There’s no such thing as “a UX person”

The field of UX has multiple disciplines with different degrees and backgrounds. There may be some overlap, but each role brings unique and necessary skills to the table. Unless an individual has multiple graduate degrees including Psychology, Human Factors, Graphic Arts, Industrial Design, Information Science and Computer Science, there’s really no such thing as a UX person.

“A UX person” is a myth perpetrated by organizations that, as far as they know, believe all UX professionals are exactly the same, possessing the same skill set. As a result, they hire 1 person to perform all of UX. The UX profession itself has allowed this myth to proliferate by going along with it, going so far as to invent the “UX Designer” role and not insisting on all specialties and stakeholders be included on the team. This makes it extremely difficult to get support to hire the right discipline when the product is truly suffering in a particular area of UX.

For example, some of the primary disciplines and degrees for a UX team are:

  • User Research — Psychology, Human Factors
  • Interaction Design — Industrial Design, User Experience Design
  • Visual Design — Art, New Media, Graphic Design
  • Information Architect — Information Science, Information Management
  • Front End Development — Computer Science, New Media

Is it realistic to expect one person to cover all those roles and disciplines? What background should a hiring manager look for to hire “a UX person” that does all that? No matter which background is hired, there will be other disciplines barely covered, or missing completely from the mix.

By way of comparison, a product development team will consist of:

  • A Product Manager —Business Management, Product Design
  • One or more UI Developers — Computer Science, New Media
  • Back-end/API Developers — Computer Science/Electrical Engineering, Database Administration
  • One or more QA Engineers — Computer Science, Software Engineering
  • A Build Engineer — Information Technology

Hiring “a UX Person” is somewhat akin to having an entire product team consist of only an API Developer. Good luck with that.

If the product were designed by a Visual Designer, the team may need to hire a User Researcher to ensure the usability of the product. If the product doesn’t look much like the original design, the team might need to hire a Front End Developer who has the skill to interpret a design in UI technologies. But expecting a single “UX Designer” to effectively cover all those bases is really a false proposition.

From “My Republica” — Nepal Republic Media

The question is, how important is getting UX right for your business? Just like, how important is QA? Can you get away without a formal test team and just depend on developers to test their own work? Maybe. Is it best practice? Absolutely not. That’s the wolves guarding the chicken coop. The various roles exist for a reason. Without them, the product team is not getting good coverage, and will continue to struggle until those roles are filled.

The right blend of UX disciplines that are needed has to be evaluated by the product team and company based on how important it is to the product, strategy and business. For example, whether to hire full-time for all UX roles, or hire an Interaction Designer and Front End Developer while contracting out for User Research and Visual Design, will depend on how complex the product is (large enterprise product vs single-purpose consumer app), where it is in the design process (either new from scratch, or existing product being updated), how much budget there is, etc. But the product team needs to be aware of all the UX roles that should be on the team, and be very aware when there are missing members from the team, with an eye to fulfilling those roles as soon as makes sense.

The field of UX has multiple disciplines with different degrees and backgrounds. There may be some overlap, but each role brings unique and necessary skills to the table. Teams may get by with only having one or two particular roles, like an Interaction Designer and a Visual Designer for example, but they need to be aware they are missing certain UX disciplines so when there are issues in that particular area of UX they hire the right person for the job, not just “a UX person” …because “a UX person” really doesn’t exist.