But let us back up a little: Some designers claim that there is no such thing as “UX Design”. Although I completely disagree with the conclusion, I recommend that you read the article “Why UX, CX, UI, IA, IxD, and Other Sorts of Design Are Dumb” and listen to the arguments on both sides (also, Slava’s article is quite entertaining).
The term “designer” is starting to become quite similar to the term “consultant”: the title won’t tell you much about what the respective person does. Are you a financial consultant? Technical consultant? Business consultant? Legal consultant? Medical advisor? Psychologist? Wherever new professions emerge, appropriate and precise titles must be introduced. The same is true for the term “designer”.
I would even go one step further and state that the specific title “UX Designer” is not accurate enough either. UX design, UX conception, UX strategy, UX consultation, Interaction Design, Service Design, Product Design— or however you might call it — is evolving rapidly in entirely different directions. And although we all give ourselves similar names, the way we work is quite different. So, let’s settle this for good: What does a “real” UX Designer actually do?
Good job, Fabian. “What does a ‘real’ UX Designer actually do?” — how do you plan to get out of this one?
I don’t dare to answer that question, but I may know people who will: Companies that hire UX Designers. Within the past weeks, I have analyzed and evaluated dozens of job offers that were listed under the keywords “User Experience”, “UX”, “Interaction Design”, “(Digital) Product Design” and “Service Design”.
How do corporations and agencies describe their UX activities?
And what type of skills are they looking for?
Side note: All of this was done manually and only for job listings in Germany. So take that for what it’s worth. If you can perform this analysis automated and at scale in order to validate (or disprove) my findings, I would definitely like to hear from you.
The titles of the positions advertised were extremely diverse. While some titles such as “Service Designer” are more commonly to be found in the area of Macro UX Design, titles such as “UX/UI Designer” are usually located within Micro UX Design. Interestingly, jobs from the private sector were more frequently associated with the Micro UX Design sector and jobs at agencies or startups were usually associated with the Macro UX Design sector. Two different conclusions can be drawn from this: Either Micro UX Design is more in demand in the real world, or Macro UX Design has not yet fully arrived in the private sector.
But what exactly is the difference between Macro and Micro UX Design?
“User Experience (UX) can be achieved by a user-related product’s purpose (Macro UX) as well as by pleasant embodiment design in detail concerning material, usability and interface (Micro UX)” — How to Design Experiences: Macro UX versus Micro UX Approach (DUXU 2013: International Conference of Design, User Experience, and Usability): Constantin von Saucken, Ioanna Michailidou, Udo Lindemann
Macro UX Design
Macro UX Design describes a holistic approach to human-centered problem-solving. Macro UX Designers start to be involved in a project at the early stage of goal setting.
“[Macro UX] helps setting user-related goals for the right product’s purpose on a conceptual level” — Constantin von Saucken, Ioanna Michailidou, Udo Lindemann
Most of today’s methodologies and mindsets, such as the (great) Collaborative UX approach by Toni Steimle and Dieter Wallach mentioned above, are to be found in the area of Macro UX Design. The super-inspiring usability workshop you attended last month? Macro UX Design. The latest “10 steps to human-centered design” article you read on Medium? You guessed it: Macro UX Design.
Macro UX Design aims to question the motives driving the project, validate assumptions, ideate quickly, prototype and collect feedback as soon as possible in order to radically drive innovation. For this reason, it is very conceptional and closely linked to the area of business analysis, business concept and innovation consultation. A Macro UX Designer often works for multiple weeks in a series of workshops before even starting to discuss solutions.
The work of a Macro UX designer usually ends — at least for the time being — with the task of planning an innovative, validated, human-centered Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and handing it over to the UI design team.
Micro UX Design
Compared to the Macro UX Designer, the Micro UX Designer comes into play at a much later stage. Micro UX Design describes the detail-oriented process of creating and optimizing a functional and intuitive Human-Machine-Interaction (HMI) for visual and non-visual user interfaces.
“Micro UX focuses the product embodiment design without questioning its purpose” — Constantin von Saucken, Ioanna Michailidou, Udo Lindemann
A Micro UX Designer uses his (or her) knowledge from the field of psychology, his experience with platform conventions and industry standards, as well as findings from research and user feedback to improve the interaction with the actual digital product. He optimizes every interaction down to the last detail, questioning every navigation pattern from a user’s perspective.
For example, unlike Macro UX designers, Micro UX Designers understand how common navigation patterns differ between Web, iOS and Android, in which cases modality should be used, which interaction pattern triggers which psychological behavior, which labels, hints and error objects make an online form pleasant to use, and many other details.
Unlike Macro UX Design, Micro UX Design does not affect the conceptual framework of a project significantly, but only its implementation. This makes it easier to integrate it seamlessly into existing corporate workflows.
The different working methodologies of Macro and Micro UX Designers can be seen in the fact that they have different ways of approaching a project:
The Macro UX Designer asks:
“Why does a user use a product?”
The Micro UX Designer asks:
“How does a user use a product?”
So, what is the “better” way of approaching UX? Who is the rightful owner of the title “UX Designer”? Macro UX Designers might claim that Micro UX Design isn’t holistic and solution-oriented. Micro UX Designers might claim that Macro UX Design isn’t “design” at all and that it lacks attention to detail.
But instead of arguing about names, we should rather agree on one thing: Both, holistic problem-solving and optimization of interactions down to the last detail, are essential steps in the design of successful digital products and services. A project designed purely by Macro UX Designers may meet the general needs of customers and stakeholder goals, but it fails to deliver an consistent, intuitive and platform-compliant user experience on the actual interface. A project designed purely by Micro UX Designers may have streamlined the interface experience down to the last detail, but it creates services that do not address the customer’s problems and goals.
In order to ensure a successful project, all project phases must be covered — regardless of whether the task is handled by a UX Designer or another department. It is the task of the Team Lead to know which area his UX Designers are specialized in and which other roles are needed to complement those designers. A Macro UX Designer has to work with skilled UX/UI Designers or Interaction Designers who take care of the detailed interactions. However, a capable project manager or business analyst is needed to create a solid foundation on which a Micro UX Designer can work.
Both groups of UX Designers — Macro and Micro UX Designers — must become aware of the existence of the respective other group in order to create a complete user experience together. And until we’ve agreed on a naming scheme, I guess we’ll all co-exist using the title “UX Designer”.