Are UX Designers obsolete?

User experience (UX) has been everywhere and in everything since time immemorial, in either a positive or negative way. Users experience emotions in their use of everyday products and services. And in return they have reactions, adopt behaviors, and take actions.

UX Design is a discipline, a group of methods for designing for target users. This discipline involves two main areas of expertise: sociology/human sciences to analyze the user, and technology to produce an industrial solution. This discipline has become a profession: UX Designer.

In this article I’d like to talk about how this profession, that covers a very/too broad spectrum of skills, has been re-split into two professions: UX researcher and UI Designer. I’ll also talk about five emerging professions stemming from UX Design, which keep the UX prefix, and which could totally erase the job title “UX Designer” from LinkedIn profiles without making the user-centered design discipline disappear.

UX Design, a discipline at the service of industrial design

UX Design is a concept that started to emerge in the United States and then in Europe in the 1940s in traditional industry, theorized in 1988 by Donald Norman. And with the arrival of the Internet in 2000 it exploded in the digital sector.  

The discipline aims to think about the design of a product not from an aesthetic point of view, based on the taste of its designers, but from the point of view of its end users and the characteristics of the latter to offer a fluid and satisfying experience that is not the work of luck. To this end, UX design is made up of several dozen methods, tools and good practices to involve users during the different phases of design (discovery of needs and uses, design of solutions, and testing of prototypes before industrialization).

Why is "UX designer" a job that split in two parts almost immediately?

Understanding users and creating a quality "tailor-made" experience is inseparable from understanding the social sciences and the contemporary technologies available at the time of the design. These two components make UX Design a hybrid discipline between cognitive psychology and industrial engineering.

In Europe's digital industry, from 2010 onwards, HMI (Human Machine Interface) ergonomists and graphic designers, employing user-centered design methods, started to call themselves UX designers. Ergonomists were pushing their designs to a higher level of fidelity by introducing a notion of performance satisfaction, while visual designers were delving into the psychology of users to make their digital creations perform. The job market then adopted the name and training programs dedicated to the UX Designer’s profession emerged as a result (2016 in France). Nevertheless, the difficulty of being perfectly expert in the two dimensions of UX design (research and design of fully specifiable interfaces) quickly led to a (re)splitting of these two professions:

  • UX Researchers: focus on conducting direct or indirect quantitative and qualitative user research. They possess extensive expertise in studying user needs to effectively define what needs to be designed and lay out user journeys;
  • UI Designers: focus on creating designs that can be easily implemented on an industrial scale. They have extensive expertise in transforming the described user needs into concrete interfaces that effectively address those needs.

Some professionals have chosen to call themselves exclusively "UX Researcher" or "UI designer" while others keep the generic title "UX designer", refusing to polarize their expertise in this binarity.

From a job market point of view, it is the "UX-UI Designer" that is gaining ground in Tech and Digital job titles. This is a sign that companies are looking for people with the ability to explore needs and translate them into very high-fidelity solutions, with a view to putting them into production, and the right tech skills so they can talk to developers.

UX or UI?

How to tell the difference between a UX and a UI profile?

When starting off on a new project, differentiating a UX from a UI profile is crucial. Understanding the similarities and differences between the two profiles is often tricky for non-designers and sometimes for designers themselves because the fields of action overlap. The title of the professionals has evolved along with the job descriptions, which are more or less well defined by companies looking for certain skills in the UX design discipline.

Basically, both professions are expert designers. The UX professional designs user experiences, while the UI one designs user interfaces.

Although closely related, there is a difference to be grasped in the terminology used: the UX designer focuses on creating an overall experience (a moment in life) by focusing on its stages, journeys, actions and emotions that they hope to awaken within a user interface (or several). The UI designer focuses on the design of the interface itself, its pages, components, and fine-grained interactions, ensuring that it is aesthetically pleasing, easy to use and consistent with the desired experience.

The UX designer is the user's advocate and imagines solutions in the form of assumptions, more or less, whereas the UI designer deals with the prescribed UX and the limits of the technical teams to bring the project to the development stage. Both profiles need input from user knowledge to produce quality work. The UX Designer must know how to set up a research plan and carry it out (or have it carried out) to start a design, while the UI Designer must know how to use the deliverables of this research to initiate or improve a design.

Is the UX-UI Designer a Product Designer?

Product Designer is the name given to a designer who has UX and UI skills and who places them at the service of a product. If he or she uses them to serve an entire offering, they are more likely to be called a Service Designer.

The term "Product Designer" is commonly used in software publishing and companies with internal design teams. In such cases, the job description often encompasses a broader range of responsibilities to ensure a full-time position. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the professional lacks specialization in either UX or UI. The recruiter will need to identify whether the company primarily requires UX or UI design skills in order to select a suitable Product Designer for the role.

Because of their permanent integration in a company, there is another nuance between the Product Designer and the UX/UI/graphic designers of service companies or freelancers. They are continuously immersed in the business of their brand.

A product (or a service) is the result of a multiplication of 3 factors:

  • A proven or assumed need
  • A company ready to respond to it according to particular conditions (market positioning, values, etc.)
  • The capacity to deliver (monetary, temporal and/or technological)

The Product Designer, usually in tandem with the Product Manager, will therefore work closely together, and over the very long term they will work with people in charge of company strategy (CEO, CTO, CPO, CRO, etc.) and delivery (Data, Marketing, Customer Success teams, etc.) in order to take into account all aspects of the business in their thinking. The aim will be to gather the knowledge, experience, and challenges of all these professions, to make them visible, with a view to making informed decisions for the business.

Depending on the organization, the Product Designer is either hierarchically attached to the product department or to the marketing department. In recent years there has been increasing talk of a PMM (Product Marketing Management) approach among software publishers, which lends itself well to the transversal tasks of the Product Manager - Product Designer duo.

5 "new" UX design job titles you're likely to see taking off in the next 10 years

The more digital and other technologies develop - with their share of constraints in terms of ethics, accessibility and understanding of limits - the more the desire to excel in everything becomes impossible, which pushes professionals in the UX Design discipline to (re)specialize, to ensure their added value in companies.

Since 2020, we have seen new job titles appear on LinkedIn, keeping the UX prefix to make user adequacy sacred, but varying the term "designer" for a more specific mention:

  • UX Writer: a professional who imagines and produces the written content of user interfaces so that they are clear, concise and easy to understand (descriptions, error messages, invitations to action, field labels, etc.) while being consistent with the tone of voice of the brand.
  • UX Engineer: a professional with the ability to dynamically prototype interface and interaction proposals using no-code, low-code or full-code technologies, at functional levels.
  • UX Data: A professional responsible for organizing, integrating, and maximizing the value of extensive amounts of available data (Big Data) related to individuals, organizations, activities, and user behavior to support design objectives.
  • UX Technologist: a professional who is curious about emerging technologies (Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, voice commands, etc.) and can imagine their application in projects to address identified needs.
  • UX Strategist: a professional dedicated to shaping an organization’s guiding strategy, aligning the business with its target users, and facilitating commercial initiatives and product advancements that align with this direction.

In addition to orienting their careers towards business typologies (B2C, B2B, B2G) through their experiences and portfolios, this nominal re-specialization of the UX Designer profession allows professionals to specify their preferred subject(s) to attract the attention of the right recruiters - provided that the latter do not get lost in these new designations.

However, design remains the ultimate task as it lies at the heart of UX professions that aim to devise solutions tailored for identified and analyzed users. UX designers must constantly stay one step ahead by embracing methodologies and trends, ensuring the delivery of compelling and delightful user experiences, whatever name they give themselves or the market.

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