UX is Bullshit? I don’t think so.

Perception of design titles & roles

I’ve been discussing the title UX Designer versus Web Designer over at Sitepoint after an inflammatory tweet by Ryan Carson where he called the title UX Professional bullshit.

To most people I’m sure debating job titles seems a waste of time and self absorbing, and it is, but for me it’s been enjoyable. It’s forced me to think further about why I use the term UX Designer as opposed to other titles and has made me more comfortable about my decision.

The key reason I call myself a UX Designer is because the other titles are too restrictive.

I like to conduct user research, delve into traffic stats, send out surveys to users, conduct user testing sessions, do interaction design, information architecture, visual design and some front-end coding. If the rest of the business world saw this as falling in the scope of a Web Designers role then I’d call myself a Web Designer – but that’s not what I’ve experienced.

The diagram above illustrates how I believe the majority of the business word perceive the roles of the various job titles that abound for designers. I’m not saying this is an accurate representation of what the roles entail either. I’ve worked with usability consultants whose skills expand well outside of what I’ve illustrated, same with web designers and the other titles, but again it’s my view on how others in the business word perceive the roles and responsibilities of the various job titles.

I see the title UX Designer as a title that describes someone who uses a broad range of techniques and methodologies from a variety of more specialised professions to help reach a solution. I see UX Designers as designers more willing to utilise approaches from these more specialised professions to create better design solutions. That’s not to say UX Designers are more talented than the specialists either. For example I’m comfortable doing the Information Architecture for a website but I wouldn’t be comfortable coming up with the classification system for a phone directory like the Yellow Pages. Another example is that I haven’t studied cognitive sciences or psychology so I’m not totally comfortable calling myself a usability expert but I do conduct user testing sessions to inform my design work.

At the heart of it is that the title Web Designer is perceived as someone who creates Photoshop mockups and builds them into HTML & CSS, maybe some Flash as well. A UX Designer is perceived to be someone who has a broader range of skills that can help business get to know their customers better and therefore create better designs for them.

PS. I’m conscious that Designers are infamous for over thinking things and for being sensitive and I realise this discussion doesn’t help that perception but hey, discussing these things in detail brings deeper understanding.

15 Comments

  1. Hi James,

    As you would expect I mostly agree, but wondered why the bar only went halfway through the Visual Design section? I would have expected it to flow through partially into the Front-End Development section.

    I think visual design skills are too often ignored by the UX community, and some development skills are also important.

    Chris

  2. james Author

    Again this is my take of what others perceive the role of UX Designers to be. Although there are plenty calling themselves UX Designers who have visual design and development skills (myself included) I don’t see these skills as perceived to be part of the role by others.

  3. Dan

    Bang. On.

    Totally agree James.

    To weight in on the visual design/front-end dev skills discussion: Again I agree with James in that I think they are desirable and beneficial skills for a UXer to have, but I don’t think they are mandatory. Much like how a front-end dev would benefit from visual and UX design skills, but aren’t mandatory.

    Cheers,
    Dan.
    PS. No venn diagram? How did you resist?!

  4. Kirstin Lowe

    Hey James,

    Thanks for writing this article. Sometimes it’s hard to gain people’s understanding of exactly what UX designers do and how they can help over numerous departments of an organisation. Having just started a new job I find myself in that situation right now. This article goes a long way to describing our many facets and skills and how we can help out in so many ways.

    I agree with Chris’ comment regarding visual design. Maybe its dependent on whether you’re more visually orientated or research/psychology orientated in your form of UX design. Being more visually directed I would expect the bar to cover the entire visual design space.

    Kirstin

  5. you can include yourself in the full spectrum as you understand both! does that mean you know what you are talking about? šŸ™‚ LOL! you know! šŸ™‚

  6. Silvia

    Great article, James.
    No, unfortunately Ryan Carson didn’t get it right.
    Yep, it’d be wonderful to live in a world where all Web Designers are UX-pros.
    And also in a world where everybody has got enough to eat, drink and choice in life.
    But that’s not this world. And no all web designers are UX-pros.

    We need people that look at the overall picture, and actually have the skill to switch between the strategic experience vision and the detailed interaction design.
    That’s not what web designers do.

  7. omprakash

    Nice article James.

  8. It seems to me that a UX Design, Usability, Interaction Design and Information Architecture can be applied to different outputs not just the web. Whereas a Web Design primarily outputs to the web and can include all of the above.

  9. Mark S

    The issue with your post, is you are only taking one part of Ryan’s argument into view…

    So sure, a UX professional (different to a UX designer?) is perceived to cover all those areas and that’s fine (it’s a perception after all) and if they are charging extra for completing more tasks, that is fair enough, if they are charging extra for the same tasks (at the same experience/skill level) that isn’t.

    But you’ve completely missed that a web designer should do user-testing, user-research (if they don’t I don’t know how they make websites), and should understand alot about IA and interaction design. Ryan’s post stresses on this as well, people calling themselves web designers who can’t complete these tasks (whether they complete them or not is irrelevant) shouldn’t be calling themselves web designers!

    I believe that UX professionals are necessary for research and improving what we know, but I also believe that web designers should learn everything they can about UX, aesthetics are only one part of a users experience, and are useless on their own.

    Charging extra just for using that title is bullshit!

    • james Author

      No I haven’t completely missed that point Mark and I don’t entirely disagree with what you and Ryan are saying on that front.
      What I am saying is that, in my experience, those who advertise for the role titles in my diagram generally want people to do the functions covered in my diagram. I said in my post “Iā€™m not saying this is an accurate representation of what the roles entail either”.

      I would like to add though that I think it’s fine for designers not to have to do all the functions illustrated in this diagram, why can’t someone just special in visual design and front-end development and call themselves a web designer?

  10. Agree with this to a certain degree. Except the Web Designer part. I think that should span all of it. Someone I barely know, but feel somewhat kin to said the following:

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    We have a long time on this earth as human beings. Why in the world would we shell ourselves into learning only certain things well.

    • james Author

      Thanks for your input Jonas.
      Again the illustration is my experience about what people advertising for those job titles expect them to do.
      As for specialisation, I’d hate to think that someone like Einstein, Michelangelo, Bach or Darwin didn’t specialise.

  11. Why is that? Sure they were known to do that one thing well (Paint, play piano etc). But actually kinda sucks to be known for just one thing, as I’m sure they probably did other things really well. And I’m not saying there can’t be specialists in other fields (heart surgeons vs. brain surgeon). But it seems kinda lazy in our field. I mean how long does it take for you to really master something until it is just second nature and even boring. At that point, you’ve likely reached the cap of that skill, (and you’ve beat it to death over and over, day after day) that it would be perhaps wise to start expanding oneself in other skills as well. (There is more value in this type of person in my opinion.)

    I know many folks that span your entire graph, they do their jobs, and they do all of these things very well. They’re not what I would call “exceptional” people – as they are filling the role of what they should be doing anyways. These titles that you have listed seem more like “tasks” to me then actually entire job roles – or titles. And I wouldn’t say knowing just one of these well, justifies a pay increase.

    I hope you understand, that I’m not trying to be simply contrary, I really feel this way.

  12. Oh, btw, very good article on this very subject. The “Specialist” debate, is actually a very old one. http://www.brazencareerist.com/2009/07/26/specialization-is-for-insects

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