UX design is Not Graphic Design; it’s Business Strategy.

You own a company or are the project leader for a web or mobile application. You’ve got the idea for your website or app and now you want it to look pretty. It needs to be modern. Definitely flat or material design. Lots of icons and short blurbs. And definitely gorgeous background images that take up the entire screen. Yes, your website is going to look epic!

You keep hearing about the importance of user experience and how UX designers return $100 for every $1 invested. So you want to hire a UX Designer to bring together your vision for this epic website. You start to craft a job posting for a “Senior UX Designer” with “at least 3+ years of experience” with advanced skills in “Adobe Creative Suite” aka Photoshop.

Two hundred and 15 applications later, you hire the guy with the gorgeous portfolio. He even had images of wireframes in his portfolio. Nine weeks later, you realize this guy is great at drawing icons and arranging stock photos, but he has no idea how to ask open-ended questions in a user-test. It takes him forever to develop a mockup and he never develops more than one. But his mockups sure are pretty.

You should’ve hired a UX strategist not a graphic designer. If you want that 100-to-1 ROI, you need to look for a business strategist, not an artist.

Designers vs Strategists

Designers are artists. They sketch and draw and use keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop that you didn’t even know existed. Color theory and possibly even typography are conversations they can hold with confidence. But the closest they empathize with the people that will use your mobile app is imagining how they, themselves would use the app. This is the original sin of poor UX. Commandment #1 is:

You are not your user.

Unfortunately, the term user experience is almost always followed by “design” or “designer”. Eager to jump on the UX popularity train, companies are updating their job postings for graphic designers to postings looking for UX/UI Designers. UX is not UI. This quick infographic explains some of the differences between a UX Designer and a UI Designer.

According to Erik Flowers, in his article UX is not UI:

UX is the intangible design of a strategy that brings us to a solution.

Strategy. That’s a key word. If you want someone who can apply the scientific method to testing layouts, mockups, and how people use your site or app, then you want a UX Strategist. This person is more of a business consultant who will test and interview your users for your product and develop better and better solutions. As one brand agency executive explains,

Strategy as a design discipline has taken its rightful place alongside senior execs, making good UX a strategic business advantage.

Read that last part again: strategic business advantage. Graphic designers are going to bring beautiful designs and a consistent look and feel throughout your site or app. UX strategists are going to bring the business advantage. Companies looking to stand apart and pull away from their competition are more and more making a focus on user experience an integral part of their product development cycle.

So hire a UX Strategist, not a UI Designer.