Why your UX/UI Designer job post drives real UX Designers away
Despite all that has been written and blogged and said and vented about on this topic, there still seems to be a misunderstanding of the disciplines of UX Design and UI Design in the world. I’ve engaged on the topic with many people over many years and by now I usually steer clear of it, but a few recent experiences highlighted the unintentional harm that can be done because of this misunderstanding. And so, I felt I needed to re-engage.
LinkedIn is littered with job ads for UX-slash-UI Designers and it drives UX Designers nuts! It wastes people’s time when they apply for a position that doesn’t match their experience and skill set. It creates unnecessary friction in the workplace when people expect UI Designers to do what UX Designers are trained to do, and vice versa. It annoys experienced UX Designers and UI Designers that the roles are referred to interchangeably because they are completely different.
I’m going to repeat this because people seem to feel uncomfortable saying it: UX Design and UI Design are completely different.
If you are looking for someone who will:
- wireframe features and user flows,
- create and apply style guides,
- define and refine interface layouts, keeping different devices and screen sizes in mind,
- ideate and create conceptual and detailed visual designs,
- be comfortable with the interaction patterns of different digital devices and operating systems,
- understand UI components and their behaviours in detail, and
- own visual details such as corner radii, component animations and interaction states, then you are looking for a UI Designer.
In a nutshell: UI Designers design User Interfaces. UI Design assumes that the solution is digital and focuses on making the things that happen on a screen make sense, look good and feel right to people.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for someone who will:
- spend time with your customers in their environments to understand their behaviour and pain points across devices and real life,
- identify and define different types of customers based on their unique behaviours, skill sets and mental models of the world,
- come up with lots of solutions to those pain points in collaboration with key business stakeholders, and then prototype them (where possible),
- map out how digital solutions fit into the bigger customer journey and their dependencies on the greater ecosystem,
- understand the people, processes and tools that enable an improved customer journey,
- test ideas (including proposed new solutions) by putting prototypes in front of people, observing them and asking the right kinds of questions,
- gather insights from your customers and convert those insights into new solutions or improvements, and
- save your software company buckets of money by not building things that people won’t use, then you are looking for a UX Designer.
In a nutshell: UX Designers design User Experiences and most of the time the experience includes some form of digital interaction.
The UX Designer and UI Designer might collaborate during conceptual prototyping if a style guide has been established or the kinds of questions that need to be answered by user testing demands high-fidelity prototypes. In my experience, the lighter a prototype is, the easier it is to discard, and the less likely it is that the rest of the team will fall in love with a flawed design. Paper prototypes or unrefined, partially clickable prototypes communicate to the people who come in to test it that the idea is just an idea, which makes them more likely to give valuable feedback. People are more likely to ask: “Why do I need to do [something that they misunderstand]?”, rather than: “Why is the button pink?” The first question is valuable. It tells us that people need more information or that the action we want them to perform in our design doesn’t fit their mental model of what they believe is necessary. The second question adds very little value*.
Once a prototype has been shown to solve the right problem for people and usability problems have been identified and the solution has been refined, the UI Designer, UX Designer and the development team will work closely together to make that prototype (or at least, a compromised version of it) become a reality. Once it is a reality, a UX Designer will run usability tests on the launched live digital solution, identify more detailed pain points, work with the team to find solutions to those pain points, and refine the solution. This is iterative design, with a repeating cycle of design and testing with actual end-users.
That last bit, about iteratively designing and testing with actual end-users, is ultimately what makes a UX Designer a UX Designer. The UI Designer participates in this iterative process by defining & refining how the interface behaves and what it should look like, given the solutions that have been described by the UX Designer.
Yet another way of putting it is like this:
UI Designers embrace human-interface guidelines and interaction patterns and visual consistency. UX Designers embrace the predictable irrationality of human behaviour** and try to find the place where it meets business goals and technical feasibility. Sometimes, one will find a person with both skill sets, but these precious people are few and far between and I truly believe that UI Design and UX Design require different ways of thinking to solve their different kinds of problems. The unicorns who are able to do both, know how to make the mind shift and know when they need to do it. They also know that the companies who demand both skill sets from the same person, probably need to employ two.
*Except if you have broken a standard interaction pattern by making the button pink.
**Or as a friend of mine would say, the f***ed-upness that is the human race.