Crafting a Healthy Design Culture Starts With the Job Description

I get it. Finding a designer that’s a good fit for your company’s needs is hard. Design titles are confusing. We design-types don’t make it easy on you, either. Just when you get used to calling us one thing, we insist on a different title! I think I can help reduce some of the confusion and unintentional misdirection surrounding this topic, and hopefully provide some clarity and consistency to companies and people seeking to fill design roles (and even designers seeking their next role).

It all comes down to a tiny piece of punctuation. A slash, actually. I’m not sure how it snuck in there so pervasively, but here we are. I’ve come to realize that the biggest source of confusion in our world right now comes down to just this: “UI/UX.” That little slash is the source of countless mini anxiety attacks by yours truly.

Why does it matter? What’s in a name? When we’re talking about naming roles within the discipline of design (and the arcs of real people’s careers), it’s actually pretty dang important to understand the differences, for both company and designer happiness.

There are lots of flavors of design. Designers can be stronger with some facets of design and weaker with others. However, the use of the dreaded “UI/UX” combo in job descriptions is a strong negative signal to me about the person using it. That slash tells me that the writers of the job description don’t really know the difference between UI and UX, or don’t care about being precise in their language for what they’re seeking in a designer. Either way, as a designer or job seeker, I’m going to assume that the company is not a healthy place for a designer to be.

To frame it another way, it would be roughly the equivalent on the product side as posting a job description for a “Product/Project Manager” or on the engineering side, an “IT/Software Engineer.” — They.Just.Aren’t.The.Same.

But seriously, why do the names keep changing? You’re probably thinking: “Other disciplines don’t change their roles and titles nearly as often.” Are designers just as finicky as every caricature of us seem to portray? I’ve had this conversation with lots of seasoned designers and we always end up at one thing: It’s very difficult to concisely describe the evolving value that designers provide, and thus it’s easier for those outside of design to minimize or misunderstand that value.

By now, most people in software agree: having a designer on your team is valuable! Yay! We’ve come so far since ye olden days when engineering teams had designers foisted upon them against their will! BUT! It’s still so hard to quantify the value of what designers provide to a product. With engineering and product disciplines, the metrics are so much more clear cut: Features shipped, code written, fewer bugs, more revenue, bigger market share, etc.

For designers? We make things “easier to use.” We make things “friendlier.” We make people “generally happier” with the product. In classic terms, the product is more usable, useful and accessible. Sure, there are narrower slices of metrics for design successes like time-on-task, funnel conversions, shopping cart fulfillment, etc. But how do those outcomes boost revenue? Or user acquisition? Or the enable the ability to enter new markets? I think can we all agree that design efforts do boost the bottom line, but how, specifically? The lines that Product folks, for instance, can so easily draw from their efforts to revenue or growth are so much more clear cut.

Hence, the need for designers to constantly iterate on the design of their own titles. We are defining and redefining our own value via these job titles in an effort to make it more clear. We’re applying a design process to our own job titles.

Having said all that, I’d like to help. Here’s my take on how companies, recruiters and designers can be more precise and intentional with their language in job descriptions and (hopefully) find better fitting candidates as a result.

  • Product Designer: If you are seeking a true design partner, the title “Product Designer” is what you’re looking for — even for junior roles. This is someone who would collaborate equally with PM & ENG from requirements gathering and definition through to the executed product. Their primary motivation is to create the best outcome for both the users and the business, through every customer touch-point, not just the software interface itself.
  • User Experience (UX) Designer: If you are seeking someone to *primarily* think through flows based on requirements created elsewhere then you’re looking for a “User Experience Designer.” This role is typically inclusive of UI design (UX + UI = UX Designer) and can occasionally include some Visual Design (VISD) chops. Your results may vary on that last one.
  • User Interface (UI) Designer: If you are seeking someone to *primarily* design widgets, components, small, contained flows, and can do some amount of visual design — basically making someone else’s wireframes “Pretty and Usable” — you’re looking for a “UI Designer”. These roles tend to be more junior, but I know plenty of very senior folks that stay in this realm and are very, very good at what they do.

I hope this helps us all be more precise and intentional in our language around design roles and how to think about what companies (and designers!) need to to set everyone up for success.

As for me? I’m going with Experience Sommelier

Thanks to Michelle Lee, Morgan Gore, Rachel Brown, Page Pauli, Sarah Donaldson, Molly Stevens, Rick Klau, Rachel Lorencz, Chris Masone, Clint Maddox and the Women in Product slack group for the discussion and feedback.