There is no such concept of a homogeneous user experience designer. Identifying as a “user experience designer” is more or less useless to peers, clients or employers and only loosely associates you with the underlying principles of evidence-based design, user-centred design & design thinking. If that.
There are people who label themselves as information architects who I would consider more experienced in interaction design than those who call themselves interaction designers, or UX designers who are little more than self-aggrandizing visual designers, believing that the ‘X’ in their job title makes them superior.
In reality, every designer – just like every user we interview during research – has a unique set of skills and motivations, a unique background and history of experience both work and life. Some are more artistic, some more analytical, some like blue, others know the 216 web safe colours off by heart. Some like to try a thousand different things, some like to stick with a design challenge and work through it like a puzzle. Some know Photoshop, some don’t. Some designs come from a social science background, some from a programming background and some jumped straight into UX as their first career. Some know what the XMLHttpRequest method is, some don’t. Some enjoy doing housework and exercising regularly, others enjoy their downtime on the couch watching TV.
All these things influence how designers work and what drives them towards the solutions they develop.
I embrace designers of all backgrounds with their varying attitudes and motivations as long as they’re committed to producing good quality work that contributes to the achieving of user and business goals. One pattern in the industry that I have noticed that peeves me somewhat is this:
User experience designers are not visual designers
Just as I started writing this blog post I came across this video about Motion Design. Watch it. This is the work of talented visual designers and artists.
Before I discount the creative talent of people who label themselves UX designers, I want to add a disclaimer that I know several people who do a great job of wearing the hats of both the analyst and the artist. However, generally speaking there is a clear distinction both in modes of thinking (the ‘hats’ metaphor) and skills & experience of people who fall into the research and synthesis camp and the artistic visual designers.
We shouldn’t discount the validity and effectiveness of designs created by visual designers just because we think we know more about Gestalt psychology or because we read Universal Principles of Design. In many cases we’re also user interface designers – except those who focus exclusively on user research and usability testing – so it can be easy to slip into taking on the entire responsibility. There’s a lot about visual design that UX designers don’t know, that experienced visual designers do. If we cut them out, we’re diminishing the value they could bring to the table.
Frankly, I find visual designs created by many UX designers where a visual designer / artist has not been greatly involved to generally be boring, unimaginative, pattern-based and unremarkable. For a role that’s supposed to be mindful of business objectives where the concept of remarkability, beauty and competitive advantage should be forefront in our minds there’s an awful lot of lacklustre work being launched. I’ll put my hand up as one of the offenders, and its something I want to change.
UX design staked out territory in web design & software development in order to do a better job of delivering solutions that met user needs, that were usable, efficient and met business objectives. We shouldn’t overstep that mark and claim territory that rightly belongs to visual designers, the artists whom we should only influence to ensure the integrity of the design without inhibiting creativity. It’s not about making pretty designs, it’s about creating works of art that people are in awe of, that people love and enjoy interacting with. Ok, so ‘awe’ may be a bit strong for a insurance or health services website but you get the idea.
I don’t want to see visual designers relegated to a diminished role of just slapping colours and type onto our detailed wireframes. They should be right up the front, working alongside UX designers, shaping the solution, bringing their artistic perspective unfettered by our preconceived ideas.
There are teams out there who get this; visual designers working alongside analysts, researchers, user interface designers and front-end developers all working to bring their unique skills and perspective to bear. There are one-man bands who also pull all this off successfully by themselves.
Maybe I’m wrong and maybe UX designers should dominate the playing field. We do have the fancy scientific-sounding heuristics to lend us credibility after all …
I would like some discussion around this topic from UX designers who are analysts and researchers, those who focus on user interface design and wireframing, those who cover the full spectrum of design and the visual designers and artists.