The many roles in UX

An Industrial Designer has always been an Industrial Designer. While there are several skills that an Industrial Designer must employ that are shared with other occupations, such as Graphic Design, 3D rendering visualization, 3D cad, faux-Engineer, and of course, sketcher/artist/illustrator. Sometimes it is the loftier role of Big-picture-thinker, or just as likely, the torch-bearer for keeping the design intent as it goes through the engineering-grinder. But it has always just been…Industrial Designer. Were this ten years ago I would have told you that an Industrial Designer and a Product Designer are the same thing, but as the tides have shifted, this too has changed.

UX Design is a different kettle of fish. A UX designer is both a general term and specific, describing the genre at large, and the more specific role that position entails. A bit like describing a Vacuum cleaner as a hoover, (a proprietary eponym, most commonly used in the UK) but also knowing that a hoover is a specific brand of vacuum cleaner.

I think it would be a disservice to explain what roles there are in UX without including the process in which it all fits. UX Design is a process, much like Industrial design which follows (usually) the path of:

In the real world, there will probably be about two to three revision cycles added

There are of course several variations of this theme, but this is the gist of it.

So, lets review a basic UX development process and see if there is overlap. UXmastery.com describes it as this.

H/T to UXmastery for this illustration — Hope you don’t mind me borrowing this…

While Usabilitygeek.com describes it this way:

H/T to Usabilitygeek — thank you also for this illustration

As with Industrial Design, there are several more variations of this, dependent on the needs of the business or individual who uses it. So how does ID and UX compare?

Not illustrated for simplicity: the amount of repeat cycles that can happen during development

As you can see, there is definitely overlap in processes. UX Design is however flavored by the use of Agile development principles, and the lean startup. Something that has not taken root so much in Industrial design. More on this in another post in the future.

So back to the question: what roles are there in UX Design? For reference, I have also created a list of roles most often found in ID.

3D viz specialists in ID are rare unless there is a focus on ultra-realistic renderings
The most commonly accepted names for these roles

Each one of these titles has at least three different names out on the job market today. It can be quite confusing when you are applying for jobs! For example, a UX Designer can also be known as:

  • Experience Designer
  • Interaction Designer
  • Information Architect

For more on that sea of titles, this article explains it well.

The above list is a basic summary of the roles available, but there are of course shared roles, and over-arcing positions that cover most bases. Anybody that can do all these things is apparently a Unicorn.

But how and where do these roles apply?

This is my best understanding of the current lay of the land. Of course, many of these roles can cover a larger gamut, or be very specific, depending on the size of the company. I have seen the Product Designer title on several job listings now, and from what I understand, it even sits higher than a UX Designer as far a role coverage, being a true jack-of-all-trades, yet it is not as clearly defined as other roles are.

With the process discovered and compared we can now hopefully see the roles in context, so lets start describing the roles:

UX Researcher: You conduct tests, gather data, and analyze in a qualitative and quantitative manner. The data is used to find “pain points” and help improve the product.

Content Strategist: Interprets the research, you develop content based on business goals and user needs. You do this by creating taxonomies and metadata frameworks. Your focus is on how to bring all the data/research together and create cohesive brand experience.

Visual Designer: Your focus is on how the experience looks. The buttons, the icons, the background, all follow a design guide you have created, so that the aesthetics are defined properly. Color, Typography and Layout are a primary focus. There are a lot of parallels between this and a graphic designer.

UX/UI Developer: This is where the code comes in, in the form of HTML, CSS, and javascript. You are making the experience a reality. Very similar to what an Engineer does in ID.

UX Designer: In this role you are essentially an architect of the experience(hence why the alternative name is sometimes Information Architect). where you have most of your focus is on creating the user interface, defining where and how things go before it gets polished by the Visual Designer.

Product Designer: This role puts you in charge of the whole product experience, keeping an eye on overall function, making sure all needs are met.

These are quick summaries, and the roles differ from company to company. I have created a list of links I found useful in my research.

To summarize (take with a pinch of salt).

UX Researcher: What is this thing?

Content Strategist: This is what this thing should say

Visual designer: This is how this thing looks

UX/UI Developer: This is how this thing will work

UX Designer: This is how this thing should behave

Product Designer: This whole thing needs to work

I hope this helps. I look forward to hearing your comments.


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