The UX Designer is my new Hero!

But you will probably not recognize the job description
Reading Time: 9 min

I had an epiphany!

UX Design is all about the process. No , I mean literally ALL about the process. And the UX Designer is my new Hero!

I did not know that until the other day. Before that I have always struggled with how to fit a UX Designer role into our work process.

We have a different work process in general. We use UX tools and methods but always with a twist, and always without a dedicated UX Designer.

But that is all changed. I have realized that a UX Designer will save my sanity, the quality of our projects and potentially achieve hero status. I have seen the light!

If you bear with me I will spend the next 9 minutes talking about what a UX Designer should not do, after which it will rise like Phoenix from the ashes in a new shiny armor (!).

Trigger warning! No safe space provided! It is fine to disagree 🙂

There will be things that you don’t agree with, maybe you even feel an urge to stop reading. Please don’t get stuck in the details, there is a bigger point I want to make, so I hope you’ll make it to the end 🙂.

This will be something of a definition bonanza. If you have read anything of me before then you know that I like definitions. They force me to think about what I actually mean and make me careful how I use the words. Words are tricky! I don’t want to be sloppy.

So let’s define some stuff!

Roles are clear when deliverables are clear

“Please describe the difference between UX and UI?”

A Visual Designer delivers visuals, a Sound Designer delivers sounds, a Lawyer delivers legal advice and documents. What does a UX Designer deliver?

Let’s ask the practitioners! I searched the Web for “what does a UX Designer actually do?” and collected this list from A to Z:

A/B Testing, Accessibility Analysis, Application Flows, Brainstorming, Competitive Audit, Content Audit, Content Strategy, Ecosystem Mapping, Features Roadmap, Focus Groups, Heuristic Analysis, Implementation, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Metrics Analysis, Mockups, Moodboards, Online surveys, Personas, Product Research, Product Testing, Prototyping, Quantitative Survey, Scenarios, Service Blueprint, Sitemap, Sketches, Stakeholder Interviews, Storyboards, Task Analysis, UI Specification, Usability Engineering, Usability Testing, Use Cases, User Interviews, User Journeys, User Research, User Task Flows, Value Proposition, Visual Design, Wireframes

This is what UX Designers say they are doing. I assume that everybody doesn’t do all these tasks, but all the tasks are considered a part of a UX Designer’s responsibilities, at least according to those who should know.

There are two things that comes to mind when I see this list

First: the reason these tasks are on the list is that they all affect User Experience, directly or indirectly. But this can clearly not be a single role. The tasks are highly disparate and require completely different skills and mindsets. It is simply not possible to be good at all these things.

Second: the list is massive but far from complete. Tasks related to marketing, communication, customer service, copywriting, video / audio / music just to name a few also affect User Experience. If the UX Designer is supposed to handle all aspects concerning User Experience, then he list should actually be longer!

This is a lose-lose proposition. Something is wrong here.

Regardless of what people associate with their role, this list cannot be the role description of a UX Designer. It is simply impossible and the person would end up being a bottleneck in all and every process.

So what should a UX Designer actually do? Let’s start from the fundamentals.

What is User Experience?

“What would you have done differently if you had more time?”

In a general sense is hard to find a concept more all encompassing. It is essentially the Experience of Being. Sounds like a book that I have not read.

In the world of products and services its meaning is a bit more specific. Here you can find a list of definitions.

Most definitions talk about “the user experience” in singular, as if it was one thing: “the overall experience”, “the sum”, “a global experience”, but this is very misleading. As we all know the user experience consists of many discreet impressions, all of which could be anywhere on the scale from crap to impeccable.

A bad user experience could stem from that the website loaded slowly, that your friends said “you look fat in that ”, that it was expensive or that it took ages to ship. Anything and on so many levels. We need a definition that allows this complexity.

To my surprise my fave definition of User Experience comes from an ISO specification, who would have thought! User Experience is:

A person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service

Pretty neat, huh? Please note “anticipated use”. Nice!

Let’s dig a little deeper!

What is User Experience Design?

“Can you estimate how many traffic lights there are in the United States?”

The search above led to the impossible list, not much of help so let’s see what we can come up with ourselves. If we accept the ISO defintion of User Experience (who wouldn’t!), let’s move on to what we mean with Design. 
This time Oxford comes to rescue:

A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is made.

Based on the two definitions above, User Experience Design would mean:

a plan for how to create a great user experience.

Sounds good? Sounds amazing, I want one!
Makes sense? Not really.

There is no single plan that solves the cases mentioned above: faster loading, better design, lower price, faster delivery. They are all concerning different parts of the company operation, and are the result of separate processes: System Design, Product Design, Production Design , Logistics Design.

We have a bad User Experience but no User Experience Design to blame. 
At least not yet.

A thought experiment

“What are your favorite products or services? Why?”

This could be a conversation from the future:

“What does a User Experience Designer deliver?”
“A User Experience Design!”
“But what is that?”
“A plan for how to create a great user experience!”

Let’s assume that there can be such a plan. What would this mean for the responsibilities currently associated with a UX Designer?

I will use the tasks on the list as a starting point, remove all the stuff that should be someone else’s problem and then see what remains.

Please note that the long list above contains many important and valuable UX tools and methods. I am not questioning if they should be done or not. 
What I wonder is if the UX Designer should do them or someone else. 
Ok, let’s go!

UX Design is not Visual Design

When I read many articles about UX Design it seems like that the writer confuses UX Design with Visual Design or even UI Design. Even Design without specifier most often refers to Visual Design.

Too much time spent on the visuals means neglect of the rest and much bigger areas of the User Experience. Sure, keep doodling when it helps, but leave the moodboards, storyboards, sketches, wireframes to the Visual Designer. 
That should be their job!

UX Design is not Development

Same thing here, there are developers that have spent their life mastering coding. Implementation is definitely off limits for a UX Designer.

UX Design has little to do with defining business goals

UX Design affects the success of business goals, and it helps inform the business goals, but tasks related to definition of business goals should be someone within that expertise. So let’s leave competitive analysis and value proposition for others to sort out.

Prototypes are not a single thing

“Which tools do you use?”

Is prototyping the Holy Grail of UX? Since testing is such a big part of UX methodology and the prototype is what allows testing in an iterative way, it could very well be.

Prototypes are built to test something specific: the usability of a UI, the fit of a sweater, the feel of a spatula. For each test case there is an expert ready to build a prototype. An Interaction Designer , a tailor, a … casting thing technician…?

Depending on the background of the UX Designer, they might very well have hands-on experience in the specific field. If they can build the prototype, should they?

In a small company, probably yes. There is shit that needs to be done and someone’s got to do it. In a bigger team with experts on exactly the aspect that you need to test, most likely no. The UX Designer should be expert on User Experience Design, not milling. So prototyping is gone.

UX Design is not IxD

Interaction Design is another role in desperate need of clarfication. Anyway, this is a receiver of several responsibilities from the original list:

Application Flows, Information Architecture, Scenarios, Service Blueprint, Sitemap, Task Analysis, UI Specification, Use Cases, User Journeys, User Task Flows.

All these tasks are about how the user interacts with whatever we are designing, and how the same whatever responds. It should be part of Interaction Design.

The UX Designer list of responsibilities is getting shorter…

There is a huge difference between general and specific research

All designers do research related to the task at hand, for reference or inspiration. But most research is not specific but general. It spans over a large number of roles, some of them affects User Experience directly, some indirectly or not at all. From the list:

Accessibility Analysis, Competitive Audit, Content Audit, Focus Groups, Heuristic Analysis, Metrics Analysis, Online surveys, Personas, Product Research, Quantitative Survey, Scenarios, Stakeholder Interviews, Task Analysis, Use Cases, User Interviews, User Research, Value Proposition

If the research will affect several roles and disciplines then it should be done by a general researcher. This will most likely lead to insights that triggers specific research within affected disciplines but that is a different story.

So let’s leave general research out. Just one more to kill…

Designers shouldn’t do testing

“Tell us a bit about how you undertake user testing!”

Yes, I am serious. Designers should not do testing. But what is a UX Designer without testing? Happier maybe?

If you have done a design then you hopefully think it is the best EVER! That disqualifies you as a tester. Why would you think it is bad? It is your baby!

This is true for all kinds of designers. There is no way you can see the result objectively. You are more or less blind to your own errors. This will affect both how you design the tests and evaluate the results.

So if the UX Designer is a Designer (which the title seems to imply) then someone else must do the testing of their design. Who depends highly on what needs to be tested.

So what is left?

From the list? Not much.
Now what?

UX Design is about designing the process

I have stripped off all responsibilities that UX Designers associate with their role. I have not discarded them, just assigned them to another role that I think is more appropriate. So how should the UX Designer spend all this free time?

While writing this article I stumbled upon this great article about UX Process Methodology by Ian Armstrong. In the end he writes about UX (bolding is mine):

A UX Designer is a leader, a process evangelist, a generator of insight, a purveyor of context, and a creative ideation machine. UX Design, as I’ve said elsewhere, doesn’t really have any deliverables other than value. It has come to encompass dozens of job titles that have hundreds of their own deliverables though.

and

Most of us aren’t actually UX Designers unless we lead a team, rather, we work in the field of UX Design.

I have never heard this definition of UX Design before. The role that he describes (or at least the way I interpret it) has been what I have taken on as a Creative, not because it is a natural part of my role but because I have not seen an alternative. But here it is, the User Experience Designer! My new Hero!

A role with a deliverable!

As I wrote earlier, a User Experience Design could be defined as

a plan for how to create a great user experience.

The plan defines the roles and deliverables, process and requirements that allows a great user experience to take shape. It could include any and all the items in the list above, but now assigned to the experts in each field. The UX Designer creates and refines this plan, and leads the work from a UX perspective.

In the article Ian describes Dual-Track Design which is a part of the plan that allows them to deliver amazing user experiences. For other products/services/industries the process will and should be different.

UX is much more than just utility, usability, efficiency. Think about a great motion picture, the quality in execution, the storytelling, the emotional impact, that is also UX. The idea to have someone dedicated to the process of reaching the true UX potential of a project is truly exciting!!

Final words

Maybe none of this makes sense for anyone else, but for me it has solved a fundamental problem with how a team should be constructed. The User Experience Designer as defined above will make perfect sense in our work process, and relieve me from a responsibility that shouldn’t be mine to begin with.

The only problem now is that I still cannot talk about UX Design since everyone has their own interpretation. Maybe it should be called something else. UX Director?

Maybe I just added to the confusion.

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