Early in my career, I was sitting in a park in Portland, Oregon, lamenting about what title I should put on my business cards. I wanted to stand out to recruiters and hiring managers who spend an average of six seconds skimming the average application. I wanted to have a confident answer when someone asked, “So, what do you do?”
Finally, after discussing this with a peer for about an hour, I decided to call myself a UX designer. I’d never had the word “UX” in a job title before, but I knew I had the skills that UX designers put to use in their role.
While what you call yourself does matter, I later realized I spent too much time and energy on this brainstorming session—resources that could have been better spent writing case studies for my portfolio, preparing for job interviews, or building professional relationships. In short, my time was better used focusing on my skills.
Here’s the truth: the UX industry does not have standardized job titles. Even the three most common titles—UX designer, product designer, and interface designer—mean different things at different companies at different times. Yes, titles currently matter in the industry, but only to an extent. What has more weight is the list under that title: your skills.
While a title may catch the eye of a recruiter or hiring manager, what will more likely land you an interview is a clearly-communicated list of your skills, how they relate to a job description, and evidence you’ve delivered results with said skills. (And a word of advice: Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions before you invest time in the interview process.)
That said, clearly articulating your skills can be even harder than coming up with a job title, but it’s time well spent. But don’t fret: Though UX-related job titles may not be standardized, skills, thankfully, are similar across the board. For ease of use, I’ve put together the following:
- An explanation of the three areas of UX
- A list of common skills found in each of the areas
- Tips to quickly maximize your job title
The three areas of UX
The UX process can be split into three main areas: research, experience and interaction design, and visual design. As companies mature their UX departments, it’s likely that roles will be cross-collaborative and require skills from each of these main areas. Before jumping into those skills, though, let’s define each of these areas:
- Research: The work that goes into understanding the people who will use the product, the needs of the business, as well as any relevant processes and systems in which the product will operate.
- Experience and interaction design: The work that integrates research on people, businesses, and processes into product design and experience. It is not limited to what happens on the website or app, but is the sum of all the interactions, which could happen via email, in person, via mail, etc.
- Visual design: Once the experience and interactions are defined, visual design is the work that makes the product come to life. It’s about what it looks like; however, I would also include roles encompassing aspects like voice design and UX writing in this area.
Common research-related skills
- Planning of quantitative and qualitative research
- Creating research screeners and recruiting participants
- Writing discussion guides and usability testing scripts
- Conducting research interviews and moderating usability testing sessions
- Conducting stakeholder interviews
- Analyzing findings from qualitative and quantitative research
- Synthesizing and presenting findings as actionable recommendations for stakeholders and product teams
- Creating journey maps of the customer experience
- Creating personas and other relevant research documents that help all contributors maintain constant focus on the users
- Working closely with designers and product owners to ensure research is being interpreted correctly and utilized in the product development process
Common experience and interaction design-related skills
- Collaborating with stakeholders to identify business goals
- Establishing the product experience through journey maps and user flows
- Brainstorming various product directions and create low-fidelity wireframes
- Creating mid- and high-fidelity wireframes (depending on the needs of the project)
- Understanding visual design principles of hierarchy, alignment, composition, grids, balance, and layout
- Turning wireframes into clickable prototypes
- Collaborating with visual designers to ensure the intended experience is achieved once visual design is given to the product
- Collaborating with researchers to develop tests to evaluate the product experience
- Presenting designs, justifying design decisions, and helping stakeholders contribute to the design process
Common visual design-related skills
- Developing the visual identity as it relates to the product experience
- Translating wireframes into visually-designed screens, including all the interaction states of the experience
- Creating animations within the product experience
- Creating interactive prototypes to model crucial parts of the product experience
- Collaborating with the experience and interaction designers to solve challenges within the experience design
- Working with the research team to create usability test cases evaluating the experience
- Understanding and evaluating research findings to improve experience design
- Collaborating with engineers to ensure the visual design translates to the final experience
- Establishing design guidelines, style guides, and design systems
- Designing for responsive experiences and accessibility
Two ways to maximize your UX job title
As stated above, your skills are crucial to getting the job you want—above all else. However, if you want to make sure your job title corresponds to your skills, I’d recommend considering the unique selling points about you and your experience that would be beneficial to highlight in your job title. Here are a couple of examples:
- Highlight relevant prior experience: Transitioning into UX from another field? Consider how your prior experience gives you a unique perspective or skills applicable in your future UX role. One of my UX career coaching clients worked as a business analyst in finance for 12 years. She wanted to make sure that her business analyst skills were not overlooked. We came up with the title “UX Designer and Business Analyst.” Is it a title you see every day? Probably not. However, we wanted to highlight a very relevant detail from her professional background to differentiate her from other candidates.
- Emphasize career stage: If you’re a mid- to senior-level professional, then consider adding that to your job title. Using something like “Senior Experience Designer” helps communicate that you are not at the very beginning of your career. Recruiters and hiring managers are not reading every word in your application and career documents, which is why I encourage repetition to reinforce key traits, skills, and experience you want to emphasize. Though your seniority will be evidence from your resume, it can’t hurt to re-emphasize this in your title.
Crafted an excellent resume and secured an interview? Don’t forget to send out these three necessary follow-up emails. (We made it easy for you: There are templates, too!)
by Sarah Doody
Sarah Doody is a User Experience Designer, Entrepreneur, and Educator. She is the founder of The UX Portfolio Formula, a program that helps UX professionals learn how to articulate their work so they can create an awesome portfolio. Sarah also created the popular weekly newsletter, The UX Notebook. She is a contributing author to InVision, UX Magazine, UX Mastery, UX Matters, and has been published in the New York Times. Sarah is committed to helping people learn to think like a designer. She does this through online and in-person courses and workshops on topics including user research, storyboarding, and rapid prototyping. In 2011, she created the curriculum for and taught General Assembly’s first 12-week UX immersive, the genesis of their popular UX programs which are now taught worldwide.