There was a hot debate in the Clearleft studio recently: “Is UX Design dead?” Not the practice, mind you, but the job description.
I surveyed over 500 designers the end of last year.
- 27% self identified as UX Designers.
- 25.7% as Product Designers.
- 9.8% as Experience Designers.
I haven’t had time to do the analysis yet, so don’t know if there are particular geographic, sector, or experience based trends. As this is the first one I’ve done I also don’t know if there are any time based trends. However I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the proportions flip in the next couple of years. But I think it’s safe to say (especially to all those pundits that claim UX isn’t a thing) that a good proportion of practitioners think it’s enough of a thing to identify themselves by …even if (as I suspect) we’ve reached peak UX.
It’s also worth noting that “Interaction Designer” and “Web Designer” were mid single figures, so I’d be happy to claim “UX Isn’t Dead” when UX Designer drops below Web Designer as a saleable job title.
What I’m really interested in understanding is whether there are any practical differences in skills and tool use between UX Designers and Product Designers, or whether the current dichotomy is primarily based on what’s fashionable.
Here’s my personal hot take (not backed up by data):
UX was popularised by agencies, so UX Designers generally require the skills to build new things over and over again.
Product Design comes out of start-ups, so Product Designers are required to optimise and extract value.
UX Designers often work alongside visual designers, so tend to focus more on the conceptual side of the equation. This means an increased focus on IA, formative research, and strategy.
Product Designers often work alongside Product Managers and Researchers, so tend to focus on visual design and interaction design over strategy (which is often set higher up).
That being said, the borders are super fuzzy. Some Product Designers will hop between early stage start-up and therefore share more DNA with UX Designers. Some UX Designers also do UI/Graphic design. So there’s usually more similarity than there is difference.
If you’re working for a tech company or a traditional company with a strong product management function and are mostly focussed on designing or iterating a single product, you’re probably a Product Designer.
If you’re working for an agency or an established company with a project focussed mindset, and are more focussed on the conceptual elements of design than the more traditional graphic elements, you’re probably a UX Designer.
And if you sit in the middle or bounce between the two, you can probably call yourself either.
Of course, at the end of the day you can call yourself whatever you want, and it will depend a lot on where you live, the type of companies you want to work for, how you want to be perceived, your career aspirations and a bunch of other things.
So the main point of this post isn’t to box you in, if you call yourself one thing but I’ve hinted that maybe you should call yourself something else. Instead it’s to help those people who don’t know what to call themselves.
Also worth nothing that I’m not claiming this is the only definition or even the right definition, just the model I’ve personally found most useful based on my own personal experience. Your mileage may vary.
So for all the people saying how confused they feel as a result of pundits saying things like “UX Designer isn’t a job” and “UX and Product Design are the same thing”… I hope this helps.