While UX is still a fairly “young” discipline compared to other occupations, there are some fairly consistent standards as to roles and responsibilities. Here are some typical (and not so typical) jobs that you will find out there, with some descriptive detail and my opinions of each position.
This is the “starter” position, the one that you’ll probably get as your first job. This job is about designing screens and interactions, and involves a lot of sketching, documentation, and refining.
The title is both precise and vague at the same time, because a “Designer” can be a Creative Designer, an Interactive Designer, or a Graphic (aka Visual) Designer. I’ve seen many companies try and combine one or more of the above into the global “Designer” title, and I’ve also seen companies be very specific and use titles like the above. I like specificity, myself, so I’d rather have a descriptive title.
This is, as the title indicates, a person that researches people – what they like, dislike, need, and do. As most companies are more design and delivery focused than research focus, you’ll find a lot less UX researcher positions than Designer jobs. This is changing, though, as more and more companies discover what user research brings to the table.
An Information Architect is someone who creates the information hierarchy that is used in a system or a site. This job is fairly straightforward, but because many people aren’t knowledgeable about what IA is this job title is often assigned to jobs that are really UX Architects (see below). I can see this job being “deprecated” over time, and UX Architect taking its place.
A User Experience Architect works collaboratively with the User Experience team to discover user requirements, and to conceptualize, design and prototype these ideas. He/she will define the “high-level” blueprint of how a system should work, including the interaction patterns and controls used and the content strategy/tone of voice.
You’ll often see UX Architects working with junior designers, as they define the standards and the designers flesh out the details.
This is a person who is responsible for testing designs with users. The lines between a Usability Analyst and User Researcher is very blurred, but because there are many organizations who consider the roles as separate, I will list this separately as well.
This role is a manager of a UX team, and usually is more focused on mentoring and project management than actually “hands-on.” A UX manager recruits, hires, and mentors user researchers and designer and oversees their performance.
Director of UX
The Director of User Experience is responsible for creating and maintaining a team of design and research professionals, ensuring that product management and development is receiving the desired level of detail to execute effective design. A UX Director is someone who helps define process and sometimes manages multiple teams (A design team, research team, usability test team, etc.)
VP of UX (AKA “Chief Experience Officer”)
This is more of a strategic role, in that a VP of UX works on executing a user-centered vision and process throughout the organization. There’s not a lot of VPs of UX out there, but as the domain matures I can see many companies building this position out in the next few years.
What role should you focus on? Do what you love. Identify any particular areas you are particularly passionate about, and focus on doing that. What do you like to do? If you like meeting and talking to people, you may want to pursue user research. If you are a detail-oriented individual, you may be better suited to be a designer specializing in detailed design and documentation. Choose the path that works for you.