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As a UX designer I have encountered situations where UX recommendations were followed in terms of layout, functionality and interaction design. However when it comes to the details of the design itself I have had to weigh my recommendations very carefully to avoid:

  1. Limiting designer creativity.

  2. Being perceived as impeding on someone else professional territory.

Typically I would suggest further recomendations when there is lack of affordance or when the final designs/visuals are likely to hinder accessibility.

So as stated above, my question is: How far should a UX designer venture in graphic design territory without being perceived as limiting creativity or impeding on someone else professional territory?

Context:

The obvious answer would be to clearly explain how the design affects usability and user experience as whole but my question specifically relates to situations where this approach has failed or engendered so much discussion and controversy that it wasn’t worth the effort.

So far I have been focused on enriching my recommendations with guidelines and detailed explanations but this is time-consuming and focuses too much on creating documentation rather than getting the job done.

  • I'd also be sure to add to the team's mix a dedicated UI Text writer/editor to make sure the words on the screen and the visual affordances complement each other. – Sean Bentley Feb 10 '15 at 0:12

10 Answers 10

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If the UX Team and Graphic Design team are separate, then that's the problem.

Your concerns are all valid, but are concerns that happen when the UX team isn't integrated with the other teams that need to be part of the team.

IMHO, a UX team should have a wide range of skills on the team...including graphic designers...who are a part of the process from beginning to end.

  • 1
    @user1337 well, I'd say generalists do make great UX designers, but I don't think every UX designer needs to be a generalist. What's more important than the individual skill sets is the overall skill sets of the UX team as a whole. You may have some specialists, you may have some generalists. – DA01 Feb 9 '15 at 17:33
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    Completely agree with this. Why does it always have to be different "teams" for different forms of design. Just call it a design team with all of those disciplines. I'm tired of people tripping over each other, seriously. – Majo0od Feb 9 '15 at 18:00
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    @Okavango I'd argue that there shouldn't be any UX boundaries. In an ideal company, UX would permeate all. :) – DA01 Feb 9 '15 at 19:04
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    Well… not entirely “pie-in-the-sky” :) I think part of UX designer goals is to propagate this philosophy where UX permeates all to get everyone on-board, which should in principal remove occasional frictions relating to roles. – Okavango Feb 9 '15 at 19:33
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    @SteveD There's no clear-cut definition. The reason I tend to think that CS is part of UX, is as I said above - CX only applies to Customers and Users can be both people who have purchased, and those who have not. So UX is the broader term. That, and take a look Jakob Nielsen's definition of UX: nngroup.com/articles/definition-user-experience - "User experience" encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products. CX would seem to be included in that, but still just a subset of what UX entails. – user1337 Aug 8 '16 at 15:37
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This seems odd that people feel like a UX Designer is somehow hindering other people's work.

As Steve Jobs said:

Design is functionality

This statement is most definitely true. A UX Designer should be in the process as a whole, and not once should the UX Designer alienate him/herself from the project at hand.

For instance, I work with a lot of visual designers and developers.

Every so often, I talk to visual designers about their work and where it could be more usable. They then give their input as to why it worked and didn't work for them. We've had this back and forth to provide the best experience possible.

When it comes to developers, I don't necessarily talk about what goes on in the back end, but we talk about the experience on the front end, how things animate, load and provide feedback. We find a middle ground for what's within scope and what isn't.

This back and forth allows us to have a more linear workflow. After they understand how an experience should be overall, they are able to create that experience overall.

I've also created "best practices" for companies before to allow all teams know what is a good way to go about things. If they aren't certain, we discuss and establish common grounds.

Hope that helps.

  • I completely agree. A good visual designer should be able to accept the fact they they are not a UX designer. They need to be able to work together, be part of the team. – Summer Aug 8 '16 at 12:00
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Part of a UX designers role may be to create UX prototypes (this may mean different things to different people). This does border a Creative Technologist role to a degree but where Annotations in Wireframes describing interaction fails UX prototypes are usually a winner. I believe this is part and parcel of a UX designers role.

To play devils advocate on the (1) comment, this expands their creativity and helps to ensure what is designed and eventually built works in a way people will love (the principle goal of a UX designer), without losing what was created at the UX stage.

And for comment (2), if there are other team members more suited to built this, then work closely with them in a handover process to achieve the desired outcome.

The ringer "option" here may be to use a Wireframe program that that has the capability to show simple interactions, which achieves your goals in both camps and helps the designer to create a design in the same direction without losing the interaction and also helps the developers tenfold.

2

Can a UX designer encroach on a graphic designers' work. I suppose so: iconography, typography, color combinations, line-weight, font-size, line-height, line-width are in the province of graphic design. I care about typography and color but my wireframes don't reflect that. In fact I purposely choose colors that I know will not be used in the final design (usually some combination of a blue scale) so that I and others do not become attached, in any way, to the colors used.

Of course, during the iterative process the UX designer certainly has a role to play critiquing / commenting on the design aspect.

Ultimately the UX designer is focused on different aspects of the product than the graphic designer. Many UX people work in combination waterfall/agile shop. They receive BA documents, interview users, watch how different users use the product (or a competitors if there is no baseline) and then start sketching out the userflow; the user thought process; determine what needs to be displayed on the screen and how the user gets there.

The UX designer often has to translate / alter what the specs require: (Example: The BA Specs requests that: "User needs to be able to send an email regarding item." The UX designer, in going through the process might start to question this requirement: does it have to be email? What is the sales person trying to communicate to the product manager? The UX designer interviews users, watch what they're doing and realizes that, although the parties need to communicate, the email communication is, in itself, a pain point. Msgs are sent, lost, forgotten, argued over. Therefore an internal messaging system might be superior. The UX designer changes the request from an email to a messaging system.)

The time the UX designer spends in thinking how the product works, agonizing over the various ways the user interacts and works with the system is his job. Does the UX designer truly have bandwidth and bandwidth to focus on typography, re-sizing x, tweaking the color there?

In short:

Would you say the graphic designer encroaches on UX if s/he is concerned about how the users interact with the design? No. Does the UX person encroach on the graphic designer if s/he cares about typography? No. But if the UX person spends time and energy on logos, typography and color combinations and then argues for (say a particular color combination that he's attached to) then yes: that individual is encroaching upon the graphic designer.

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    I don't necessarily agree with this. A UX Designer can most definitely have a say about colors and font width and style. For instance, research proves that all caps is harder to read than the usual lowercase. Surely this input is necessary when it comes to the final design. No one should hinder the other, but they should work together. In the end, they are both designers looking to create a better experience. – Majo0od Feb 9 '15 at 13:46
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    Of course. That would be discussed in the iterative process mentioned in the post. Same with ALL CAPS or other aspects that affect legibility. – Mayo Feb 9 '15 at 14:30
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This is a team dynamics issue.

Where I have worked, I was the only one who had any training in UX principles, and I was also the only one who had any graphic design expertise, so I was wearing both those hats. I suppose if I were relegated to simply cranking out usable images for the GUI that were "designed" by someone else it might be something I'd push back on.

I don't know the structure of your development organization or how you're managed, but if you are having these kinds of issues, then perhaps figuring out a way to educate the designer without being condescending, or holding brainstorming sessions that included the designer BEFORE the specifications are set in stone will help to alleviate any feelings of encroachment into someone else's domain.

Including people in the design process, earlier in the design cycle, can not only empower them, you may also get some really nice ideas that you might not have gotten on your own. Doing things like this also provides them with a feeling of ownership, and they will more likely become allies rather than adversaries in discussions with management or others.

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As a UX designer/visual designer, I would say there is no conflict between ux recommendations and "Limiting designer creativity and Being perceived as impeding on someone else professional territory."

Any visual design decision should have it'sown reasoning, rationale. Thinking of the UI style guidance, it involves visual design elements as well, but it is UX recommendation and it is usually created by UX designers. Check out this good article about "Facilitating Collaboration Between Visual Designers and Other UX Roles"

As long as the communication and collaboration go well, visual design can be creative and awesome co-workers for UX designer. UX designer can help visual designer address the ux recommendation and make sure the validated input is grounded in the final mockup. Hope it helps.

Feel free to check my portfolio: http://werockweb.com You will see how I work as UX designer and also deliver visual design as well.

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If you think about it with some imagination, the graphic designer is also driven by a "user-centered mindset" (please notice the quotation marks). In this regard, you are both the same.

A good graphic designer won't design something aesthetically pleasant for himself only. When he designs something, his purpose is to please people. He does it so that "People will like it."

Isn't this a "user-centered" approach?

I don't mean that by the book (I know user-centered is a thing exclusively related to UX). I'm only taking the argument on an atypical path to highlight the importance of team work cohesion that I will describe later on. What I meant by that is that a graphic designer's work can be a part of the user experience process in the broad sense of the term. If you like my design, it means you are a happy user (at least with regard to the visual (yet incomplete) aspect.

The separation between his solution and yours arises once with the stage of prioritization:

  • according to the graphic designer, the most important thing for the user is a smart and visually pleasant design with a meaningful message;

  • according to you, the UX expert, the most important thing for the user is the logical aspect of aligning the functions of the website with the user's needs and expectations.

So the real question is:

Which one is more important?

They are both equally important:

  • I often hear UX people saying that their contribution is the most important. This might be true if your work is destined exclusively to other UX people or to technical experts used to schematics and abstract representations; this is very rarely the case.
  • For the Graphic Designer who thinks that their job is all that matters, try riding a nice looking car without wheels.

Graphic Design, Web Design, UX Design - it's all a continuum. The separation between them is only the conceptual illusion derived from the fact that one person cannot do it all. We, the people (not the job we represent), have different personalities and mindsets:

Design checklists: What type of designer are you?

When we put our efforts together, it's only normal to encounter some disconnections, but if we talk about it, like a team should do, we will eventually find the solution (provided that there are no hidden egos and competition).

Before every professional connection, there must be a collegial connection which will eventually lead to professional cohesion. For one day, you could spend your time watching your graphic designer colleague do his thing, so that you will understand better the difficulties he encounters and the choices he has to make every day. He will do so in return. Then, when you take a UX decision, you'll also understand the graphic design implications, while your graphic designer colleague will keep in mind the UX principles he learns from you. More about that here:

7 WAYS TO IMPROVE TEAMWORK WITH DESIGN

"Disappearing into a hole and emerging with a solution isn’t teamwork. Opening your design process to anyone interested not only builds a better product, it builds a better team."

  • While I do agree with you on the core values that should drive collaborative design work I have to disagree with the premise that " the graphic designer is also driven by a user-centered mindset". In reality this is not always the case, sometimes there is so much focus on making designs appealing that some vital aspects are missed such usability, scalability, consistency etc. Beautiful doesn't always mean functional! UX is mostly about the process and the holistic view that spans from strategy to visuals, designs need to materialise this process, conflict generally arises when they don't. – Okavango Jul 21 '16 at 11:05
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    Hello, Okavango. Than you for your comment. Yes, I know what you mean and I agree with you. I only took the argument on an atypical path to highlight the idea you agree with. – Mircea Jul 21 '16 at 11:26
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I would suggest that a user-interface designer should, when offering up prototype designs, make clear which details of the design were chosen arbitrarily, and which ones were constrained by user-interface requirements. For example, a user-interface architect might use Courier New in a place where it's important that any sixteen-character string must precisely fill a particular space, and where it's important to use a font that contains certain uncommon glyphs; other fonts containing the same glyphs might work just as well, but font chosen by a graphic designer who is unaware of such constraints probably wouldn't.

Likewise, a user-interface architect might require that certain items be colored to match some particular standard, and might have chosen a background color for a form that will provide good contrast with any of the colors in question. If there are multiple background colors that could yield suitable contrast, a graphic designer should be able to choose which one to use, but the designer should be told what colors will need to show up well against it.

A graphics designer who understands all the constraints a design must meet may be able to come up with a better design that meets those constraints than would a UI designer, but one who is unaware of the constraints is likely to unknowingly change things in ways which severely hamper usability. The key, then, is to have the UI architect let the graphics designer know about the necessary constraints, so the designer can produce the best layout that will meet them.

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Graphic design is part of the user experience, it's just a specialized part. Motion design, too.

It would make sense to me to talk to a graphic designer in the same manner as to a fellow UX designer.

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Graphic designers have always been UX designers. Long before the term UX was coined in 1986, graphic designers were doing user experience design albeit mostly in print or motion (ie film & TV). The term UX has been taken over by the digital space and is now more commonly associated with that area. Pre the use of the word UX we mapped out our readers and understood their needs in order to design communications that worked for them. I think the point is that all graphic designers are UX designers.

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