Illustration by Prabhat Mahapatra
Many 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 explore all of the most popular UX careers paths. We’ll introduce some of the most sought-after jobs in the design field and discuss 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 2021 and beyond? Let’s find out.
1. UX researcher
If you’re familiar with the UX design process, you know that research plays a crucial role. This is because when we know more about our users’ needs and wants, we can create the best solutions for them. 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 people think, feel, and behave. They then share these insights with the entire product team, helping everyone understand the target audience and informing a user-centric design strategy. Ultimately, UX researchers take the guesswork out of the design process, making sure that the team has enough information to make data-informed product decisions.
On a day-to-day basis, UX researchers will plan and conduct various research activities, such as discovery interviews, concept testing, contextual inquiry, and usability testing. They’ll determine the scope of each study, set research objectives, and recruit suitable participants. Following a user research session, the UX researcher will analyze the data and translate it into actionable insights and product requirements. UX researchers also take an active part in creating 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 design 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. UX researchers are usually highly analytical and
data-driven, since a lot of their work involves gathering and analyzing data to glean useful insights.
2. UX writer
Writing isn’t typically considered part of the product design process, but the words on a product interface have a tremendous impact on the user experience. The industry now recognizes the importance of UX writing, and UX writers are one of the most in-demand jobs in the design field.
What does a UX writer do?
Just as UI designers create all the visual and interactive elements of a user interface, UX writers create all of the corresponding copy. 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.
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—such as text sections that have unfamiliar terms—and use these insights to devise an overall UX copy strategy. Based on this strategy, they’ll write concise, user-friendly copy that guides the user through the product.
At this stage, you might be wondering what the difference is between a UX writer and a 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 before they start using it.
In other words, the goal of marketing writers is to sell a product to potential customers. UX writers, on the other hand, consider the user’s experience 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 UX writer’s role differs from that of the UX designer.
Just like UX designers, UX writers understand the fundamental principles of good user experience and the importance of user research. At the same time, UX writers are gifted copywriters with a knack for writing user-friendly copy that guides the user, while remaining on-brand.
If you are a junior UX designer with a flair for both product design and copywriting, you could end up specializing as a UX writer.
3. Information architect
Information architecture is the organization of content across a product or system. It’s one of the key elements of user experience design because it directly impacts whether the users can navigate through your product.
What does an information architect do?
When an information architect works on a new website, they consider the user’s journey across the site to determine how to organize the information on each page and how individual pages connect to create 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 UX practitioners (the UX designer or UX researcher) to identify user needs in relation to the product. They might conduct card sorting sessions to understand how users group and categorize certain information. If there is already an existing information architecture in place, they’ll carry out content inventory and content audits 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 to get there.
The information architect will also work closely with the UX writer to come up with content labels, which help users decode the meaning of the different navigation options. Finally, they’ll create low-fidelity wireframes that show the relationships between individual screens or content sections and use those for usability testing.
So what’s the difference between an information architect and a UX designer?
The goal of information architecture is to create the structure that improves a product’s usability. However, usability is only one factor of user experience. UX designers, on the other hand, think about usability as well as the emotions that users may have when they interact with a product. Simply put, 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.
If you enjoy structuring information and thinking about cognitive psychology rules in practice, the information architect route may be worth considering.
4. UX/UI designer
Now we come to a job title that can be a bit confusing. While UX designer and UI designer are considered two separate roles, 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 differences between user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design. Ultimately, UX design considers how the product works and feels for the user—is the product
user-friendly and engaging? UI design is a subset of UX, focusing on both the product interface’s visual and interactive design.
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 low- or high-fidelity 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?
In larger companies, UX and UI designers work together but typically divide their responsibilities. The UX designer’s goal is to create functional, reliable, and usable products; the UI designer’s goal is to make accessible and beautiful interfaces. The UX designer will usually create a wireframe and then hand that off to the UI designer, who will take care of the product aesthetics and introduce delightful details.
In smaller companies, the UX designer may perform a combination of UX and UI design tasks, learning to master skills in both to do their job effectively.
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. If you’re a UX designer with a keen eye for visual design, you might find yourself moving into a UX/UI design role.
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 satisfy the needs of your customers. UX has a major impact on business, too, and UX designers often find themselves operating in the space between the end-user and key business stakeholders. UX practitioners aim to find a sweet spot between users’ needs and business goals. 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 takes business needs into account and advises key decision-makers on how to compete in their chosen market. They might help define a UX vision and mission for the company, resulting in a UX roadmap. The UX strategist’s role is also highly analytical; they will synthesize data to identify strategic opportunities in the market, determining what direction the product should take to benefit both the business and the user.
Strategists align the design team with the business’s goals, steering both the product and the company in the right direction. UX strategists coordinate and advise to ensure that the design team and the business are working toward a common goal.
So what’s the difference between a UX strategist and a UX designer?
Although UX designers do keep business goals in mind, 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. 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 careers. Keep in mind, though, that a UX designer role can mean different things to different companies. Even if you’re working as a UX generalist, you might 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.
Remember that since all careers in UX are closely connected, there’s no need to decide which route you want to pursue right away. You can master the fundamentals of UX design and try one of the five routes in the field; with time, you will have a better idea of how you want to steer your user experience design career.