UX Management starts with understanding UX Roles

Summary: Whether you are new to User Experience (UX) or are scaling an existing team, clarity on UX roles is essential. Stakeholders often fail to fully grasp UX roles, while UX managers and designers often take for granted their in-depth understanding–and fail to clarify with people who need it most.

The 5 main UX roles defined…

As organizations recognize the importance of delivering exceptional experiences, managing your UX program well becomes vital. Successful UX management starts with understanding the different UX roles and responsibilities within a team.

  1. UX Researcher
  2.  UX Designer
  3. UX Writer
  4. Visual Designer
  5. Service Designer

Let’s start with UX Researchers since they are one of the least understood, yet most important roles.

UX Researcher

UX Researchers are pivotal. They provide user insights, validation of design concepts, and, moreover, correct identification of the ‘right problem’ to solve. Their primary objective is to understand user behaviors, needs, and motivations. But they also study things like culture, habits, goals & tasks, and more. User researchers perform Usability Testing in addition to Ethnographic Field Studies (day-in-the-life observations & interviews), also known as Contextual Interviews. These research tools uncover user needs, discover current usage, and help lower barriers to user adoption. User research insights go directly into making Product Managers and Developers smarter.

Note: Contrary to a common misconception, UX Researchers do not solely focus on usability testing but play a broader role in understanding the behavior of a target audience and their expectations first.

Tasks performed by a UX Researcher:

    • Conducting user interviews and observations to gather insights.

    • Creating questionnaires to collect data.

    • Analyzing research findings and generating actionable recommendations.

    • Collaborating with designers and developers to ensure user-centric solutions.

UX Designer

UX Designers translate research insights into meaningful user experiences. They need User Research to make (user) guided decisions. This title is also called Interaction Designer. UX Designers are responsible for creating wireframes, prototypes, and design concepts that align with user needs and business objectives. The goal is to bring interfaces to life that follow a user’s expected actions, workflow and to translate ‘mental models’ (expected user interactions) into interface or ‘conceptual models’ (design containers that allow users to interact easily). and UX designers or Interaction Designers help smooth interactions at all levels, from high-level design ideas to the right way to design an individual UI widget.

Note: Contrary to popular belief, UX Designers are not concerned with aesthetics or visual design but focus on the foundational aspect underlying “pretty”: “Can I user it? Do I want to use it?”, in a word interaction. The separate role of Visual Designer fusses over the beauty of the interface.

Tasks performed by a UX Designer:

    • Develop wireframes and prototypes to visualize the product’s structure and interactions.

    • May conduct Field studies and/or usability testing to validate design decisions, especially in the absence of a User Researcher.

    • Collaborate with stakeholders to understand business goals and user requirements.

    • Create intuitive and heightened user adoption in UI concepts.

Also note the related term, Information Architect: An Information Architect organizes information within a product to enhance its usability and findability. They focus on designing the product’s navigation, labeling systems, and information structure. Their role is often misconstrued as being limited to creating sitemaps, but it extends beyond that to ensure users can easily locate and access the information they need. Note: I consider this a legacy term because it is web-centric. Today’s Interaction Designer (the more comprehensive term) can pivot to any interface interaction problem. In a multi-channel world, with combined products and services, having more than an IA emphasis is critical. However, if you prefer this old term, I won’t lose sleep over it.

Tasks performed by an Information Architect: (note how these are exactly what a UX Designer or Interaction Designer would also do)

    • Analyzing user flows and designing intuitive navigation systems.

    • Creating sitemaps to illustrate the product’s structure.

    • Conducting card sorting exercises to determine effective information categorization.

    • Collaborating with UX Designers to create a seamless user experience.

UX Writer

The UX Writer specializes in crafting clear and concise content that guides users through the product’s interface. Also called Content Designers, they are responsible for writing error messages, button labels, onboarding instructions, and other textual elements. Often overlooked or misunderstood, UX Writers play a critical role in shaping the overall user experience by providing meaningful and action-potentiating content.

Note: A common misconception is that a Copywriter is equal to this role. While this role evolved out of a Copywriter, it now plays a less passive role in today’s UX team. UX Writers ’embed’ throughout the process learning from User Researchers, advising UX Designers and finally finalizing the ‘tone and voice’ of a product.

Tasks performed by a UX Writer:

    • Writing clear and concise content for various user interface elements.

    • Conducting content audits to ensure consistency across the product.

    • Collaborating with UX Designers and Researchers to align content with user needs and expectations.

    • Crafting user-centered microcopy for error messages, tooltips, and other user interactions.

Visual Designer

Visual Designers are often more highly valued over other UX roles, do to their “tangible” output (Figma artwork ready for Devs). Or they are incorrectly expected to play the role of UX Designer and visa-versa. It is important to separate Visual Design as a role, since this type of designer comes from an art background, not a behavioral science one (like UX or Interaction Designers). The Visual Designer focuses on creating visually appealing and intuitive user interface (UI) designs that align with the overall product brand and identity. They collaborate closely with UX designers to ensure the visual elements enhance the overall user experience.

Note: Another related term is UI Designer. Historically this term meant a developer responsible for the interface. Today it is used interchangeably with Visual Designer, as well as Front-end Developer. Typically Visual Designers do not code, however, they may combine some HTML/CSS skills since they define styles, hence the term UI Designer. I believe it is better to keep these terms separate or define them properly and not blend and blur boundaries. See the Two Dark Sides of a UX Unicorn.

Tasks performed by a Visual Designer:

  • Designing visually appealing and user-friendly UI components and layouts.
  • Define the look and feel at a high level and at the individual component level.
  • Using design tools to create visual mockups and design assets for implementation.
  • Ensuring consistency in visual elements, such as typography, color schemes, and iconography, across all screens and interactions.
  • Incorporating brand guidelines and ensuring that the visual design aligns with the product’s identity.
  • Keeping up-to-date with design trends and best practices to maintain a modern and relevant visual style.

Visual Designers work hand-in-hand with UX designers and developers to create a seamless and cohesive user experience. Their designs amplify the strategic value of aesthetics (these days graphic design is deliberate not simply decorative) and thereby contribute to product, brand and UX goals.

Service Designer

Service Designers are integral to creating seamless omnichannel experiences. They take a holistic approach to design, focusing on the entire user journey across different touchpoints and channels. Their primary objective is to create services and interactions that might include digital interfaces and can involve new employee interactions, ecosystem actor involvement and even changes to policies or procedures.

Tasks performed by a Service Designer:

    • Conduct extensive research to understand user needs, pain points, and behaviors throughout the entire service journey.

    • Collaborate with stakeholders and cross-functional teams to identify and align business goals with ‘frontstage’ (user), ‘middle-stage’ (employee), and ‘backstage’ (ecosystem) needs.

    • Creating service blueprints and customer journey maps to visualize the user experience and identify areas for improvement.

    • Designing service touchpoints and interactions to ensure a seamless and consistent experience across channels.

    • Prototyping and testing service concepts to validate their effectiveness and make data-driven improvements.

    • Identifying opportunities for innovation and developing new service concepts to meet changing user expectations.

Service Designers work across different departments to ensure that the user experience is cohesive and optimized at every stage. By focusing on the end-to-end journey, they can address pain points and create memorable experiences that foster user loyalty and satisfaction.

Overall, Service Designers play a critical role in shaping the overall service experience, not only from a user perspective but also from a business perspective. Their work helps organizations deliver services that meet user needs and align with strategic goals, leading to a more successful and user-centric business.

Conclusion: Understanding these UX roles and their respective responsibilities is crucial for effective UX management. By clarifying misconceptions and acknowledging the diverse tasks performed by each role, organizations can foster collaboration and create better user experiences. With a strong UX team in place, products can be designed and developed with the end-user in mind, leading to increased customer satisfaction and business success.

Next, let’s look at What roles UX Managers play. Understanding these management roles for UX teams is critical.

Best Wishes,

Frank Spillers

CEO, Experience Dynamics

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