User experience is a global concept which aims to completely satisfy the end user (of a web site, of an application) with regards to the task(s) they are trying to accomplish. Ideally it should be simple and elegant, while generating positive emotions throughout the process: pleasure of use, pride, satisfaction with the product, etc.
Setting up a good user experience (UX) involves working in concert with all of the actors in the project: developers, marketers, team leaders, product owners, artistic leads etc. The UX designer belongs at the crossroads of all of these paths.
If I’ve learned one thing throughout my interactions with clients, prospects, deciders, project managers and head hunters; it’s that the role of a UX Designer isn’t widely recognized or understood, in France at least.
We’re therefore inclined to “evangelize” a little. Let’s start by doing away with a handful of all too common assumptions.
A software developer: while my job involves a technical aspect, it is just that: an aspect. There’s no point recruiting a UX Designer to handle Front-End development exclusively, as he’ll most likely be less adept at it than a specialist in that field. Corollary: a software developer tasked with a project’s UX will only see it from a narrow point of view, and will likely make a poor Designer.
A graphic designer: Once again, the aesthetic or artistic aspect of UX is only a small part of a UX Designer’s work – sadly, confusing these two positions is a common mistake.
An UI Designer: UI (User Interface) is only one part of the wider field that is UX.
I could add quite a few more items to this list: a UX Designer isn’t a psychologist either, nor is he a software architect, or a project manager, or a Product Owner. UX Designer is its own, specific role. While UX Design involves notions and techniques also found in other professions, and while most UX Designers draw from influences inherited from previous lines of work, it is the width and breadth of our spectrum of activity that allows us to really be efficient.
UX Designer is a blanket term that covers a number of specialties (“among professionals of the profession”). I will not get into the specifics of User Researchers, Information Architects, Content Specialists or Interaction Designers … let’s keep it simple, shall we? I’ll try to provide a global picture of my work first.
The UX Designer can use a wide gamut of tools and methods over the course of his mission. These techniques are all clearly identified and known, such as:
This is not an exhaustive list of course, but it covers a large chunk of the contents of the UX Designer’s toolbox.
Absent constraints, there would be precious little point to my work. But beyond the “typical” constraints faced over the course of every development project – time, costs, manpower …; the UX Designer must also thread the needle between additional elements, each indispensible to a successful product. Such as:
“proprietary” ergonomics constraints: this means, for example, respecting the guidelines provided (and sometimes imposed) by Google or Apple for the development of mobile applications.
standards imposed by the project itself: in the case of a web site or application, that means for example respecting accessibility regulations1 (Section 508, WCAG 2.0 AAA etc).
global rules of ergonomics : this is a fairly broad category which refers to a number of metrics, laws and rules inherited from various fields (psychology, sociology, but also “harder” sciences) such as the Gestalt laws of grouping (the psychology of form and shape), the Pareto principle, Fitts’ Law etc …
This concludes this succinct presentation on the work of a UX Designer. It is a critical position, which creative companies try to fill at the very start of web or mobile project because UX design shapes so much of the following phases of development.
Employing a dedicated UX Designer means ensuring better product endorsement from users.
Now that you have a better idea of what a UX Designer does, keep it in mind next time you contact one. Particularly if you’re really looking for : “a Front-End developer who knows Angular.js, the Adobe suite, can handle ergonomics and make his own logos and icons”∗
∗Any resemblance to the expectations of real prospective recruiters, living or dead, is purely deliberate and regrettably factual.