On the Title Fight
Two weeks ago I chatted with a recruiter about helping a client hire for a Vice President of User Experience Design. She asked me if they were looking for someone with a background as a Product Designer. Now, I've been doing this design thing long enough that I don't need to be too embarrassed to ask, "Can you tell me what you mean by 'Product Designer'?" She described a hybrid Visual / Interaction Designer / Unicorn who works on digital products. This has no relationship to the 3 or 4 descriptions of that title I've read elsewhere, just as they have no relationship to one another.
And I'd just like to take a minute to ask—what is wrong with us? It's like we're craftspeople traveling to a foreign land, trying to market our wares and get over the communication barriers with the outside world so that people like us and understand what we make and want to buy it... and then in the middle of all that we've also decided to make up new words amongst ourselves, so that we can't even understand each other.
A quick survey of articles about designers titles:
- Dan Saffer and Thomas Gläser should have put all of this to rest in 2008 with their massive venn diagram, but anywhere this appears on the web shows up with comments like "what about service design?" or "ecommerce?"
- Aaron Travis' excellent article about UX Design and Product Design titles (and with a useful tracking of some possible titles over time)
- Perhaps in response to this also-good article by Tânia Vieira on the overkill of job titles (but she lost me on UX Design vs Interaction Design)
- Why these titles are dumb, a fun read from Slava Shestopalov
- Skillcrush has an article that leads with a disclaimer that none of these title descriptions are firm
- There is the ocean of UX job titles...
- ...and the cx tower of babel.
- The Leading Design slack has an entire channel dedicated to titles, because when you throw seniority level in with the descriptive titles, you get a 2x2 matrix of mess
I have always remembered the touchstone from Alan Cooper, who described these titles back in 1995 in About Face. Interface design was about how a product looked, it's face. Interaction design was about how it acted. Of course that was 25 years ago(!) and we had to work out some kinks and argue which role was most important for a while, and to discuss whether certifications were the only meaningful way to make that stick.
But now, I hope that we've inadvertently pointed ourselves in a better direction. Maybe by stumbling on this "Product Designer" title, we will accidentally communicate meaningfully with the natives of this new land, the thousands of companies who produce software and yet don't have a single designer on staff outside of marketing, and the hundreds of thousands of employees who know what an "Engineer" or a "Product Manager" is, but don't have the faintest what a "Junior Human Factors Interaction Strategist" is.
And maybe, just maybe, when for the first time we can tell someone outside of our bubbles what our job is, and they don't get a blank look on their face, we'll realize that we're onto something. Picture this: over dinner at a family gathering, Aunt Margey says, "And what are you doing for work these days, Peter?" and you say, "I am a Product Designer at Google," and the only glaze is on the ham! And then instead of getting drunk on Grandma's cheap Korbel, we'll get high on our ability to communicate with the outside world and use our skills to do a giant world-wide dot voting to get ourselves down to 3 titles and be reminded every holiday of our triumph!
Ok, that might be a. bit much to ask for. But if more designers consider pushing back on over-specialized job titles, or even engaging in discussions about them, we can make more progress in the places where our effort can have the biggest impact. That is: let's use words that the rest of. the world can understand, and then engage them in conversation. What do you think? Let me know!