What Can I Do in UX? Job Titles and Responsibilities
Companies have never been more interested in making sure their clients have a positive experience with their digital products and this is putting UX designers in high demand. According to CNN Money, UX design is one of the top 50 jobs in the United States. Hiring UX designers is a top priority for many companies and most managers plan to double the number of UX designers they hire in next five years. Not to mention that UX design role is one of the top paid in design industry: according to PayScale, the median salary for a graphic designer in the United States is $42,000/year, but the same for a UX designer is a whopping $73,000/year.
If you’re considering a career in UX design, it’s important to have clear expectations on what you’re getting into. UX design is a rather broad field and there are a number of different responsibilities under the UX umbrella.
In this article, I’ll explain what the specialty roles are within UX, and what sorts of things they encompass.
Side note: if you’re new to the UX design field, some terms mentioned in this article might be completely unfamiliar to you. In order to prevent confusion, I suggest checking the article Master Your UX Vocabulary With These 50 Must-Know Terms
User Experience Design (UXD)
We’ll start with the most generalized term out of the bunch — UX design. UX design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving usability, ease of use, and pleasure in the interaction between the user and the product. Ultimately the aim of UX design is to connect business goals to user needs through a process of testing and refinement to that which satisfies both sides of the relationship. If you’re interested in learning more about user experience, consider reading the article What You Should Know About User Experience.
A UX designer is a person who designs around a user’s needs and has a solid understanding of how the user thinks. Formally, a UX designer is responsible for this entire product design process. However, larger companies tend to break this role down into a few, smaller roles that focus entirely on one section. As a result, a UX Designer at one company may have a completely different set of responsibilities at another company.
Responsibilities: UX designers are responsible for being hands-on with the process of research, prototyping, development, and testing. Communication with users and stakeholders is a significant part of the UX designer’s work. Having knowledge of mobile design, psychology, interaction design, graphic design, and marketing disciplines are often considered an advantage for a UX designer.
Deliverables: Sketches; Wireframes; Mockups; Prototypes; Storyboards; User journey maps; User flows; Use cases; User Stories
User Interface Design (UI Design)
A User interface (UI) is the space where interactions between humans and products occur. When we speak about UI in the context of websites and mobile apps, we usually mean a graphical user interface (or GUI). User Interface Design is all about selecting the right interface elements — text labels, buttons, content sections, etc. — for the task a user is trying to accomplish, and arranging them on the screen in a way that will be readily understood and easily used.
Unlike UX designers who are concerned with the overall feel of the product, user interface designers are focused on how a product is laid out. UI designers create the actual visual elements, or what people will see when they use the web site or mobile app. They seek to create a clean and functional design based on the requirements already identified by UX designers. The boundary between UI and UX designers is fairly blurred and it’s not uncommon for companies to opt to combine these roles.
Responsibilities: UI designers are in charge of designing each screen or page with which a user interacts. They also ensure that the UI visually communicates the path that a UX designer has laid out by logically arranging UI elements on a screen. UI designers are also typically responsible for UI prototyping, creating a cohesive style guide and ensuring that a consistent design language is applied across the product.
Deliverables: Sketch/Mockup/Prototype of user interface; UI style guide
A visual designer is a person who pushes pixels. Visual designers are not primarily concerned with how screens link to each other, nor how users interact with a product. Instead, their focus is on crafting beautiful icons, controls, and visual elements, and making use of suitable typography.
Visual and graphic design are very closely linked, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. You may come across job advertisements described as visual/graphic design. However, when we talk about visual design we often mean designing for strictly digital products (websites, mobile apps, desktop apps).
Responsibilities: Visual designers focus on typography, layout, color, graphics, visual effects, imagery, texture, mood to create a holistic aesthetic.
Deliverables: Pixel perfect mock-ups; Mood boards
Interaction design is a discipline which examines the interaction between a system and its user. In its purest form, interaction design can refer to the understanding and analysis of how people interact with a product, shaping it to be more accessible (for example, making the buttons bigger so user input is easier).
The job of an interaction designer is to choreograph the interaction. They decide what the interface does after a user touches it: how a menu should slide in, what transition effects to use, and how a button should fan out. Unlike UX design, which is focused on all user-facing aspects of a system, interaction designers are only concerned with the specific interactions between users and a screen.
Responsibilities: Interaction designers are responsible for creating every element on the screen that a user might click, type, tap or swipe — in other words, the interactions of an experience. They strive to create each interaction evident and pleasurable.
Deliverables: Design Strategy; Wireframes of key interactions; Interactive prototypes
Animation plays a vital role in modern digital products as it captures and retains a user’s attention, explains complex features, and delights users. When done well, motion becomes an integral part of the interface.
Unlike visual designers who usually deal with static assets, motion designers create dynamic experiences. Remember the subtle animated effect when you pull to refresh in the mail app on your iPhone or Android? That’s an example of a motion designer’s work.
Responsibilities: Motion designers are responsible for designing and creating motion graphics, moving elements and animated interactions.
Deliverables: Motion graphics; Animated effects; Interactive prototypes
Front-end developers are responsible for creating a functional implementation of a product’s interface. Usually, a UI designer hands off a static mockup to the front-end developer who then translates it into a working, interactive experience. From all roles that we’ve seen before, this one touches code on a regular basis.
Deliverables: High-fidelity, fully interactive prototype; Final solution
Information architecture (IA) is about helping people understand their surroundings and find what they’re looking for. In other words, IA is the creation of a structure for a website or app that allows users to understand where they are, and where the information they want is in relation to their current position.
The information architect is the key person responsible for determining how information across a website or app is displayed and accessed. They focus on tasks such as how to organize site content, how search should work, what labels to use on menus, etc. The goal of IA is to help users find information and complete tasks.
Responsibilities: IAs take on myriad responsibilities for a project. Common tasks include research, navigation creation, labeling, and data modeling. Information architects analyze available information and assets to assess optimal IA approach.
Deliverables: Site map; User journey map; Navigation scheme
UX Research (User Research)
UX research adds context and insight to the design process as research data allows designers to design in an informed, contextual, user-centered manner. The main goal of design research is to inform the design process from the perspective of the end user.
It’s fair to say that a UX researcher is the champion of a user’s needs. The goal of a researcher is to research human behaviors and needs, validating if potential customers find value in the product before they build it. A good researcher is able to answer the following questions:
- Who are our users?
- What do our users want? Why do they want it?
UX researchers are typically mainstays at large companies, where access to a huge variety of data gives them an opportunity to draw valuable conclusions. In smaller companies, UX designers often carry out the role of UX researchers.
Responsibilities: A UX Researcher focuses on tasks such as conducting research, competitive analysis, usability testing, and behavior analysis, and A/B testing after the project has launched. Usually, this role involves interviewing users and researching market data.
Deliverables: User interviews; User personas; User journey map; A/B test; Surveys and questionnaires; Usability Tests
Product designer is a catch-all job title used to describe a designer who is generally involved in the creation of the look and feel of a product. A product designer is a person responsible for ensuring a product design moves in the right direction. As Justin Edmund said, “A product designer oversees product vision from a high level (how does this feature make sense for where we want to be in 6 months) to a low execution level (how does styling this button this way impact how the user flows through this function).”
Product designers work closely with UX, UI or visual designers, as well as other departments, such as marketing and development, to create a clear picture of how a product evolves, who its tailored to, what the milestones will be.
Responsibilities: The role of a product designer varies from one company to another. Some companies use “UX designer” and “product designer” interchangeably. Reading the job description is the best way to figure out what the company means by this role.
Deliverable: Unlike all the other roles, this one has no direct outputs other than the end product.
The design industry has evolved quite a lot in the last few years, and as you have seen it’s quite difficult to separate what certain design roles actually do. When talking about roles within UX, it’s important to understand that all disciplines described above cannot be fully split apart if you want to build a coherent and cohesive experience! At the same time, the variety of job titles shows the high number opportunities available to choose the area that’s most interesting to you.