Design Titles are Confusing for Everyone

Design titles have become so misconstrued the last 10 years, so much so that we are constantly debating amongst ourselves (designers) about what they actually mean.  Where does this leave employers and the industry as a whole?

In this post I’m going to talk about why it’s preferable to be a combination of a UX/UI designer rather than one or the other and hopefully put at end to the ketchup bottle post that I’m sick of seeing.

ketchup bottle analogy I hate to much.

Let’s start with defining these titles individually..

User Experience

The user experience title is really all about research and understanding the why behind a problem.  That’s that role in a nutshell.  They conduct research into the users themselves, and their deliverables often come out as a research report or lo-fidelity wireframes.

User Interface

The interface that that users interact with is where UI designers come in.  They are all about creating an experience that not only aligns with the research insights but meets brand and developer requirements.

Where’s the value?

With the surge of design bootcamps and experience design consultancies over the years, there is a general misconception about the value of these roles with more emphasis placed on ‘UX design’.  This is reflected in the salaries of UX designers vs UI – take a look at any job listing with these individual titles and you’ll see what I mean.

The issue

What is often the case is that UX designers have little to no understanding of how to implement their research.  They know the ‘why’ but not the ‘how’ of designing a product.  A thousand post-it notes won’t help you when you need to meet WCAG guidelines or create a design system that will reduce tech debt in a code repository.

Other the other hand you have UI designers who are obsessed with delivering sleek user interfaces without actually understanding user or business needs.  Some of which can’t even code up an HTML/CSS file.

This is where these two roles begin to fall apart.  The right hand isn’t talking to the left hand and you have process where no one isn’t looking at a product design holistically.   What’s possible to build that meets user needs; for-fills business budget and timelines, whilst meeting developer constraints?

Going back to the ketchup example, the bottle itself would just be research notes or a wireframe that doesn’t even touch on the brand or business requirements.  Where’s the developer in this example?  The BA, the tester, the product owner?

We need to stop valuing one over the other when both roles are equally important and challenging to do well.

What history tells us

In the case of any successful tech company today, they started with a few people who were skilled enough to see the product as a whole.  They had little to no money with coding experience that were able to dabble in [insert design tool at the time].

As these organisations began to grow, they start hiring experts in those areas to fill in the gaps – going deep rather than wide.  Fair enough.

The value is in the holistic view of the design.  This is why designers also preach a lot about everyone being involved in the design process.  A shared understanding makes for a shared product view and mission.

So where does that leave the titles?

I propose the use of a UX research role, the User interface role where individuals and organizations are large enough to carry the workload required to meet those individual needs.  In a team of 10 designers it would be fair to have a mix of those titles to cover various products in the organisation.

What we need to move towards as designers is a ‘Product Designer’ role where we might be in a smaller team that requires a holistic approach to the research and deliverables.  You might be focuses on user needs but still account for business requirements and developer handoff.

The line is drawn

What we need to stop doing in our industry is taking titles that we either can’t do or are not willing to learn.   The user experience process can be grilling – synthesizing research, interviewing and writing writing writing is not easy.  At the same time meeting the needs of the ever changing user interface requirements are difficult.  Not to mention the relationship you have to foster with developers in order to meet those design requirements – there is not ‘hand off’ per se.

It ain’t easy.

If we as designers fail to deliver the value of design to a team or organisation, we’re letting the whole industry down.  Don’t fake it till you make it – figure it out and learn the craft, always assume you know nothing because in reality you’re never going to know everything – I learn at least 3 new tools every time I start a new role.

Final words

For employers it’s key to hire based on experience – nothing else.  Senior designers have experience, not just a bootcamp paper.

If you have a smaller team, hire a mix of UX/UI (preferably Product) even if they’re wide in range of skills vs knowledge in just one area.  If you’re a larger org, ensure you have a number of Product designers mixed in with a few UX researchers and UI designers, to cover that deep understanding required in both fields.

And please stop with the ketchup bottle.


Tania Richardson sign.