UX | Careers
  September, 2015

UX as a career: Part 2

Hari Nallan

Roles in UX: Existing and Emerging

Ok, people. As promised, I'm writing this to throw some light on existing and emerging roles in UX domain. I wouldn't spend too much energy explaining each of the roles; you would be able to sift through loads of information already available on the internet. The idea behind writing this is more to bring to light, existing and emerging roles, as I understand and see them shaping up.

User Experience is a very broad term used within organisations... it evolved through many years and it should be seen as a practice than a role. Sometimes, it is interchangeably used with Customer Experience, hence I will throw some light on that as well. If you go through courses among many renowned Institutions, there won't be Bachelors or Masters in UX... rather, you would find specifics within: and this goes to prove my point, that UX is a practice and not a specific skill to acquire. However, organisations including the one I work at, use UX Designer as a title. I'll explain why.

UX Designer: A User Experience designer is responsible for defining User Experience of a product or service, as the user interacts with it, emotionally connects with it and/ or evaluates or considers using it. Depending on organisation where it is practiced, the area of influence of this gentleman varies. A UX Designer will usually align Business, Technology and User; and will create ideas, concepts and to an extent, details of the product/ service being developed or improved. A UX Designer needs to have competencies of questioning, understanding requirements, challenging people, delegating tasks, defining UI, coordinating multiple disciplines and making sure a vision is developed and delivered for. It is analogous to Product Design; or Architecture. You should choose this role if you have necessary qualification (of course) as well as skills and competencies in dealing with people, processes, environment and contexts. A UX Designer is incomplete without necessary people & skill management competencies; and as your experience grows, you will feel inadequate without it.

UX Manager: A UX Manager is a little higher up in hierarchy to UX Designer, will manage more than one UX Designer; and may coordinate Development/ Prototyping as well. A UX Manager may not be qualified in a UX related discipline... however, depending on the organisation, a UX Manager may be technically qualified or a domain expert. Again, it is purely dependent on the organisation how they would go about this role. In certain organisations, there is no UX Manager at all. You should choose this role if you are interested in Managerial position, as in, delegating work, holding people accountable and rise to the occasion when situation demands... also, as the name suggests, a manager is not only responsible for Design, but also to ensure that the Design sees light of the day and reaches its users.

UX Strategist: A UX Strategist would have years of UX experience behind him and has all competencies of UX Designer in addition to ability to strategise before design. A UX Strategist works with key stakeholders and helps facilitate strategic decisions; as in, help choose directions, help set standards and guidelines, help think through and establish processes, methods and will also define practice within organisation. UX Strategist is in a position to guide, coach, mentor team members and that team will include domains of business, technology and design. A UX Strategist works concurrently with Business Strategists and it won't be long before a UX Strategist works before a Business Strategist. You should choose this role if you are competent in conducting workshops, you have the capability to work with top leaders in organisation, deal with them and can create alignment; and of course, when you have the maturity to take on these tasks.

Information Architect: A Information Architect is responsible for creating Information Architecture. This role can be specifically found in organisations that either have multiple products to keep this person busy, or in globalised organisations (and hence, probable need for multiple information models). He is also responsible for establishing process to arrive at Information Architecture, validate and implement that. A Information Architect should also possess competency to conduct Information Modelling, think structure and navigation, generate alternatives and test with users. Coming to the qualification, this role doesn't require qualification in Design or Arts. A Information Architect would have studied IA (some Universities offer this) or could be technically qualified with experience in creating IA. You should choose this role if you are kicked about modelling, mapping, research and testing.

UX Researcher: As the name suggests, you will be responsible for strategising, planning and coordinating UX Research if you are a UX Researcher. As the connected world is getting larger with each passing day, there are newer and more relevant methods of research shaping up as we are speaking. A researcher also should possess competencies to understand trends as it concerns research, be informed about what's happening in the domain of research, needs to have hands on experience in recommending the right research methods and most importantly, needs to know how to contextualise his knowhow to his organisation. You should choose this if you are interested in the research bit. If you are more of a hands-on design guy, stay away from it.

Visual Designer: A Visual Designer is responsible for creating and executing Visual Design of a product/ service. His concerns vary from visual branding, standardisation, optimisation, guideline development to usability, contextualisation and modelling. You will start by defining visual style, assets and deliverables; and as you move up the ladder, you may be defining visual branding elements, guidelines and will be informing Product, Marketing and Dev teams on your approach. You will be dealing with multiple programs/ software, will be aware of trends, will have a knowledge of how things get implemented in web and mobile platforms; and you will be creating a face for your organisation's products and services. In some organisations, UI and Visual Design are interchangeably used and in some, Visual Design overlaps Interaction Design. You should choose this role if you are a graphic designer or applied artist; or you are naturally inclined to color, typography, form, pattern, layout; and you know how to deal with these.

UI Designer: Before there was UX, there was only UI. As the name suggests, UI Designer deals with Interface and hence, he is concerned with less of experience and more of interface. UI Designers start off after UX Designers set the tone... and from there on, define layouts, components, elements, interactions etc., A UI Designer should also know UX, especially in today's environment where, many organisations are seeking UX/UI Designer. To add to the confusion, I will have to mention here that some organisations define a single role for UI and Visual Design.... which means that, if you are a UX/ UI Designer, you will have to be well versed with all the competencies I talked about, under UX Designer, Visual Designer, Information Architect and Researcher as well.

Interaction Designer: A Interaction Designer is concerned primarily with interactions... hence, when there are no interactions, there's no need for Interaction Designer. At the time of HCI (Human Computer Interaction, a couple of decades ago), Interaction Design manifested itself in the form of Display & Control, and UI. Because of increase in the sheer volume of touch screen devices, Interaction Design today is a self-contained discipline and it has begun including the concerns of motion design as well. The best example I can think of, is google's material design... it is much more about Interaction Design and much lesser about UX. Coming to core concerns of Interaction Design, it includes Motion, Animation, Feedback, Gestures, Components, Affordances etc., in simple terms, think of any product/ service where a user provides a input and expects an output... there is a bit of Interaction Design there; and there is a little bit of Interaction Design in everything today. However, scope for a full fletched career in Interaction Design can only be found where a product/ service by very nature is highly "interactive". You should choose this discipline if you like a little bit of everything in your career: UI, Animation, Visual Design, Technology, Usability. Qualification point of view, you will hold an essential degree in HCI related discipline with inclination to Interaction Design, or you will have a specialised degree/ diploma in Interaction Design. In many companies, UI Designers themselves play the role of Interaction Designers.

UI Developer: A UI Developer is analogous to Design Engineer in Industrial Design. In current context, a UI Developer is relevant where there is a visual representation of front end (basically, a screen). Essentially, he has an understanding of back end technologies and has expertise in front end technologies. A UI Developer takes in design and specifications as inputs and gives out non-functional product as a output. In other terms, you can understand their output as a fully interactive non-functional prototype. As I mentioned, he needs to have understanding of back end technology and hence, will be able to code front end in a manner it is used by back end teams without needing to significantly re-write the code. A UI Developer has a degree/ diploma in front end technologies and some times in addition to a degree in software engineering. This by itself is a large enough discipline among organisations; and includes web, mobile, television & watch interactions (and any other screens that may emerge). You will choose this as your career if you are inclined to the engineering part of UX, but not so inclined to the engineering that is "not seen" (pun intended).

UX Evangelist: Lets begin with the emerging part now. As the name suggests, a UX Evangelist has the organisational goal of inculcating UX practice in their organisation and their role cuts across many departments within the org. A UX Evangelist may find relevance in say, sales process in his company; and he could potentially bring even that department in the ambit of UX Design. S/He is a UX practitioner with many years of experience and maturity; and can take Design to unchartered areas in the company, establish a design aware culture and has the potential to transform the organisation's outlook from say, "technology centric" to "design centric". You should choose this role if you have the experience and maturity to handle leaders and influence them; and if you like dealing with people at all levels, hierarchy notwithstanding.

UX Coach: Another emerging role, a coach has the responsibility to coach his UX team and others that contribute to UX practice... this is the very reason why this role is beginning to emerge: UX practice of a company cuts across various specialisations and a good UX practice is where all those specialisations align. A coach is not a manager; rather is a person who can relate to several specialisations (branding, design, technology, operations etc.,) and align them time to time, to UX practice. He specifically coaches design teams on several subjects including (but not limited to) research methods, trends, technology, organisation principles, communication, strategy etc., A UX coach would have higher qualification (doctoral or similar) in HCI field and would have spent considerable time as a Designer and Design Manager as well. You should choose this role if you are a people person and have the ability to coach (which is different from training) by listening, learning, advising and holding people accountable to their learning.

Content Strategist: Another emerging role, we wouldn't have seen many content strategists a decade ago. Content is beginning to gain importance as a core competence in UX and hence, a specialised role in strategising it. A content strategist works with UX, Technology and Marketing teams and is responsible for modelling information and content, work with UX teams in IA, work with content teams on development of content, work with marketing teams on strategising content (depending in the context) and work with technology teams on technical content as well as feasibility. A content strategist will have years of experience writing content and would have spent those years working with mid level and senior level team members in helping align content with larger strategy.

Visualiser: Again, an emerging role, a visualiser is analogous to "concept designer" of Industrial Design. A visualiser has the ability to quickly convert ideas to concepts, in the form of wireframes, stories or high fidelity visual mockups. Depending on the context of the organisation, a visualiser may be a independent role that provides input to UX team or may be part within a UX team. A visualiser will be able to generate documents, pull up various resources together and form abstract concepts; that serve as a bridge between technical worded brief and detailed wireframe concepts. A visualiser also may work at the level of developing guidelines for UX. I must inform here that there are at the moment, a very few organisations worldwide that have identified this role and are successfully practicing it. Since its a emerging role, there is no specific qualification that can serve this function; rather, it is a acquired competence that rests in very few individuals who can quickly switch between emotional and logical frames of mind (which means that they possess a little bit of everything; from deep domain intelligence to cross disciplinary intelligence, from design trends to technology

Service Designer & CX Designer: Service Design fundamentally is a much broader practice than User Experience Design. It involves among others, conceiving the entire service, charting customer journeys, creating a blue print, prototyping the service ... all this would ideally spin off several User Experience challenges to overcome. As a practice, Service Design also involves back of stage interactions and back end processes; usually which are not addressed in UX practice. We do see Service Design practiced even today, however, it is found only in few mature organisations. It is different from Customer Experience in that, Service Design also addresses (ideally should address) elements that are part of service, but are not part of Customer Experience. Hence, it is even larger than CX. The way I see it is, Service Design leads to CX which leads to UX. However, it may not be the case with most of the organisations today. We will see enough examples where UX professionals handle CX and Service Design, there's nothing wrong in that provided they can role-play effectively. The difference is in handling strategy vs. handling the details. As you move up the ladder, you may also come across Service Design Strategist and CX Strategist.

That will be it for this subject. I'll talk a little more about the deliverables concerning each role in my next post on this matter.

Hari Nallan

Hari Nallan

Founder and CEO of Think Design, a User Experience strategist, Designer, Speaker and Educator. Think Design is a Leading Design consultancy with offices in Denver, New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru; and collaborates with visionary organisations to identify, build and materialise innovative products and services.

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