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I have been asked before about describing my role as a UX architect, and I was thinking about the background of people working in UX design as being either graphic/visual design, software engineering/development or research (or a combination thereof). With so much overlap between terms and definitions as well as variations of job titles, I wonder whether it is easier to present UX competencies in terms of the balance or skills of an individual in each of the three categories? It might also give the HR people a clearer understanding of an already abstract and complicated area of work.

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5 Answers 5

I agree that the role of a UX person (be it designer / strategist / architect / researcher or other) differs between industries and companies and that what you end up doing and the role description varies a lot. Recently the term UX designer has confused a lot of people and many use it in an interchangeable way with a Interactive Designer, which is what I call someone who focuses only on the design of User Interfaces.

I contract so my role often changes but currently I'm flying under the flag of Senior User Experience Architect. In the idea version of that title the Architect is similair to the role of that of a large building. They design the overall way the building works, how many stories etc and then other specialists focus upon the engineering, interior design and the finer details of the design. They would never pick up hammer and start building. I have worked on long projects where I was not involved with designing a single interface but was there to define the service, it's core requirements and it's success criteria based upon external user interviews and internal workshops.

With smaller projects a UX person may also be hands on and create prototypes or, if they have design skills, even get dirty with Photoshop. On smaller projects UX people often have their role overlap heavily with other team members. If you're building a small building then the architect will do more and may pick up a hammer and be part of the construction team as there is far less to overview and, if they have the skills, then it's okay to put on a different hat and be hands on.

So I would say size of project / team changes the job role significantly.

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Agreed with @JohnGB. Setting the defined responsibilities of a job in UX is most probably preferred as a UX manager can differ from a UX strategist which can differ from a UX architect and again differ from a UX designer. Here's how CodeComputerLove define their opening for a Senior User Experience architect which is interesting, and would also recommend taking a look at some LinkedIn members (get a premium account free for a month and view 3rd connections)

Personally, I have studied design but never practised it and my job role is specifically "UX strategist". My background is specifically digital advertising - nothing more nothing less I just have (or feel I have) a forte in this specific area (nailing this down to user testing) The best advice anyone ever gave me is that "in order to be a great person in UX you have to look and be inherently interested in people"

Setting your competencies, therefore, might be a good idea - but also quite restrictive. Perhaps try to focus on experience and, again, make your profile as persuasive as possible (clients you've worked on, testimonials you've raise etc) and most importantly how your skills are transferable to your clients business.

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UX draws from many different fields depending on what UX you are working on. Someone working on UX for mobile games will need different skills from someone that is working on the UX of task chairs. Additionally UX is an art informed by science, and not a pure science.

The best parallel I can think of is trying to determine core competencies for an artist. The list of competencies for Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Pollock, Michelangelo, and Picasso would be vastly different. Yet they are all great artists.

The core competencies for each UX job differ, and so they need to be set on a job to job basis, not as a general set of UX competencies.

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This is an interesting topic which I encounter in my research on UX integration as well. The results of my studies in close collaboration with software development companies clearly showed that there is a lack of agreement and low awareness about UX related roles and responsibilities. Although I agree with the previous answers where what a UX person takes on differs from one organisation to another, or one project to another, I relate this to the field of UX being relatively young. This however creates freedom in such jobs, ends in a number of challenges for UX people as well. Many non-UX practitioners do not have a clear view of UX roles therefore might have wrong expectations when hiring people. On the other hand, since the role of UX person might overlap with some other roles (e.g .requirement analysts) is it even more important to clarify the role and its responsibilities. Today, if somewhen says 'I'm a software architect' at least people in the field get a sense of what he/she might be doing. The same for 'web-developer', 'requirements analyst', 'product owner'. In my view, their roles being better defined and established makes their job in the organisations 'smoother'. This is while one of the common problems for UX people is to justify their responsibilities.

All in all, I agree that we should have a classification/list of UX related roles and their responsibilities. This however does not mean that a UX person will not be able to do anything else if required. Going back to the 'architect' example Stewart gave above, everyone knows what a architect does for a building, but if required (e.g. in small projects) they can perform some other activities that are often performed by other roles.

So far in my research, I have seen spectrum of 'skills' and responsibilities for UX people: at lower level (e.g. prototyping, graphical design, interaction design), at middle level (e.g. information architecture, requirement analyst), at higher level (e.g. solution builder, business analyst, product vision and strategy, research and development)

Based on my experience, I believe a 'UX expert' (don't have a name for it yet) should have the most contribution in the higher level that deals with the strategy, vision and does not go into details of design. This means such an expert should have more authority and decision power compared to a usability test person, or interaction designer. (s)he also needs to be aligned with different people at higher levels (e.g. subject matter expert, product owner, product manager). But still many organisations only replace the term 'interaction designer' by 'UX architect' without necessarily changing the authority or responsibilies of that role.

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What sort of research have you been doing on UX integration? – Michael Lai May 19 at 22:17
Not sure if I understand your questions. My focus has been on identifying 'challenges' practitioners face concerning UX. This includes perspective of both more technical practitioners (e.g developers), and UX practitioners. The research has been performed in Sweden in collaboration with a number of software development organisations. – Pariya Kashfi May 20 at 10:47

Yes, I have seen that defining core UX competency areas can help to hone in on what different people might mean with "UX Designer", to identify the particular skillset of a job candidate, or to communicate to recruiters what it is that they need to look for. I am also exploring how a more detailed list of competencies can objectify hiring interview outcomes and serve as a basis for professional development plans.

But I would replace "engineering/development" with IxD. Some companies like 37signals combine these roles, but this is clearly the exception and a hard-to-find profile. I long defined the 3 areas as user research, interaction design (in the meaning defined by Alan Cooper) and visual design. Lately I have added "UX strategy" as a 4th competency area to cover defining processes, measuring KPIs and managing UX teams.

I disagree clearly with JohnGB. In some cases, industrial design need might to be added as as 5th category, but the categories above clearly align on almost all software and interactive media projects. Designing chairs is not a UX activity. "User" implies an interaction with technology. UX as a discipline is still the field of human-computer interaction.

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I think the OP was referring to engineering/development being one of the backgrounds from which UX designers come from. That said, I do think UX teams need to own the development of the UI as much as they can, so bringing in talented IxD's that can develop is a huge benefit. – DA01 Jun 12 '13 at 6:17

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