UX Roles, Hats, and Unicorns

11.05.2018 |

Episode #9 of the course User experience design for non-designers by Lyndon Cerejo


Welcome to Day 9 of our course!

Yesterday, we discussed how usability testing helps us refine our designs to meet our users’ needs. Today, we look at the different roles involved in designing user experiences, including the Unicorn!

UX Design is a multidisciplinary practice that incorporates six core disciplines:

1. User Research

2. Content strategy

3. Information architecture

4. Interaction design

5. Visual design

6. UX engineering

Good design takes a mix of skills from these disciplines; larger projects may have each competency represented by one or more people, while most UX projects have one person representing multiple competencies. Think of these competencies as different “hats” that a UX Designer may put on during the project. Let’s review these disciplines and what each hat does.


User Research

User Research is the foundation of UX Design, since it provides a deep understanding and insight of user needs, behavior, and motivation.

At the start of a UX project, a User Researcher conducts a combination of ethnographic studies, user observations, and contextual interviews, and communicates the insights through personas, journey maps, and user requirements. During prototyping, they test these designs with users and collect feedback to refine the design. After development, they conduct usability testing to evaluate the usability and effectiveness of the solution.


Content Strategy

Content strategy focuses on the planning, creation, delivery, and governance of useful and usable content, which includes all text, images, video, audio, and animations.

A content strategist understands business and user requirements for content, identifies gaps in existing content, and facilitates workflow, creation, and governance of new content. They define content guidelines, content types and metadata, and plan content migration. In some cases, they may write (or rewrite) content to make sure users can scan the content quickly.


Information Architecture

As already mentioned, information architecture is the discipline responsible for organizing and categorizing content and functionality in a meaningful way for users.

An information architect designs how a site or application is structured and visualizes this through a sitemap. They also design navigation and labeling, with distinct and user-friendly categories that allow users to move between screens.


Interaction Design

As you may recall from Lesson 6, interaction design defines how users interact with the content and functionality, and the journey to complete their tasks. Interaction design today is more than just clicking and typing, with touch and voice interactions.

An interaction designer creates interactive prototypes that bring to life the UX Design and enable the user to complete their tasks in the best way possible. Prototypes are created using prototyping tools or directly with HTML/CSS.


Visual Design

From Lesson 6, you know that visual design is responsible for visually communicating what the design is trying to do, in an aesthetically pleasing and usable format, based on principles of color, form, consistency, and layout. This competency also represents the company’s brand and identity in the user experience.

Visual designers are responsible for designing a look and feel that creates an emotional connection with the user in line with design principles and brand guidelines. Their outputs are usually high-fidelity visuals (comprehensive layouts, aka comps) and design specifications documented in a style guide.


UX Engineering

UX engineering involves creating the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript that make up the interface. These interfaces are dynamic and real, not static designs or interactive mockups created during earlier stages of design.

UX engineers combine design aesthetics, usability, and technical know-how and serve as the bridge between design and development. They are responsible for building functional implementations of an interface and ensuring that the interactions, flow, and overall experience of the solution work for the end user.


The Elusive Unicorn

Good design takes a mix of skills from these disciplines, but what if there was a single person who could do it all? That is the premise behind the Unicorn.

The Design Unicorns are at the center of all the disciplines because they are expected to wear all hats and be good at everything. While this sounds great in theory, it is difficult to find one person with all these skills. It is easier to find specialists in one discipline or generalists who can do many, but not all, of the disciplines.

I didn’t call out usability separately because it should be an integral part of each discipline.

Our final email will recap key concepts of design and user experience.

Here’s to specializing (or generalizing) your design eye!



Recommended books

The User Experience Team of One by Leah Buley

Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond (Fourth Edition) by Louis Rosenfeld,‎ Peter Morville,‎ Jorge Arango


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