What’s the deal with “User Experience () postings?! If you’re on the hunt for a career in this field, you have probably seen posts requesting a broad range of responsibilities: from wireframing in Sketch, to coding, and performing usability tests.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be a T-shaped designer and have some basis in a variety of disciplines within user experience, but I wonder if everyone in this industry is constantly trying to hire unicorns that have mediocre skills in all of these areas, versus someone with a depth of strengths in a few areas of UX. How can you tell which job is for you, and how can you convince companies that your skills are the right ones they need?

User Experience as a Practice

First things first, let’s get this right: UX is a practice — NOT a job . UX is a larger umbrella that is attributed to many different design disciplines, such as Interaction Design, Visual Design, Front End Development, Design Research, among others. Each of these disciplines has an equally important role in helping craft the user experience. And in order to understand what constitutes each discipline, you must have a foundational understanding of UX and which aspects of UX you want to specialize in. Know what you want first, and then study the market to see how the industry defines UX roles so that you can find the position that’s right for you.

“UX job descriptions have significant overlaps, as these pieces can and should be deeply interconnected. Still, no matter the level of talent, it’s extremely rare for one person to truly excel at the entire spectrum of UX-related tasks.”

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Nuances in UX Roles

Back when I was in college and began my job hunting journey, I quickly learned that relying on job titles alone was not enough to gain a solid understanding of what it means to be a UX Designer. With an industry that is constantly growing and evolving, roles are not clearly defined and there are still cases where Company A will detail responsibilities expected from a “UX Designer” that are vastly different from those outlined by Company B. What I try to do in these situations is look at the context; by understanding the company’s goals and how I can contribute to accomplish those goals, I’m able to better gauge the responsibilities expected of me as the UX Designer. For example, if the opportunity is with a start-up, prepare to try on many hats, versus a larger, enterprise company where one may be expected to execute on very specific deliverables.

Below are descriptions of the various UX disciplines that are available in the industry today. Keep in mind to notice the idiosyncrasies with each job description, and see how you can fine-tune which qualifications best suit your needs and skill-set from there.

UX Researcher (aka Design Researcher, Qualitative or Quantitative Researcher)

Serves as an advocate for the user and their pain points.

Exercise conducted during an IBM Design Thinking workshop to better understand the end user’s team architecture, role, and responsibilities.
  • Responsibilities / This role focuses on learning and identifying the needs of the user through generative and/or evaluative user research. Reports back research findings and key takeaways to the larger team to better inform and validate the problem and scope of the project.
  • Deliverables / User roles and/or personas, documentation of user research findings and synthesis, research guidelines, research plan.
  • Check out Indeed Sr. Ux Researcher

Production or UX Designer (aka UX Architect)

The first touchpoint to delivering a solution for the end user.

Mobile app process flow with interaction notes. Image credit: Autumn Mariano
  • Responsibilities / Creates and iterates on concepts, wireframes and early prototypes with a strong focus on intuitive, user-centered design thinking and optimal usability. Always considers the taxonomy of content, and makes sure that content and desired actions can scale.
  • Deliverables / Process flows (information architecture, current vs desired user flows), mockups, low to mid/hi fidelity wireframes, interactive prototypes, product specifications.
  • Check out InVision Product Designer

UI or Visual Designer

Visually communicates important elements of the product and keeps the user engaged.

Style guide for IBM Power Systems product OpenBMC.
  • Responsibilities / Maintains and contributes to the style guide so that it stays up-to-date with current trends, and developers and designers can refer to this library of elements when designing and coding the product.
  • Deliverables / Style guide, presentation designs, UI elements and components, redlines and design specs, branding and marketing material.
  • Check out Apple Visual Designer

“The boundary between UI and UX designers is fairly blurred and it is not uncommon for companies to opt to combine these roles.”

Lo Min Ming

You’ll notice that many positions call for designers who can do both UI and UX. When considering a UI/UX position, it usually helps that the company has a strong foundation to support you for this role. You don’t want to end up spending the majority of the time creating new elements for a page because the style guide is immature and does not accommodate your workflow.

The same goes for UI and Visual designers. The UI designer will work more closely with the UX designer in fleshing out the visual aspects for wireframes, while the Visual Designer is focused on the larger product vision or “branding” for various products in a portfolio. Their priorities will lie more with maintaining the style guide and informing page layouts, icons, etc.

Motion or Interaction Designer

Draws attention to important details while providing reassurance and confidence for the actions a user made.

Material Design motion guidelines from Google. Image credit: John Schlemmer
  • Responsibilities / Creates intuitive and effective interactions with the help of visual cues. Manages interaction models that will ensure consistent interaction behaviors across a single process flow or entire portfolio. This position may overlap with Production and/or UI design roles.
  • Deliverables / Videos or code to illustrate the animations, interaction models for transitions and animations, informs process flows and wireframes.
  • Check out Google Motion Designer

Front-End Developer

Brings the final designed solution to life in the form of a functional and coded prototype that users can experience first-hand.

Image credit: Haley Gray
  • Responsibilities / Informs sprint schedule and gauges what can be accomplished, time to completion, priority, etc. Ideates with UX and UI designers to re-envision a more successful implementation.
  • Deliverables / Code guidelines for the back-end developers, functional and coded prototypes, PoCs, live application builds, epics and stories, informs style guide with interaction patterns and models.
  • Check out IBM Front-End Developer

The Takeaway

With the UX world being so young, it’ll be beneficial to start off by figuring out what it is that that you want to do and then finding the discipline that fits those requirements. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Having clarity and a strong understanding of what you want to do will better inform the type of opportunity that is the best fit for you.

Here is a list of references that informed this article:

Alissa Lee is a Production/UX Designer at IBM. The information and views explained in this article are those of the author, and does not necessarily reflect IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.



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