Twenty-five years ago, Don Norman gave UX its name. Since then, user experience design has boomed, evolving from an obscure, little-known concept to a well-established discipline.
Today, the UX field is in a state of maturation, increasingly branching off into further areas of specialization. If you’ve been keeping an eye on the job market, you’ll have noticed a multitude of different UX job titles out there—with new ones popping up all the time.
Whether you’re an aspiring designer or an experienced UXer, you need to know how to navigate this fast-moving landscape. As the UX field continues to grow and evolve, the question is this: Where could a career in UX take you?
In this guide, we’ll help you make sense of the UX job market. We’ll introduce and explain some of the most sought-after UX job titles, exploring the tasks and responsibilities associated with each. We’ll also consider how each specialist role differs from the general UX designer job title.
What UX design jobs could you be doing in 2020 and beyond? Let’s find out.
1. UX researcher
If you’re familiar with the UX design process, you’ll know that research plays a crucial role. In fact, many UX designers go on to specialize in this aspect alone; they become UX researchers.
What does a UX researcher do?
As the name suggests, UX researchers focus on all things research-related. They conduct research with real users, gathering both qualitative and quantitative data about how consumers think, feel, and behave. They then share these insights with the wider product team, helping to inform a user-centric design strategy. Ultimately, UX researchers take the guesswork out of design, making sure that all product decisions are made with the user in mind.
On a day-to-day basis, UX researchers will plan, carry out, and analyze user research sessions. They’ll determine the scope of each study, set research objectives, and recruit suitable participants.
They then prepare any materials needed for the study, such as online surveys or interview questions. With the preparation in place, the UX researcher will coordinate and moderate both remote and in-person sessions—be it a one-to-one user interview, a contextual enquiry, a focus group, or a usability testing session. You can learn more about the kinds of sessions that UX researchers conduct in this comprehensive guide to UX research methods.
Following a user research session, the UX researcher will analyze the data gathered and translate it into actionable insights and recommendations for the product team. Depending on the scale of the study, they might present their insights or simply share them in a document. UX researchers may also help to create user personas and customer journey maps.
So what’s the difference between a UX researcher and a UX designer?
As a UX designer, you can expect to conduct user research as part of your overall process. However, if you have a UX designer and a dedicated UX researcher on the same team, the UX researcher will handle the entire research aspect. They will focus on understanding the user, gathering data, and turning it into meaningful insights about the target audience. They then hand these insights over to the UX designer, who applies them when designing any new products or features.
Both roles require a solid understanding of the UX design process, a knack for reading people, and the ability to empathize. In addition, the UX researcher is expected to be highly analytical and data-driven; much of the work involves gathering and analyzing data in order to glean useful insights.
So: If you enjoy conducting user research and want to delve deeper into the analytical side of design, you might consider specializing as a UX researcher.
2. UX writer
Writing isn’t typically considered part of the UX design process, but the words on a product interface do have a huge impact on the user experience. The industry is just waking up to the importance of UX writing—and the specialist role of the UX writer.
What does a UX writer do?
UX writers craft all the text that the user encounters when using a product or service—from the error message that pops up when you enter the wrong password, to the celebratory message you get when you hit a milestone on a language-learning or fitness app. Just as UI designers create all the visual, interactive elements of a user interface, UX writers design the product wording.
UX writers combine a deep understanding of user-centered design with a flair for copywriting. They conduct user research (or collaborate with the UX researcher) in order to understand the audience they’re writing for. They analyze existing product copy to identify potential areas for improvement and use these insights to devise an overall UX copy strategy. Based on this strategy, they’ll write a concise, user-friendly copy that aims to guide the user through the product. You can learn more about the role of the UX writer in this guide.
At this stage, you might be wondering what the difference is between a UX writer and a “normal” copywriter working in the marketing industry. While both roles require outstanding copywriting skills, UX writers and marketing copywriters have different end goals in mind. Marketing copywriters write to persuade; they aim to convince the reader of the value of a certain product or service. UX writers consider the experience the user has once they are actually interacting with a product; they write to guide the user through the product, helping them get from A to B as smoothly as possible.
So what’s the difference between a UX writer and a UX designer?
As already mentioned, copywriting isn’t usually factored into the UX design process. UX designers aren’t expected to be good copywriters, so it’s easy to see how the role of the UX writer differs from that of the UX designer.
Just like UX designers, UX writers understand the fundamental principles of user experience and the importance of user research. At the same time, UX writers are gifted copywriters with a knack for writing concise, user-friendly microcopy that guides the user while remaining on-brand.
So: If you’re an aspiring UX designer with a flair for copywriting, you could end up specializing as a UX writer.
3. Information architect
Another key element of user experience design is information architecture—that is, the organization of content across a product or system. If this is an area of UX that especially appeals to you, you can specialize as an information architect.
What does an information architect do?
Information architects are like digital librarians; they work out the most logical, user-friendly way to organize information across a digital product. If you’re designing a website, for example, the information architect will consider the user’s journey across the site, looking at how the information should be organized on each page, as well as how individual pages connect to create a logical navigation. Their goal is to make it as easy as possible for the user to find what they’re looking for.
So how do they go about this? First, they’ll work with the UX researcher (or UX designer) to identify user needs in relation to the product. They might conduct card sorting sessions in order to see how users group and categorize certain information. If there is already an existing information architecture in place, they’ll carry out content audits and assessments to see how well it’s performing.
Based on their findings, the information architect will get down to planning and designing (or redesigning) the information architecture. They’ll group and prioritize content in order to establish a content hierarchy, create sitemaps, and outline the overall navigational structure. This looks at how users will get from A to B, and all the possible pathways they might take in the process. The information architect will also work closely with the UX writer to come up with content labels. Finally, they’ll create wireframes ready for user testing.
So what’s the difference between an information architect and a UX designer?
As User Experience Architect Darren Northcott explains, information architecture concerns structure while user experience is all about emotion. UX designers will consider information architecture as just one aspect of the overall user experience, whereas information architects focus on it exclusively and in-depth. Information architects are primarily concerned with structure, usability, and findability in terms of content; UX designers are concerned with how the information architecture contributes to a positive user experience—i.e. How does the user feels as they navigate the product and the information architecture?
So: If you like the idea of combining UX design, library science, and cognitive psychology, with a primary focus on structure and usability, you might pursue the information architect route.
4. UX/UI designer
Now we come to a job title which is often the source of confusion. UX designer and UI designer are, in fact, two separate roles. However, they are often advertised as one, so we’ve included the catch-all job title on this list in an attempt to provide some clarity.
What does a UX/UI designer do?
The best way to distinguish between the role of the UX and UI designer is to consider the difference between user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design. Ultimately, UX design is concerned with how the overall experience feels for the user—is the product user-friendly and engaging?—while UI design is a subset of UX, focusing on the visual, interactive design of the product interface. As Dain Miller puts it: “UI is the saddle, stirrups, and the reins. UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse.”
Despite these differences, many employers will combine UX and UI under one job title. Indeed, UX and UI designers work very closely together, and it’s not uncommon these days for UX designers to specialize in UI design skills and vice versa. As you might expect, UX/UI designers cover both the user experience and the visual aspects of product design. They conduct user research, create wireframes and prototypes, carry out user testing, and take care of the interface design—everything from color schemes and typography, right through to icon design, imagery, and interactive properties.
So what’s the difference between a UX/UI designer and a UX designer?
Usually, the UX designer hands their wireframes over to a UI designer who will take care of the product aesthetics. If you’re aspiring to become a UX designer, you won’t be expected to design visual elements such as buttons, icons, and typography. If you’re going for a UX/UI designer role, though, you’ll need to master key UI design skills in addition to user experience design principles.
So: If you’re a UX designer with a keen eye for visual design, you might find yourself moving into a UX/UI design role. If you’re looking to expand your skillset, consider a specialization course in UI for UX designers.
5. UX strategist
We often talk about the user-centric nature of UX design, but in reality, it’s not just about designing products that please your customers. UX has a major impact on business, too, and UX designers will often find themselves operating in the space between the end user and key business stakeholders. Over time, this has seen the emergence of a new role: the UX strategist.
What does a UX strategist do?
You can think of UX strategy as the convergence of UX design and business strategy. UX strategists bring a user-centered mindset to the boardroom, while also making sure that the design team is working with the business goals in mind.
With a deep understanding of UX and the importance of putting the user first, the UX strategist is able to advise key decision-makers on how best to compete in their chosen market. They might assist with defining a UX vision and mission for the company, resulting in a UX roadmap. The role of the UX strategist is also highly analytical; they will synthesize data in order to identify strategic opportunities in the market, helping to determine what direction the product should take in order to benefit both the business and the user.
Strategists are able to align the design team with the goals of the business, steering both the product and the company strategy in the right direction.
At the same time, they work with the design team to ensure that the product aligns with the strategic goals of the business. As the name suggests, this is a highly strategic role; UX strategists coordinate and advise to make sure that the design team and the business are working towards a common goal.
So what’s the difference between a UX strategist and a UX designer?
Although UX designers are concerned with the business goals, their primary focus is on the user. Generally speaking, they are a lot more hands-on than UX strategists in terms of developing and creating the product itself. UX strategists tend to come from a design background and eventually move over to the strategy side. With this experience behind them, they are able to align the design team with the goals of the business, steering both the product and the company strategy in the right direction.
So, if you’re keen to get more involved in the business side of things after a few years in the industry, you might choose to specialize as a UX strategist.
So there you have it: Five of the most sought-after UX designer job titles. When considering all the different UX roles out there, it’s important to remember that the role of the UX designer means different things to different companies. Even if you’re working as a UX generalist, you may be expected to take on some of the responsibilities that fall under these specialist job titles—especially if you’re working at a startup or for a smaller organization.
And remember: While these (and many more!) specialist job titles exist, the general UX designer job title is still very much in-demand. There’s no need to decide straight away if you want to pursue a specialist route; as you master the fundamentals of UX design, you’ll cover all the key steps in the product design process. Once you’ve dipped your toes in as a generalist, you’ll have a better idea of how you want to steer your UX design career.
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