If your company has a website, then it’s very likely that you’ve heard about some of these roles.
I’ve met a lot of people confused by the sheer number of UX job titles. And with so many variations out there, who can blame them? It’s ridiculous.
The truth is that for a bunch of people who are supposed to make products and services less confusing, we’re not doing a great job clarifying our roles in the grand scheme of things.
I thought I’d take this opportunity to write a few words about how role titles are handed out these days, and maybe shed a bit of light for those of us who know less about design, and more about other sides of a business. After all, design is only one piece of the puzzle.
Let’s start with what User Experience is
“UX is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with a product.”
Wikipedia is not wrong, but it still doesn’t explain why there are so many variations of roles that fall under the UX umbrella. Let’s look at it from a different angle.
What is not User Experience?
Instead of trying to define what is User Experience, let’s see what is not User Experience. If that becomes more clear, then User Experience will ultimately be defined by the disciplines that surround it. Think of it as drawing white on black.
Visual Design is not User Experience
This is the easy one. In most cases, the difference between a Visual Design (VD) and User Experience (UX), is that:
The Visual Designer is focused on using layouts, colors and illustrations to offer the desired branding, personality, and an overall aesthetically pleasing experience.
Whereas the UX Designer is focused on improving the usability, quality of interaction and making sure that users reach their objective in an efficient and pleasant manner.
However, you might see a lot of combined Visual / UX Designers roles. There’s no doubt that both can be done by one person, but there’s a good chance that the product will either turn out easy to use but not visually pleasing, or visually pleasing but frustrating to use.
Imagine a restaurant is hiring a chef and expecting her/him to cook, and serve the guests as well. It can be done, but there’s a good chance that either the food or the service might not turn out that great. Which one would you choose?
Customer Experience is not User Experience
Here things start to get a bit blurry, and that’s because User Experience (UX) is part of Customer Experience (CX), which has a wider scope and covers not only channels and touchpoints, but the customer’s perception of the whole service/product, branding, pricing, advertising, etc. Not to say that UX only covers digital touchpoints however it’s predominantly used within the digital environment. So in this case:
The person responsible for Customer Experience is focused on driving overall experience improvements and on improving the customer’s perception of the company, branding, pricing, advertising, etc.
Whereas the UX Designer is focused on ensuring that a customer’s experience is seamless on all touchpoints within the digital channel (app, website, ATM, etc.)
Allow me to illustrate a case using the same restaurant above: Imagine that the restaurant management launches a brand new app, which customers can use to book tables and pre-order the food. The app has a clean interface, clear food menu and instant reservation confirmation — this is good UX. However, when customers reach the restaurant, they find that they still need to queue, and most of the time, restaurant staff are not aware of the promotions that are available in the app, therefore customers need to go through some more clarifications in order to redeem the offer. On top of that, prices are not the same at all locations — this is bad Customer Experience.
Service Design is not User Experience
This is where things get confusing. Service Design is a discipline that many have yet to hear of, even though it’s been around for 20 years. Some call it the most important discipline you’ve never heard of. The fact is that Service design is a close cousin of User Experience, sharing many techniques, but with a different focus. If we were to use the same contrasting method:
The Service Designer designs with a wide stakeholder group, taking into consideration multiple channels and touchpoints, and how all of these interact over time, with a focus on what happens behind the scenes so that the right experience can be delivered.
Whereas a UX Designer nowadays typically designs only with a smaller stakeholder group, specifically for the digital touchpoints and the main focus revolves around the users of the respective touchpoints.
Remember the restaurant that had a great app but disappointing service? Today’s UX Designer, has limited influence outside of the mobile app, so the Service Designer needs to come into play, and orchestrate what happens behind the scenes (back end systems, communications, staff training) so that customers get a good experience when moving from app to the actual restaurant.
How do these disciplines coexist?
I’m glad you asked! Let me try and use my Visual Design skills to illustrate how these disciplines overlap, and my User Experience skills to place this illustration near the end of the article to make it more likely for you to remember. And just to make sure you have a great overall Customer Experience, I am also available to catch up for coffee if you’re keen on discussing more on these topics. Oh, and not to forget, I will use my Service Design skills to make sure that the transition from Medium to the Coffee Shop gives you a smooth and consistent experience.
You might ask yourself why should we even attempt to classify these disciplines? Who cares what designers call themselves, and what’s the point distinguishing these disciplines when all of them could be easily grouped under the umbrella of Experience Design, or simply Design?
The truth is that after sharing this article for the first time with my professional network, I’ve received considerable feedback from both supporters and opponents of “discipline territories” and the discussions were nothing short of amazing. Probably more useful than the article itself, so I’d like to thank the design community for that, and share a few insightful comments with you:
- “[…]I might have overlapped the VD and UX circles a bit more…we emphasize, for example, that the visual appearance of a website has a massive, almost instant, impact on users’ trust in and perception of quality of the website/application overall, affecting, for example, how users subsequently rate overall usability, regardless of how well interaction design has been done.[…]” — I fully agree with the author of this comment
- “[…] I also question the value in attempting to define such clear boundaries and specialisation. There is clear overlap in every area, and the reason that classification is so hard is because roles are so blurred. In my opinion, what is needed is more trans-disciplinary designers in positions of influence and designers at all levels trained to see the broader context.” — I agree that defining clear boundaries is challenging because of the significant overlap, however I do believe that having some boundaries will help designers better understand what their strong points are (visual, interaction, etc) and help them focus on what they need to improve.
- “[…]It would be so much more beneficial for designers to study and build bridges between each of those disciplines as that’s where the best opportunities are.” — I do believe that we have the freedom to choose if we want to become specialists in a discipline (UX, UI, etc.), or generalists (end to end) designers. That being said, the boundaries should be seen as an opportunity to expand our skillset, not restrictions.
- “I’m tired of this classification debate. It’s just fueled by salespeople that find it easier to simplify their sales pitches” — I agree with the author of this comment, but my view is that the lack of classifications will only make things easier for the salespeople.
- “I too am confused by all the different titles. I’m trying to clarify for my students so they understand the different roles and methodologies. It’s gets more confusing when you look at the entire spectrum of design. I split design and user experience into the create and usability camps. User experience started as an afterthought, looking at how to improve tools for use by humans. But design, bear with me, is a forethought, creating tools to be used by humans. May be semantics but I think there’s a definite demarcation line between the two on skill sets and roles. The term UX Design has always been interesting because it’s tying future and past together. But it takes different mental models and mindsets to do UX and design. They’re not the same.”
The list goes on, and clearly there are many more views on the matter with no clear right or wrong answers. I will not attempt to state that my view is the correct one — everything I wrote above is just a reflection of my experience working with, and for other designers.
My advice to you, until we reach a consensus?
Ignore job titles.
Instead of looking at roles and titles, try to break down the requirements of a role into individual skills. After all, if you know for sure that your team needs someone who can interview, sketch and prototype really well, the title of the role is not so important anymore.