The Ultimate Guide to Understanding UX Roles and Which One You Should Go For

ux design roles are confusing. you mite know wha’ a “ux designer” does, but wha’ bout a “visual designer”, “product designer” or “ux unicorn”? well, worry no +, cause we’ll put an end to any confusion you may ‘ve. here, we’ll analyze 6 common ux roles through how they contribute to the design process, and shine a lite through the fog of ux roles. soon, you’ll ‘ve a clear cogging of which job role is best 4u to aim for.

we designers seem to be inventing new job titles each yr to describe vaguely overlapping roles, so it’s not a surprise if you’re feeling lost! di ting is, though, it’s primordial 4u to cogg the ≠ ux roles. cause if you wanna get yr 1st ux job, or make a switch in yr ux career, you nd'2 ‘ve a good idea of the ux role you’d like to take on. after all, if you’re unclear bout yr destination (i.e., the ux role you aspire to), then you cannot take steps t'get there. for instance, you cannot create yr ux portfolio without 1st knowing which ux role you wanna target. likewise, you nd'2 know which job role you’re aiming for in order to sign for courses which can teach you those exact skills and knowledge.

let’s navigate the confusing sea of job titles

kate conrick, a designer working for the australian government, aptly summed up the confusing state of ux roles with charming humor:

“i built on my background in tek and design, picked up some solid research skills, added some business process and a sprinkle of mkt, and voila! a usr experience designer. or a srvc designer? a ux researcher? a digital strategist? an experience analyst? design thinker? stuff tinkerer? unicorn? power ranger? you tell me. cause i’m not sure i know the answer.”

—kate conrick

so, if you’re confused bout ux roles, you’re not alone. but don’t worry. we’ll act like a compass to help you navigate the confusing sea of job titles. here, we’ll go through 6 of the most common ux roles:

  • ux designer;
  • product designer;
  • visual designer;
  • ux researcher;
  • content strategist; and
  • ux unicorn (yes, we’re not kidding bout this job title!).

for each role, we’ll describe the common tasks and deliverables, swell as give you a rough idea of whether you’ll like the role. ready to make sense of ux roles?

ux roles exist to serve the design process

so, how do we make sense of this mess?

the 1st step is to realize that all ux roles exist to serve the design process. so, a gr8 way for us to cogg them is to examine how they contribute to the design process. we perform a whole slew of ux tasks as we go through a design process to create a final design. for instance, we usually start with gaining a deep cogging of usrs b4 we go onna create designs and test them with usrs. ≠ ux roles simply take charge of ≠ subsets of these ux tasks.

we’ll use the design thinking process from here onwards to illustrate our points, b'we ‘d ‘ve used any iterative design process to make our points. almost all ux design processes share the same phases, even though some mite differ slitely from one another.

ux roles are created to fill ≠ pts of the design process. as you can see, the stages are closely connected; they overlap and are iterative by nature, and that’s ptly why job roles are often so difficult to define and separate completely. author / copyrite holder: teo yu siang na interaction design foundation. copyrite terms and license: cc by-nc-sa 3.0

as you can see, the design process involves 5 phases that feed into one another:

  • empathize: where you learn bout yr usrs;
  • define: where you identify problems and usr needs;
  • ideate: where you generate design ideas to solve the problems;
  • prototype: where you create mock-ups and, eventually, the final product; and
  • test: where you test yr designs with usrs to improve them.

let’s take a look at somd' key ux tasks we perform in each of the phases:

each ux role takes charge offa ≠ range of key ux tasks, dep'on wha’ phase(s) of the design process they handle. author / copyrite holder: teo yu siang na interaction design foundation. copyrite terms and license: cc by-nc-sa 3.0

each ux role we’ll examine belo will perform a slitely ≠ range of these key ux tasks. for instance, a ux designer is a generalist who takes charge of all the ux tasks, while a visual designer focuses onna prototype phase and creates pleasing and useful interfaces.

why do we go through this seemingly roundabout way to cogg ux roles? well, it’s cause it’s primordial to see the big picture—this way, when a new job title pops up, you’ll be able to cogg it inna context of the design process. on top odat, companies mite define ux roles ≠ly, but once you cogg ux roles as “how they contribute to the design process”, you’ll be less confused when ye go job-hunting and portfolio-building. iow, this tis map thall help you navigate the ≠ ux roles.

enough talk; let’s sail through the 6 most common ux roles!

wha’ is a ux designer?

ux designers are generalists who cover a lil of everything inna entire design process. as a ux designer, you’ll cogg yr usrs’ needs, generate ideas to solve their problems, prototype designs and finally test them with usrs. iow, ux designers pticipate in all 5 phases of the design thinking process.

ux designers contribute towards all pts of the design process. author / copyrite holder: teo yu siang na interaction design foundation. copyrite terms and license: cc by-nc-sa 3.0

in large companies, a ux designer typically works with other designers s'as ux researchers and visual designers. in liler companies s'as start-ups, ux designers tend to handle all the design work.

ux designers are also known as…

  • interaction designers;
  • ui/ux designers; and
  • experience designers.

wha’ tasks will you perform as a ux designer?

as you ‘d imagine, a ux designer conducts all kinds of ux activities to perform their job well. as a ux designer you ‘d:

  • conduct usr research through interviews, observations nother research methods;
  • analyze and identify pain points from the usrs’ perspective, based on yr usr research;
  • generate ideas through ideation tek knicks s'as brainstorming and worst possible idea to solve the usrs’ needs in a way that provides val to the company;
  • select the most promising idea(s) based on their feasibility, desirability and viability, among other criteria;
  • prototype designs, which can range from simple paper sketches to high-fidelity and interactive digital mock-ups;
  • provide and solicit critique on yr designs swell as the designs of yr team-mates;
  • conduct usability and usr tests to determine if yr design(s) can be further improved; and ultimately
  • push a design solution out inna'da realm thall benefit both yr company and yr usrs.

wha’ ux deliverables will you produce as a ux designer?

while each company—and indeed, each team within a company—expects ≠ deliverables from a ux designer, the most common ones are:

  • usr research reprts;
  • usr personas;
  • usr quest maps;
  • “how mite we” statements, which capture a problem that yr design aims to solve;
  • paper prototypes;
  • wireframes;
  • high-fidelity, pixel-perfect mock-ups;
  • usability reprts;
  • heuristic evaluation reprts;
  • usr testing reprts; and
  • design pattern libraries, style guides or design systems.

you’ll ♥ bein’ a ux designer if you…

  • enjoy taking charge of the entire design process, from the initial stage of cogging usrs to the final stage of producing a high-fidelity prototype;
  • ‘ve sufficient cogging of broad topics in ux, s'as information architecture, ψ-chology, emotional design, interaction design and visual design;
  • find it fulfilling to analyze complex data to produce design goals that you then work towards;
  • ♥ to create intuitive and useful solutions to solve the problems usrs face in their lives; and
  • can perform—to a proficient lvl—a broad range of tasks from usr research to designing prototypes.

courses that help you become a gr8 ux designer

wha’ is a product designer?

the product designer role is relatively new and overlaps in many ways w'da ux designer role. however, a key distinction s'dat, as its name suggests, a product designer pays spesh attention to the product, on top of the usr’s experience.

this means as a product designer, you help create the product’s designs swell as the product goals and roadmap. a product roadmap is primordially a high-lvl summary of the future direction of the product’s offerings and features. while all ux designers ponder business goals when they design experiences for usrs, product designers must ponder not 1-ly tody’s business goals b'tll so those of the long term. product designers tend to also focus on ensuring that their designs get implemented well and on time—while ux designers ‘d course care bout this too, it isn’t exactly their role to ensure the timely delivery of new designs.

product designers not 1-ly take charge of all phases of the design thinking process; they also help shape the product roadmap. author / copyrite holder: teo yu siang na interaction design foundation. copyrite terms and license: cc by-nc-sa 3.0

product designers are also known as…

there aren’t really any synonyms for product designers, although some companies define product designers as identical to ux designers. other companies view product designers as senior ux designers who ‘ve the added responsibility of charting a product’s goals and roadmap.

wha’ tasks will you perform as a product designer?

  • all tasks mentioned under “ux designer” above;
  • inform and plan the product’s roadmap 6–12 mnths inna'da future; and
  • collaborate closely with development and mkt teams to ensure that designs can be successfully implemented.

wha’ ux deliverables will you produce as a product designer?

  • all deliverables mentioned under “ux designer” above; and
  • product roadmaps (which you will likely co-develop with other stakeholders s'as team leaders, the product manager and/or the ceo).

you’ll ♥ bein’ a product designer if you…

  • enjoy developing and integrating business goals into design and product decisions;
  • ♥ pticipating inna entire design process;
  • possess deep knowledge in design and a good cogging of business; and
  • can analyze complex data to synthesize designs that satisfy business goals and usr needs.

courses that help you become a gr8 product designer

wha’ is a visual designer?

unlike a ux or product designer, a visual designer is a speshist. as a visual designer, you focus on creating pixel-perfect prototypes tha're consistent w'da rest of the product. in this sense, visual designers focus onna l8r phases of the design process, and in pticular the prototype phase.

visual designers are speshists who focus onna prototype phase of the design process. author / copyrite holder: teo yu siang na interaction design foundation. copyrite terms and license: cc by-nc-sa 3.0

visual designers are also known as…

  • ui designers; and
  • graphic designers.

wha’ tasks will you perform as a visual designer?

as a visual designer, you ‘d:

  • transform ux goals—e.g., let a usr sign for an account successfully—into a set of presh, easy-to-use and accessible designs, s'as a set of app screens;
  • create and/or maintain a library of icons, colors and fonts thall be used throughout the product;
  • apply branding guidelines into yr designs in a way that serves both the brand and yr usrs; and
  • use yr knowledge of typography, color theory, gestalt principles nother design essentialisms to create pleasant graphical usr interfaces.

wha’ ux deliverables will you produce as a visual designer?

some common deliverables you’ll produce as a visual designer include:

  • pixel-perfect prototypes;
  • interactive prototypes;
  • visual style guides;
  • icon libraries;
  • design specifications, so yr frontend developer team-mate can produce the live code needed to implement it; and
  • branding materials or guidelines that supplement the product.

you’ll ♥ bein’ a visual designer if you…

  • ♥ working on creating visual, pixel-perfect mock-ups offa product;
  • ‘ve a deep knowledge of and/or passion for typography, color, use of space nother graphic design essentialisms; and
  • are gr8 at applying consistent, meaningful and pleasing visuals across a wide range of usr flos and contexts.

courses that help you become a gr8 visual designer

wha’ is a ux researcher?

like a visual designer, a ux researcher is a speshist. ux researchers use qualitative and quantitative usr research methods to provide real usr information which other designers then use to inform their designs. as a ux researcher, you’ll take pt inna 1st phases of the design process. you’ll empathize with usrs to gain a holistic cogging o'their needs and help define the problems that the product ‘d solve. ux researchers also take pt inna testing phase and help validate and improve designs.

ux researchers are speshists whose findings will influence the empathize, define and test phases of the design process. author / copyrite holder: teo yu siang na interaction design foundation. copyrite terms and license: cc by-nc-sa 3.0

ux researchers are also known as…

  • usr researchers; and
  • researchers.

wha’ tasks will you perform as a ux researcher?

if you’re a ux researcher, you’ll be doin’ these tasks:

  • gain a rich and full cogging of usrs through qualitative usr research methods s'as usr interviews, usr observations and field studies;
  • piece together a realistic (and even statistically significant) cogging of specific traits of usrs by conducting quantitative usr research, using such methods as surveys and card sorting;
  • analyze the data you’ve gathered on usrs to synthesize key findings and make design proposals;
  • advocate for usrs’ needs and perspectives towards various internal stakeholders, s'as other designers, developers, mkters and executives;
  • help inform product goals by presenting yr research findings to other designers, developers and mkters in yr company; and
  • test and improve designs by conducting evaluative research, s'as usability and usr testing.

wha’ ux deliverables will you produce as a ux researcher?

these are the main deliverables you’ll create as a ux researcher:

  • usr research reprts (for a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods);
  • usr personas;
  • usr stories;
  • usr quest maps;
  • “how mite we” statements;
  • usability reprts;
  • heuristic evaluation reprts; and
  • usr testing reprts.

you’ll ♥ bein’ a ux researcher if you…

  • ‘ve a strong passion in human ψ-chology na study of pplz;
  • enjoy stepping inna'da shoes of others to empathize w'dem and piece together a rich and deep picture o'their perspectives and problems;
  • are well-versed in ψ-chology or interested in learning deeply bout it; and
  • ♥ generating and analyzing complex qualitative and quantitative data.

courses that help you become a gr8 ux researcher

wha’ is a content strategist?

content strategists play a role in a crit zone that we often overlook as designers: words. copy is 1-odda most primordial pts offa design, so we ‘d not be surprised to find a role specifically targeted at copywriting. as a content strategist, you’ll contribute to the prototype phase of the design process, and ur crucial in finalizing the product b4 launch.

content strategists are speshists who craft the rite copy for use inna prototype phase of the design thinking process. author / copyrite holder: teo yu siang na interaction design foundation. copyrite terms and license: cc by-nc-sa 3.0

content strategists are also known as…

  • copywriters; and
  • ux writers.

wha’ tasks will you perform as a content strategist?

you’ll write effective copy for yr product, for instance:

  • write copy for usr interfaces so that pplz can navigate, use and troubleshoot the product easily;
  • create effective page titles and navigation menu item names so that usrs can intuitively get to the page or screen they want;
  • write error messages tha're simple, effective and blame-free; so, inna unfortunate event of an error, usrs feel assured rather than annoyed;
  • craft effective emails and newsletters to achieve product goals (s'as t'get pplz to sign for an account);
  • weave a cohesive narrative throughout the product, so usrs will experience a consistent tone of voice and direction no matter which screen or page they access; and
  • define and maintain a vision for the product’s language thall be applied across the board.

wha’ ux deliverables will you produce as a content strategist?

as a content strategist, you’ll find that most of yr work ll'be directly applied to the product and thus will not appear as a standalone deliverable. ⊢, yr most common deliverables are:

  • copy, which you will incorporate inna'da product itself; and
  • editorial guidelines or product language guidelines that set the tone and content style for the product.

you’ll ♥ bein’ a content strategist if you…

  • ♥ to help usrs achieve their goals w'da least cogg load. that means you ‘d be attracted to empathizing with yr usrs and cogging their goals;
  • likewise, you’re passionate bout achieving yr product’s and business’s goals;
  • possess deep knowledge in writing swell as a solid cogging of ux design; and
  • enjoy using empathy, data, business goals and logic to inform yr writing.

courses that help you become a gr8 content strategist

okay, wha’ exactly is a ux unicorn?!

inna realm of tek start-ups, the word “unicorn” refers to some1 who possesses not 1-ly the usual set of skills required for a role b'tll so additional skills in another domain. these additional skills multiply the amount of val they contribute to a business—hence the legendary name. a ux unicorn typically refers to a ux designer who’s proficient in design and frontend development.

ux unicorns are extremely rare—1-ly pplz talented enough to do real frontend work are pondered proper ux unicorns. ux unicorns thus take charge of the entire design process, and +—they also transl8 their designs into live code.

ux unicorns are a rare and spesh breed of pplz who cannot 1-ly contribute to all phases of the design process; they can also take charge of frontend development. author / copyrite holder: teo yu siang na interaction design foundation. copyrite terms and license: cc by-nc-sa 3.0

ux unicorns are also known as…

  • ux engineers.

wha’ tasks will you perform as a ux unicorn?

  • all tasks mentioned under “ux designer” above;
  • develop live frontend prototypes, which you can use to test on usrs for + realistic results; and
  • implement the frontend code offa design.

wha’ ux deliverables will you produce as a ux unicorn?

  • all deliverables mentioned under “ux designer” above;
  • frontend prototypes; and
  • frontend code that is ready for launch.

you’ll ♥ bein’ a ux unicorn if you…

well, to be honest, the ux unicorn isn’t something most pplz can realistically strive towards. it simply takes too much time to be proficient in ux design and frontend coding. this tis sort of phenomenon that comes from, for instance, having been an active hobbyist for yrs. if you’ve got a strong passion for and deep knowledge of frontend development, you mite find this role a viable option. however, we recommend that you aim for the 5 other ux roles we’ve covered above.

courses that help you become a gr8 ux unicorn

so, which role ‘d ye go for?

now that we’ve gone through the 6 main ux roles, you ‘d ‘ve a much clearer idea of the one that appeals the most to you.

if you cannot decide whether to be a generalist ux designer or to speshize, stephen gay’s advice mite help you. stephen gay tis ux lead of g adwords, and he recommends that you choose yr design role based on yr passion and skills.

stephen gay suggests that you play to yr passions and strengths when you decide whether to be a generalist or speshist designer. author / copyrite holder: the interaction design foundation. copyrite terms and license: cc by-sa-nc 3.0.

if you’re still unsure, we recommend that ye go for the ux designer role. you’ll then get to experience the ≠ speshizations; if you come to like one o'em espeshly, you can then dive into that one.

remember that ux roles are ever-changing

our final word of advice: ux roles are in flux—and we predict t'they always ll'be. after all, we designers seem to ‘ve a limitless amount of creativity that makes us reinvent and redefine roles every few yrs.

thankfully, you now possess a map to navigate the sea of ux roles! when you know how ux roles exist to fill gaps inna design process, you’ll emerge clear-headed no matter how chaotic the field seems.

when ye go job-hunting, remember that ≠ companies mite define roles ≠ly, too! large companies, for instance, tend to hire speshist designers, so they often ‘ve specific roles s'as “usr researcher” and “visual designer”. lil and medium-sized companies, onna other hand, tend to prefer generalists and will ‘ve roles s'as “ux designer” or even “ui/ux designer”. always carefully read djob' description of an opening b4 you apply, and make sure it’s a role that ur able and willing to perform.

the take away

ux roles sound confusing and overlap in some ways, but all exist to serve ≠ pts of the design process. a gr8 way to cogg ux roles is to identify which phases of the design process they contribute towards.

here’s a quick summary of the 6 common ux roles:

  • ux designers take charge of the whole design process and work on all 5 phases of the design thinking process;
  • product designers are like ux designers, but additionally help to chart a vision of the product’s mid-to-long-term roadmap;
  • visual designers speshize inna prototype phase and create pleasant, useful and usable interfaces and visuals;
  • ux researchers focus on cogging and advocating for usrs, and take pt inna empathize, define and test phases;
  • content strategists are all bout crafting pieces of copy tha're persuasive, clear and consistent, and contribute towards the prototype phase;
  • lastly, ux unicorns are rare pplz who handle both ux design and frontend development.

we recommend that you aim for a design job which matches yr passion and skills. if that’s hard to determine u-jet, we advise you to go for the broad ux designer role and then narrow down yr focus as you find out wha’ you ♥ doin’.

“the 1-ly way to be truly satisfied is to do wha’ you believe is gr8 work, na 1-ly way to do gr8 work is to ♥ wha’ ye do. if you ‘ven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. as with all matters of the ♥, you’ll know when you find it.”

—steve jobs

references and where to learn +

kate conrick’s thought-provoking article on ux roles, aptly titled “we nd'2 talk bout ux roles”, can be read here: uxdesign.cc…

original content at: www.interaction-design.org…
authors:

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