people in the industry whose skills lie in other areas of UX relabel themselves from UX Designers to UX Engineers, Architects or Analysts to differentiate.

So, what is the UX role and where is it headed?

I’m not sure there is a universal answer this. It will differ organisation to organisation, and team to team.

Breaking out into silos of UX and Design is something I certainly don’t agree with. In fact we tried that at Deeson, and after three months decided to call time of death on that experiment. We must aim to build design teams which can cover the skills required to create an excellent user experience.

I personally believe Erik Flowers said it really well back in 2012 when he described the outcome of UX work as the intangible design of a strategy that brings us to a solution.”

At Deeson we have two roles.

We’re a relatively small design team currently at Deeson, and we look to hire designers with broad skill sets. This is a hiring strategy that works effectively for our process and team structure.

However, sometimes too general a skill set can lead to a decrease in specialism and therefore quality. So we’ve had to figure out which roles we need in the team and their core responsibilities to help us keep the high level of quality we strive for.

Following a number of exercises to help us figure this out as a team, we identified two roles:

  • UXer: responsible for strategy, research, information architecture and content strategy
  • Designer: responsible for interaction design, visual design and usability

This is a murky distinction; designers take part in the UX activities and likewise UXers have a lot of input into design activities. There is constant collaboration as we want to avoid “throwing things over the wall”.

What this distinction allows us to do is hire excellent people with the right skills into these roles, rather than trying to find the mythical “design unicorn” that can do everything.

And many skills.

We also look for diversity within the team’s skills. So alongside the two roles we’ll look for specialisms such as data, typography, psychology, research, testing and accessibility.

By building up specialisms within the team we can share best practice, upskill everyone, and we have specialists to draw on in specific situations. This enables the team grow as a unit and constantly push improvements.

So...what do you call your roles!?

This post started with me highlighting the broad range of job titles within the UX industry and I’m afraid to say I have no magic answer to the job title issue!

We’re currently advertising our UX role under ‘UX Researcher’ but we’ll be A/B testing this against other titles such as UX Analyst and UX Architect to see which titles attracts the most high quality applicants.

As for our design role, we simply call that Designer.

We’re currently hiring into both roles so if you’re interested, head over here to find out more about working at Deeson and then check out the roles for Designer and UX Researcher.

Mike Jongbloet

About the author

Mike Jongbloet

Head of Design and UX