User Experience research (UX) as a discipline has exploded over the years. It has now (rightfully) begun to get credited as a vital discipline directly responsible for the success (and failure) of products. UX design is possibly the most important piece of the jigsaw in building successful products and yet it remains as one of its most misunderstood.
UX design combines skills borrowed from varying separate disciplines including graphic design, user experience research, process flows, information architecture, copy writing and human interface design which by itself is a combination of interface (UI) design, principles borrowed from human psychology learnings from design thinking. This is exactly what makes this field particularly challenging to master. It takes years of experience to learn and master each of these varied disciplines. This is followed by having the wisdom and experience of knowing which toolset you need to use from which discipline to get a desired outcome. This is what makes great UX designers a much sought after breed, very much like their full stack development counterparts.
Recognising this expertise is especially hard for most product leaders especially those that come from more development or marketing backgrounds and don’t have the exposure of the depth for these many disciplines. I have seen inexperienced product leaders believe a simple ‘UI’ is all they need to throw at what can be very complex problems without the understanding of the disciplines that are required for much broader strategic goals of usability and engagement. These leaders were completely unaware that UI itself was a small subset of UX, a much broader discipline. The temptation remains that simply adding the title ‘UX’ to a designers role would magically give them super powers to solve critical product design needs.
Finding the ideal UX designer
If you take just one subset of disciplines that fall under the title ‘UX designer’ for example graphic design, specialised graphic designers are trained in the aesthetics of product branding including the colors, fonts, visual hierarchy. Another discipline subset like user research is a vast field that goes as deep as human psychology itself. To derive a product tool like ‘personas’ used extensively for everything from product value proposition to product design requires user research tools like interviews, field studies and surveys to group together common and useful patterns and traits. This demonstrates that real UX design can be extremely resource intensive and designers may never even have the capacity to do anything beyond ensuring a minimal level of heuristics at most workplaces. Added to that is the challenge UX designers have about being impartial and unbiased to their own design especially when user testing their very own interfaces.
This is why it is extremely important to separate and uniquely identify each discipline of UX design when looking for a ‘UX designer’. The aim is to understand how deep is the exposure to these varied disciplines. Some designers have a stronger exposure to UX research, some to graphic design, some to human interface design and some to even writing effective copy. Knowing what outcomes you need for your product is vital to knowing which disciplines you need more of when looking for a UX designer.
I was impressed by the graphic below that covers truly how wide and deep ‘UX’ is as a field. It is clear the only real requirement for anyone to be a truly great UX designer is nothing else but undying curiosity and continuous growth mindset.