I've been in the process of gathering up my clients, my portfolio, and my wits as I consider a move from consulting back to an agency type environment. As a result, for the first time in half a decade, I'm looking at job boards. The UX stuff is... god... it's really confused.
I've found that fully 80% of the time, people hiring a "UX Pro" are actually looking for a product designer with about 4 years of experience and not a true UX practitioner. What's the difference?
- A product designer is a light-duty front end engineer and graphic designer, for web & mobile, who has a secondary understanding of UX principles as they apply to his or her craft. S/he generally comes from an entrepreneurial background. S/he excels at coming up with the presentation of the big idea and executing on it. The role is most analogous to advertising's creative director.
- A UX designer is someone who comes from a research position, who has a secondary understanding of how front end code works, and often has prior agency training. S/he is rightly considered the project team's conscience and ensures that all work remains accountable to the needs of the end user. S/he excels at coming up with the big idea in the first place, then articulating it to creatives and engineers. The role is most analogous to advertising's account planner.
- Both typically have some formal training in visual design, although the product designer is more likely to have an actual bachelors in graphic design.
In reality though, what's going on is that people are getting hired into UX roles, having never learned the UX process, as articulated by Garrett and others. Instead, they're getting paid 15%+ less than the title should warrant, and treated as glorified wireframe monkeys. This is blurring the public understanding of what user experience seeks to accomplish, while promoting people who haven't been fully trained into a role they may not be fully qualified to hold at the senior level when they go to apply for their next job.
True, there are those who can write PHP, CSS3, JS, and also understand the difference between a card sort and a conjoint analysis, but that's something above and beyond the early-career stuff that makes up the bulk of HR requests. You'll see postings from this type of creature in here from time to time, but they're generally considered unicorns, especially if they have Agile experience to top it off.
I would pose the question to this group - what can we do about it? Should we do anything about it? Is it ok that UX and product design are so often viewed under the same umbrella, when there is actually a fairly large difference between the two?
Eventually, the issues will resolve themsleves. They certainly did in advertising's field of account planning, which is a very close allegory to the role of a modern UX designer.