Let’s talk about the “UX” Designer

Those two little letters that mean so much.

When I joined Shopify around 4 years ago I thought I had a very clear idea of what UX was. I had worked in agencies, consulted for clients and done plenty of side projects, it wasn’t until I landed in my first real tech job that I truly learned what UX actually was, and how powerful it is to be a designer at a product company.

Wander into any agency, especially bigger ones, and you’ll find the all-too-common UX Designer. User Experience – what a beautiful term. UX. So deep in meaning, and the X makes it look so radical. Conjure up what you think User Experience means in your head. Right. Hmm. It’s probably something to do with crafting experiences for users.

Bingo!

User Experience Design very literally means to consider, rationalize, and direct how a user will interact with an object, interface or, for lack of a better word… experience.

How is it now?

When we wander into any agency anywhere in the world, especially the bigger ones, we find UX designers who are tackling one tiny aspect of the user’s experience, usually building grey-box wireframes without any consideration for product needs, visual design, interaction, motion, implementation, or a slew of other things that affect the user.

Too many with this title are far too specialized on one tiny little part of the user journey. Some even have the audacity to say they’re a UI/UX Designer as if those things are exclusive of each other!

But there’s hope…

A UX Designer can actually be a generalist with a huge part to play in the product process.

UX is a discipline along with Product and Engineering.

So what is UX?

Over the course of building a large team at Shopify, we’ve defined UX as a blanket for an entire department matched with Product and Engineering. Our UX team is made up of four disciplines: User Research, Design, Content Strategy and Front-End Development which spans smaller phases of a project.

Generalists are broad across phases, specialists are deeper into one or two.

Only once you’ve touched all of those things are you a UX Designer. They should be rare and elusive. Masterful and all-knowing. T-Shaped unicorns that frolic in the wilderness of startups.

This isn’t to say you can’t specialize in one or two aspects of the UX process — but that doesn’t make you a UX Designer. The entire department is geared towards building a beautiful usable experience for users, so no specialist can lay claim to the term UX. You can be a Prototyper, you can specialize on visual design, you can focus on IA – but you are not considering the entire user experience in that role and your title should reflect that.


Researchers don’t just disappear once a project starts, and Content Strategists don’t pop in once and provide all the words. Everyone works together to ship a product, but at the core of that is one person doing many, many things: The UX Designer.