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What’s in a job title?

BY: reedfisher / 0 COMMENTS / CATEGORIES: The Business of UI

I’m a UxD. User Experience Designer — “U” for User, “x” for Experience, “D” for Designer. Face it, it’s a cool title! Almost anything with an “x” in it is pretty cool, and to have the “x” be lower-case makes it seem cooler.

There are many titles out there in the user interface design field, some are pretty distinct and easy to understand while others seem to overlap. Here’s a partial list in alphabetical order:

  • GUI Designer
  • GUI Engineer
  • HCI — Human Computer Interaction Designer
  • Human Factors Engineer
  • Information Architect
  • IxD — Interaction Designer
  • UI Designer
  • UI Engineer
  • UI Researcher
  • UI Test Engineer
  • User and Task Researcher
  • User Centered Designer
  • User Experience Designer
  • User Experience Engineer
  • User Interface Engineer
  • UxD — User Experience Designer
  • UxD — User Interaction Designer

There must be others.

Do you see the issue here? This is a proliferation of titles in what is essentially one profession. They are not so much titles representing specialties as they are (almost) duplications. An MD, for instance, might have a specialty of Genetics, but that wouldn’t change her “MD” title.

There are differences, of course, and I believe that some of this proliferation is from both practitioners and employers attempting to be or get an expert with a certain emphasis, like Human Factors as opposed to Interface Design which might be viewed as less desireable for some applications.

There are also be some actual differences between Design, Research, and Engineering. That leaves three major groups plus an extra for these 18 titles, where the differences are interesting within each group.

The Design Group

  • GUI Designer
  • HCI Designer
  • IxD
  • UI Designer
  • User Centered Designer
  • User Experience Designer
  • User Interaction Designer

We all understand the designer group; we take stuff and and make it look nice and work well by applying design principles. Having been raised and trained as an artist it’s natural for me to be a designer, also very satisfying even if the look and feel is done by someone else. There are important differences between these six with the focus implied by “Experience” or “Centered” words. Designing a user experience is very different from designing a user interface. While I’m comfortable with any/all of these titles, and would not change my approach based on any particular title. I always make my designs “user-centered” and emphasize designing a great “user experience” while the UI design will take care of itself.

The Engineer Group

  • Accessibility Engineer
  • GUI Engineer
  • Human Factors Engineer
  • UI Engineer
  • User Experience Engineer
  • User Interface Engineer

Engineer implies creating the works of things as compared to assembling the look and feel like designers attempt to do. UI-related engineers do the technical of user interfaces, applying human factors and HCI, amongst other things, and in some contexts might imply a developer role — requiring the engineer to code the actual front-end.

We all consider ourselves Software Engineers and that is the official title often applied in the corporate environment so that Human Resources Departments know how to set pay scales.

Accessibility engineers hold a special place in this list, and must have specialized knowledge and experience — it’s not just a title.

Section 508 is an amendment to the 1973 Rehabilitation act and requires certain levels of accessibility for all web sites funded in any way by government. Newer additions to accessibility expand requirements for a broader spectrum of human factors — it’s not even appropriate to label most if not all of these “Human Factors” as disabilities. WAI-ARIA comes a lot closer to broad accessibility than did Section 508. Many other organizations, appropriately, choose to apply these standards to sites and applications deployed for public access. Semantic markup, alt tags, object role definition, and other strategies help those with disabilities of many kinds use the site without blocking assistive technologies, for instance. Ever wonder how some mobile apps know how to serve up a special keyboard that makes it easier to enter a URL or an email address? In most cases it’s ARIA roles.

Other nations have similar standards and many have named them Section 508 to simplify things.

The Research Group

  • UI Researcher
  • User and Task Researcher
  • UI Tester

User testing is a huge area of endeavor and has specialties and sub-specialties. In general, there are two areas of user testing; qualitative and quantitative. These two divisions are served by several approaches such a contextual, formal, focus groups, surveys, and questionnaires. Most of these approaches apply to qualitative type testing, while quantitative usually applies to more formalized testing focused on speed and accomplishment goals.

And, the Extra

  • Information Architect

I’ve rarely worked as any of the other titles without being asked to do some type of Information Architecture, though I have never worked as nothing but an Information Architect. There are many who perform the important activities of this title without doing any User Interface types of things at all, and great information architecture is essential to great apps.

So What Do We Do Now?

It’s not intractable to deal with all these titles. Perhaps as the professions become more standardized and grow to have actual requirements and specific definitions some of these will go away.

There are certifications popping up all over as schools realize there is money in educating people to work in the field. There is no overall certifying body like you might find in the medical field or legal field, and this is probably a good thing.

I’m kind of partial to IxD for the Interaction Designer title, but I doubt that will be the final choice should it shake out to a formal, certificate-required profession. Only one of my contracts since 2003 has emphasized the IxD title. Still, one can hope!

Which One Do I Want to Hire?

Pay attention to the essential differences between UI and Experience, plus “extra” defined above will get you the degree of separation you want. Choose your own title from among the group titles, and interview carefully to try and zero in on that individual that you think will share your vision and effectively apply her knowledge and expertise to your special project.

 

 

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