The many hats of a UX designer

UX is a vast field. It can be broken into several disciplines and roles to play. Knowing your own specialisms can help you build a better portfolio, and find your niche.

Being a UX designer makes you a jack-of-all-trades almost by default. As a field we’re broken up into several specialisms. As our industry advances these only get more complex.

There’s a lot of debate around how these specialisms are classified. Personally, I like to break UX down into five main areas :

  • User research.
  • Information architecture.
  • Interaction design.
  • UI design
  • Content strategy.

Some organisations will actually treat these as distinct jobs and hire for them individually. This is particularly true with larger businesses, where multiple UX designers are needed on a single project. In these sorts of environments, specialisation is crucial.

That said, over the course of your career you’re likely to wear most (if not all) of these different ‘hats’ at some point or another. In many cases you’ll be switching between roles over the course of a single project.

Do you need to specialise?

I stand by the opinion that nobody can be an expert in everything. I’ve learned which areas of UX I’m more capable in, and where I’m slightly weaker.

Diagrams that show Chris Myhill's UX skills. He specialises in Interaction Design and Information Architecture, whilst having some capability in the other areas.

Wherever your strengths lie, it’s important to maintain a basic capability in each specialism - so you’re ready to ‘change your hat’ when you need to.

What are the specialisms of UX?

User Research

A user researcher gathers the insight to drive decision making in our project. Rather than creating the ‘what’, they instead focus on the ‘why’. There are loads of research methods than can be drawn upon, both quantitative and qualitative. These all go into informing the solution, and defining user requirements for a new project.

When taking on the user researcher role, the main responsibilities include :

  • Workshops and interviews.
  • User testing sessions.
  • Analytics data and ethnographic research.
  • Creating user personas & requirements.

Information Architecture

An information architect looks at the product from a birds-eye view, understanding how content links together. They’ll piece together how users move through the flows in a site or app, without getting bogged down in the minute details of UI.

When taking on the information architect role, the main responsibilities include:

  • Planning user flows.
  • Creating sitemaps and data models.
  • Defining navigation, taxonomies and other content classifications.

Content strategy

A content strategist creates the guidelines for how information is communicated through the website or app. They make sure the output we give to the user is easy to understand, consistent and generally fit-for-purpose.

When taking on the content strategist role, the main responsibilities include:

  • Planning of key content themes & topics.
  • Content structure & templates.
  • Content style & presentation guidelines.

Interaction design

An interaction designer plans how users will interact with the system. They’ll translate the high-level flows defined in the information architecture & content strategy into more detailed screen layouts, usually in the form of wireframes.

When taking on the interaction designer role, the main responsibilities include:

  • Wireframing & early prototyping.
  • Interaction guidelines and UI patterns.
  • Functional documentation.

UI design

A UI designer brings the interface to life by applying a brand’s ‘look and feel’ to the system. They’re responsible for creating the visual language for a site or app, and generally ensuring that it looks awesome.

When taking on the UI designer role, the main responsibilities include :

  • Realistic page mock-ups.
  • High fidelity prototypes.
  • Style guides.

Where are your specialisms?

No matter where your strengths lie are as a designer, it’s critical you have an appreciation and understanding for each specialism.

You’re likely to gravitate to specific roles throughout your career, but keep your skill-set broad. You never know when you might need to wear a different hat!

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Chris Myhill, an incredibly handsome UX designer with over 7 years of experience

Chris Myhill

Chris is a freelance UX designer with over seven years of experience.

He’s worked on loads of different projects, using UX wizardry to help businesses make better products.

Learn more about Chris

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