No, UX _______ is not a dumb job title
It seems to happen at least a couple times a week. Someone in my network on LinkedIn, Twitter, a Meetup, or in the office starts lamenting how dumb all these new job titles are. You know the ones: UX Prototyper, UX Developer, UX Writer, UX Program Manager, and the list goes on.
The complaint is nearly always the same. The person assumes that this is just some company who doesn’t understand what a ux designer is and what a developer is and is looking for someone to do both jobs. What usually follows is a rant about why companies need to understand what ux is. The truth, however, is that MANY UX DESIGNERS need to understand what ux is (and what it is not). If they did, they would be excited to see the shift that’s currently happening.
There has been a fundamental shift going on. There’s a name for it: Experience Economy. Companies that don’t prioritize their users’ experience are going out of business and hundreds of companies that do are popping up to take their place. UX and CX are being combined and there are more Chief Experience Officers than ever before. Consumers are not putting up with companies who prioritize the greed of the company over the needs of their customers. This is exciting to many of us who for years have been evangelizing the transformational role a focus on ux can play at any company who takes it seriously.
Yet many of us seem to be missing the forrest for the trees.
Yes, there are companies who still expect designers to code. Yes, there are people and companies who change job titles just to jump on the buzzword bandwagon. Yet these are fewer and much farther between than 5 years ago.
If you use your ux chops and do a little research (instead of just making unvalidated assumptions), what you will learn is that these “new” roles we see popping up everywhere are actually a result of companies starting to shift traditional roles towards obsessing over their users. Here are just a few of the roles I’ve seen and why they ARE actual UX roles.
UX Developer/UX Prototyper
Traditional developers are mostly concerned with getting the “final” product into users hands and then moving onto the next thing. If you get user research feedback and want to make changes, it usually means getting it into the next sprint, prioritizing it with all the other deadlines/business priorities. Even on teams that separate front end/back end developers this can be a pain point for many designers. While many engineers take pride in their work and want good outcomes, the cards are often stacked against them. They are evaluated on output so iterating through a feature during development is most often seen as taboo.
Enter the role of UX Developer, sometimes called “UX Prototyper”. This is someone who (often) sits on the UX team and whose focus is on getting a working UI into users hands quickly for the purpose of feedback. The goal is completely different. The whole goal is to get user feedback and iterate based on that feedback.
A UX Developer also typically participates with designers in group design activities (brainstorming, design critiques, user research, etc). Therefore, it is very important that they are able to think creatively and have some background in design. It is also extremely helpful if they are experienced with design tools.
Having a UX Developer on your team can make all the difference in the world — especially if you’re also using a design system. This lets you work in a lean way together with the UX Developers and Product Manager iterating through what helps users and what doesn’t. The big advantage of this over traditional prototypes in Axure or JustInMind is that at the end of the iterating, you have a ready-made UI that the back-end team can connect to.
I have tried to implement a Lean UX process a few times and what we always run into is that we want to iterate, but the back-end dev team doesn’t have time to iterate. Back end dev work just takes longer. When you have dedicated UX Developers whose job is to help you learn from your users that allows you to work more lean. You literally can be focused on solving the same problem at the same time with your dev team.
One other role type that can seem made up is that of UX Writer. Even though this one is far more common than UX Developer, some UXers have a hard time understanding how this is different from a traditional copy writer.
UX writers do write copy, but they do it from a completely different perspective. Instead of writing purely to reflect the brand voice or impact a marketing campaign, they are writing to enhance the user experience.
Two of the main principles of good usability are Affordance and Feedback. Writing can have a huge impact on both. Providing clear communication to a user of what they are about to do, or not making them feel like something was their fault is essential to a great user experience.
UX Writers are great at this. Onboarding is another essential area UX writers have direct impact upon. The experience of onboarding is one of the quickest ways to get your app deleted or to ensure that users stick with the learning curve long enough to become a passionate promoter of your product. It is vital, then, that the person designing/writing those onboarding flows understands both good writing and good UX.
That is the role of a UX Writer.
Even though most of us would consider ux research a normal UX role, dedicated UX researchers are becoming more and more common. It isn’t only gigantic companies like Google or Facebook that have them anymore. This is exciting as it shows that companies are finally getting how crucial UX research is to a company’s success.
Having a dedicated researcher doesn’t mean that you throw all research over to them. I had the chance to sit down with a Senior UX Researcher at Google recently and I was very impressed with how she was more of a teacher/facilitator of good ux research practices within the team. The UX designers were doing the majority of their own research. She had large-scale research initiatives she owned (it was Google after all) but I was impressed in how she viewed her job as one of increasing the research maturity of the team rather than doing everything for them.
This is needed more than ever today. More and more companies are starting to take UX research seriously, but there are very few places other than the school of hard knocks to learn research best practices. As a result, most UXers I talk to are only experienced with usability testing and user interviews (and their maturity even on those is often lacking).
All of this makes me very excited to see where our industry is heading. We have been complaining for years how companies “don’t get UX”. Well, that is changing and we should be lighting up the news feeds with optimism. So the next time you are perusing the job boards and you see “UX Sound Designer” or “UX VR Technologist” or “UX HR Specialist” don’t be surprised, and whatever you do don’t complain about it.
The Experience Economy is here!