The Trouble with UX

User experience professional (UX) is a job title causing confusion in the web industry. A clear sign of it can be found in the coupling of the term UX with more standard job titles like designer and developer. This pairing occurs because UX by itself is too broad to describe what companies are looking for. However, by pairing UX with UI, developer, or analytics firms are simply diluting the meaning of the term even more.

Just what does UX mean? The user experience is the whole experience. Absolutely everything. When you purchase an Apple product off their website and have it delivered, then use the product, the user experience in this case involves: your visit to the online store, taking the product out of the box, plugging it in, using the UI and doing things with it. It is everything. It isn’t just your interaction with the user interface. Steve Jobs is the only one who could have claimed user experience as a job title at Apple, but even he didn’t control every detail of the experience.

Web applications and documents are not physical things like a laptop so the user experience in these cases is narrower. Thus people who call themselves user exerience professionals in companies who make stuff for the web are closer to what they say they are. Nonetheless the UX is still the whole experience. Just because Google search is only a website does not mean that the user experience is only its UI. One of the biggest things that effects the user experience is site performance. With Google search milliseconds can make a difference.

But who makes Google search performant? Do they have a UX professional that makes this happen? After all it massively effects the user experience. No, developers make the site performant. It is their job and it is one of Google’s mantra’s to make their products as perfomant as possible. At Google developers not only create new key technologies but they also make them really fast. They control this key aspect of the user experience. Many other people have sway over aspects of the UX of Google’s products. The company hires writers, designers, information artchitects and so on. Given the fact that in every case each person has an influencing factor on the user experience it wouldn’t make sense to pretend that just one person controls the entire user experience now would it?

And this is my problem with UX. No one person controls the user experience so why create job titles that would lead us to believe otherwise? Companies sub-consciously understand this so they end up tacking on qualifers to the UX position as mentioned earlier: UX/UI, UX Developer, UX/Analytics. This is because they know the person actually won’t have control over the entire experience. My thinking is that they should simply state clearly what they are looking for to begin with withough using this UX prefix to begin with. It only causes confusion.

I have an incling as to when this grevious error entered the lexicon of web professionals. It is the result of a talk given by Jesse James Garett (JJG) in 2009 at the 10th Annual IA Summit. Mr. Garett is a smart chap but I think he jumps the gun in his talk when he states that IA’s have always been user experience professionals. It is as if he wants IA’s to switch their job titles so they can commandeer the industry like pirates: “we are user experience professionals thus you must listen to us and obey our mandates!” It is as if JJG didn’t think IA’s were getting the respect they deserved in the industry so by changing their titles he thought it would give them what they need.

Unfortunately all it has done is cause confusion. The work still needs to be done we are just less clear on who is doing it. The following is a list of job titles which I think the industry ought to stick to:

There is room in our industry for more job titles but lets make sure we introduce titles that provide clarity. A job title like user experience professional simply causes confusion.