Design roles in technology companies quickly explained (with sneakers 👟 )
Being a designer in technology, often times I am casually enquired by friends, students, fellow co-workers - about designer titles like - interaction designers & usability designers. People who want to start designing, read about numerous terms and googling these leads to a detailed article on each term. But not many resources come-up, that compare the terms side by side.
A logical way to understand these titles would be to treat them as roles, that designers fulfil on the way to designing a product. You may start as a general all-purpose designer, & if you are particularly good at a role (or at least interested), work your way to make it your title. In this short write-up, I’ll go through some the the common roles below.
Also, to make it fun, I’ll throw in a sneaker, that a designer in a particular role is likely to design.
Note: By sneakers, I’m in no way trying to ignorantly generalize the work that these designers do. The point here is to highlight the kind of work that is expected in each of these roles.
Wireframe designers chalk out quick prototypes called wireframes. Wireframes primarily allow you to define the information hierarchy of your design, making it easier to plan the layout according to how you want your user to process the information. These rough, low-fidelity designs (often made on paper), need to have a few variations and typically need multiple iterations rounds until something concrete is achieved.
If a wireframer were to design a sneaker, it would be:
Interaction designers are needed in websites & applications of mid to high complexity. Interaction designers identify key interactions of the product, plan out user-flows and create a design strategy based on principles, current trends and product needs. Their primary concern is to make sure that the application functions flawlessly in the hands of the users.
If an Interaction Designer were to design a sneaker, it would be:
Visual designers use color, space, typography & texture to create amazing experiences. They play a key role in defining what goes into a brand’s unique style and voice. They have a strong understanding of graphic design, identity design, branding & need to work collaboratively with UI designers to achieve effective product communication.
If a Visual Designer were to design a sneaker, it would be:
User interface (UI) designers are responsible for setting layout, adding elements (like buttons, inputs fields etc), pairing typefaces, and creating components for the final interface. They need to have a good understanding of user experience, web design & front-end technologies. They also need to have a strong grasp of general design fundamentals like color-theory and typography.
If a UI designer were to design a sneaker, it would be:
Usability analysts come in during the later stages of design process, sometimes even after the release of the product. Usability analysts evaluate user interactions, conduct usability studies and present findings and recommendations in a plan that drives future design improvements. They have a strong focus on user-testing using methodologies and research.
If a Usability Analyst was to design a sneaker, it would be:
Product designers are generally needed on applications with mid to high complexity. Product designers are primarily interaction designers, who also fill in other design roles of prototyping, UI design & research. Think of them as design generalists that do whatever it takes to design a beautifully functional product. They have a good amount of practical experience with a strong focus on UX.
If a Product Designer were to design a sneaker, it would be:
Finally, the most popular title of them all. But, pause a while, and read the following carefully.
One can design for an experience, but not the experience itself.
User experiences are influenced by many factors, design is just one of them. I strongly believe calling someone UX Designer is not right. Click below to read my arguments in a neatly summed up (& slightly emotional) article.
Do note that all of the above are just roles, that designers fulfil to make the product functional. A single designer may very well fill in multiple of these roles, or a single role may need to handled by multiple designers. All depending on the nature & requirement of the product.
Nevertheless, each of these roles has one thing in common, you need to be empathetic to the user’s needs & expectations. In other words, know what its like to step into the user’s shoes… or sneakers.