UX designers, let’s stop calling ourselves UX designers

When we speak of software design, we often refer to ‘UX design’. The job market is flooded with vacancies for UX designers. In fact, the larger part of my LinkedIn profile states that I’m a UX designer. I actually think this is wrong. Or, outdated at least.

The historical camps of UI design and UX design originated in the early 90’s of the previous century. A time when software design was still rather young. But software design, the way we shape design organisations and the way we define design roles, have all evolved since.

I think it’s time to break with the term UX design. And I have two important reasons why I think we should do this:

  1. UX design lacks consensus on its meaning
  2. User experience must be everyone’s responsibility

Let me explain myself in more detail.

UX design lacks consensus on its meaning

UI design and UX design are often mixed up or conflated, as I wrote earlier. When companies hire UX designers, they’re sometimes expected to create wireframes and workflows. While other companies expect the UX designer to employ user research and strategy. And in many cases UX designers are actually expected to take responsibility over visual interface design.

“Design roles are notorious for their confusing titles and responsibilities.”

Merholz & Skinner (2016)

Often, this is because immature design organisations don’t yet know what skillset they need to hire. But more than often, it’s because we have no clear understanding of what user experience design should actually cover. There’s simply no consensus on the set of responsibilities and tasks that belong to the UX designer.

User experience must be everyone’s responsibility

Another reason why I try to steer away from using the term, is because it sends a wrong message. In my career as designer I often felt alerted when our Product team shared a user’s poor experience with our product. And while there’s nothing wrong with a sense of responsibility, I often realised that the reason for that poor experience was not always within my circle of influence.

In modern software companies, user experience is everywhere. With so many different touch points, many different disciplines contribute to the user’s experience. Whether we address performance in engineering, the way we communicate in marketing, or the way we offer support: it all impacts the experience a user has. And it should therefore be everyone’s responsibility. A designer is simply a contributor to the success of the user experience. Not its sole keeper.

So, what’s the alternative?

In the software industry we see that the term ‘Product designer’ gets used more and more. And I understand why. There’s currently no alternative that speaks to the mind as ‘Product designer’ does. By definition it provides focus and scope (“I design the product”). It also breaks with the skewed expectation of the designer being the sole keeper of the user’s experience.

Companies that hire product designers, usually expect their candidates to adopt a holistic approach to design. And cover both the interaction (traditionally associated with UX) – and the surface (traditionally associated with UI) side of design. But the scope of their assignment is often clear and well-defined.

In larger design organisations we do see other, more specialised design roles emerging. Roles like information architect, interaction designer, creative technologist, UX researcher, UX copywriter, and many more. These job titles are very convenient for shaping design organisations. They paint a clear picture of all the responsibilities that need to be covered. But they can also be perceived as straightjackets and frustrate career growth.

People over job titles

Personally, I like generalisation over specialisation. People over labels or job titles. In the end it’s about learning what each individual can bring to the table. What they like and dislike. What they’re good at it and not so good at. What skills they would like to develop, or wouldn’t like to develop. As long as it’s clear what we expect of them. In that light, using the right term (or label, or job title) contributes to making those expectations clear, at least.

And breaking with the confusing term of user experience design, is definitely a good place to start.