One real (but kinda silly) barrier to entering the UX job market is the sheer number of confusing UX Job titles. Today, I’m going to help you navigate, understand, and evaluate the many UX job titles and descriptions you are bound to come across.
Why The Problem Exists
User Experience is a very broad term, which is one of the root causes of confusion that permeates not only to UX job titles, but to the entire profession itself. The user experience of a product or service encompasses several considerations, which is best illustrated with a diagram:
So when companies write UX job descriptions, some of them throw the kitchen sink of responsibilities into one job, because:
a) They’re still figuring out what UX means to them
Companies (usually less experienced with UX) may not want to leave out any part of the user experience design process. It’s hard to prioritize what’s most important to them, especially when they’re still figuring out exactly what they need from UX professionals.
b) UX is our savior!
UX design professionals may be viewed as the cost-effective solution that can do it all. If “user experience” is all these elements as depicted in the above diagram and more, then we can save money by hiring someone who takes care of the entire user experience!
That’s why you see job descriptions that ask for everything from research -> design -> prototype -> code -> testing and beyond. There are some extremely talented people who can do it all. We call them unicorns, and we’ll talk about them in a bit.
How to Evaluate UX Job Titles
As Aaron Weyenberg hilariously illustrated in his UX Job Title Generator Page, you will run into a ridiculous # of variations on UX job titles.
1. UX Design
The most generalized (and confusing) term out of the bunch, user experience design is often concerned with architecting the blueprint of a system, which may include research, translating business requirements into design, information architecture, wireframing and testing.
This slideshare, especially slide 4, is a popular way to think of UX Design (in their example the interaction designer) in relation to the other UX sub-disciplines.
Sample UX job titles focused on UX Design:
- UX Designer
- Experience Designer
- Interaction Designer
- Information Architect
Job titles that typically imply more seniority, closer to business strategy:
- UX Strategist
- UX Architect
- UX Product Manager
- UX Analyst
2. Visual Design
Visual design emphasizes the use of graphic design principles such as color, typography, layout and illustration to breathe life, personality and branding into a system.
Sample UX job titles focused on Visual Design:
Basically any jobs that emphasize key terms like art, artist, visual, user interface, “2d,” and print fall into this category.
Sample UX job titles focused on coding:
- UX/UI Engineer
- UX/UI Developer
- Product Designer (this term will soon match “UX Designer” in broadness and confusion)
This is the unicorn I was referring to at the beginning of the post. Many employers are looking for the mythical triple-threat of designers who can architect a system (UX Design), make it look pretty (Visual Design), and bring that to life (Code). However, from anecdotes of UX developers, it may be difficult to differentiate their job between that of a Front-End Developer. (If you can code, it’s not unusual to spend 80% of your time coding, and less on the entire UX design process.) Watch out for a dedicated post on this in the future.
4. Content Strategy
Emphasizes the ability to interpret research findings; create sustainable plans for different content types, create taxonomies and metadata frameworks.
Sample job titles focused on content strategy:
- Content Strategist
- UX Copywriter
Any job description that emphasizes words like “copy, taxonomy, messaging, and content” typically fall under content strategy.
5. Research & Usability
Emphasizes the ability to plan, conduct, and draw actionable conclusions from usability tests. People with this skill are expected to develop & own research projects, and be able to analyze & use data to move the business forward.
I’ve noticed that almost all UX job titles with “research” or “usability” in them almost always read the same, are quite interchangeable. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be; it’s just what I’ve observed.
Sample job titles focused on research/usability:
- UX Researcher
- Usability Researcher / Specialist / Analyst / Engineer
Even at this point there’s still room for confusion: UX Designer at one company may have a completely different set of responsibilities at another company.
This is mainly driven by context: what is the size of the company and what is the type of work they do?
Bigger companies (think Microsoft, Google) tend to have more division of labor, meaning dedicated roles. For example, IBM’s user experience program specifically hires for those in UX Design, Visual Design, or Front-end Dev. Big companies usually also have more seniority levels, from junior UX designer all the way up to VP of User Experience.
Smaller companies – especially startups – often require their UX professionals to wear many different hats. In an fast environment with less resources, scrappy startups look for unicorns who can do it all.
Agencies can be anywhere in the middle – they hire based on client needs. If a client demonstrates need for a content strategist, a agency would hire a content strategist. Or a user researcher, and so on.
Regardless of the type of company, you can expect most UX Design jobs to be asking for some combination of 1) UX Design 2) Visual Design and 3) Code.
Example: A job might look like 80% UX, 20% Visual, 0% Code.
You just have to carefully comb through job descriptions and talk to recruiters to figure out that those percentages will roughly be.
So, which UX Jobs should I go for?
The safe route is to tell you “it depends.” But for most User Experience Beginners, what I’ve seen by and large is that the most suitable roles ask for skills in UX Design and/or Visual Design, with job titles like:
- UX Designer
- Experience Designer
- Interaction/Interactive Designer
- User Interface Designer
- UI Artist
Content strategy and user research/usability jobs are more defined, and dedicated effort to either task usually don’t fall under the purview of generalist UX Design.
These are more specialized jobs that typically require more schooling and years of experience. Also – there is less demand and less openings in these jobs. Unless you’re passionate about content strategy or user research, I wouldn’t sweat too much on these jobs.
Yeah, I admit it – there’s a good amount of generalizations made in this article but it is written for maximum effectiveness for most UXBs.
Obviously what job you end up going for depends on your individual background – you know your skill-set best. But it’s my hope that confused UXBs can now make better sense of the plethora of UX job titles out there, avoid jobs that are a bad match, and ultimately find the most suitable job.
Agree, disagree, or just feel strongly about your UX job title? Let’s have a discussion in the comments below.