Are you a square peg in a round hole? – The dilemma of being a UX designer

Here’s another rant from someone who’s been handed the UX designer title for the last seven years. Things have accumulated over the years, you know. It’s time to get it off my chest.

Call it therapy if you want.

In a recent post on the InVision blog, Brittany Anas wrote:

Many job listings use the generalized term “UX designer” to mean different things.

This is true from my experience. I often landed in design teams as the ‘UX designer’ expected to deliver anything from user insights to user stories and visual design. But almost always was there someone else in the company who felt that I was intruding on their turf, doing their job.

And I’ve experienced that side of the fence too; new team members assuming ownership over something I considered being my responsibility to review and sign off as the UX designer on the team.

This could of course be blamed on poor transparency, siloed processes and inefficiencies in the product team. Often it is. But if we can’t express ourselves clearly we’ll never reach agreement so I think we need to start with terminology.

The main problem with being a UX designer

User experience involves everything. It’s the sum total of the responsibilities of all roles in product development. Put it that way it makes no sense at all to have a role called UX designer.

To make matters even more confusing we have now split out UX and UI as two separate skill sets. I despise this UX/UI split that the industry has settled for. What do people actually refer to with ‘UX’ when they state that they can do both UX and UI?

Getting the functional requirements right? That’s product/market fit (research driven value proposition design in practise).

Consider the CLC and optimise the multi-channel customer journeys? That’s product strategy and service design.

Maybe they refer to the product’s information architecture? That’s part of the UI.

User tests? That’s validating the UI, so still UI.

Maybe they mean all of the above? Then just say “I can do UX”. Because UI is part of UX.

The main problem with being a UX designer is that it makes no sense to have a role called UX designer, so it isn’t clear what’s expected of one.

The consequence of hiring a UX designer

The consequence of hiring a UX designer is that they will wear a lot of hats, and either have too much on their plate, or they will tread on toes of team members and stakeholders without really owning anything.

A UX designer have things to say about product strategy, technical implementation, branding, usability, visual execution and IA (this one they probably own but the GUI designers will certainly have opinions to share).

How to fix this

(Once and for all? Probably not)

The only way to make a UX designer role work is to put it on director (in-house) or project lead (agency) level. Only then, when the UX designer has enough mandate to call the shots will this title make sense.

If you ask me I’d rather see it go away all in all and never come back in any format. On director level you can simply be an Experience director or Product director.

In Anas’ article mentioned at the beginning of this post she lists more granular roles to replace the generic ‘UX designer’ and bring more clarity into what a person actually does.

User researchers, UX writers (ie copywriters), GUI designers and information architects are all more specific titles that make more sense than ‘UX designer’.

Product teams need to figure out what roles they need and hire accordingly and honestly. I will make a stab at my product dream team in a future post – I’m actually not sure what’ll come out in the end, so I’m looking forward to play with it. But it will not contain a UX designer.

Psst, one last thing: Product designers

I just need to mention this real quick.

For a few years we’ve been seeing a trend towards the Product designer role. My understanding is that this title emerged from the Bay Area with startups looking for unicorn designers capable of doing research, design and code while also being darn good at business and marketing.

Do these designers exist? Plenty of posts about that already, but either way people started calling themselves Product designers as a result, to indicate that they are involved with all aspects of the product.

Billy Kiely:

Today’s product designers are often UI/UX designers that apply their deep knowledge of the user experience across all aspects of the design process. By adding in “soft” skills like business strategy, technical prowess and marketing insights, they offer a broader, holistic view of design.

The Product designer role has a very high risk of becoming the new ‘UX designer’ and I think we need to be a bit careful about how it evolves and is used in job descriptions. Both Henry Wu and Cam Sackett summarise the role well but also highlights its umbrella-role nature.

I don’t mind the label, but in my dictionary it really is interchangeable with ‘UI designer’, i.e. a person who’s taking business and user needs and translates them into user interfaces.

In current industry terms that’s a UX/UI designer 😏

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