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the good life in a digital age

information architecture & interaction design – part one

At the BBC we divide our large UX team into a number of fine grained distinctions: visual designers, interaction designers, information architects and usability engineers. The reality is that the actual people in the team don’t fit neatly into this divisions, even if you could come up with a clear definition of the differences.

I’ve been recruiting juniors recently and it has been noticeable that the applicants struggle with the differences between the various UX job titles.

At the same time I’ve been having a look at the job adverts on a few job websites & mailing lists (Monster, TotalJobs, Chinwag, Mad, Jobserve, London-IA, London-Usability) to see if there was any consistent connection between job description and job title. I went through 50 ads in detail and skimmed a load more.

information architect – far and away the most common job title (3 x more than the nearest rival UX architect). Every single job description asked for wireframing skills and only one didn’t mention sitemaps/blueprints. At least half asked for experience in working with multi-disciplinary teams (project managers, designers and developers), client facing skills and a pragmatic approach to balancing user needs and business constraints. Half also asked for usability testing skills, interaction design experience and persona creation. Where tools were mentioned (a third of ads) it was usually Illustrator, Photoshop & Visio rather than any particular package.

interaction designer – rarer than I expected, when this did crop up the job description was pretty much identical to IA. The rarity may indicate a loss of popularity in favour of user experience designer.

user interface designer – similiar to IA and interaction designer but with a slightly more technical angle, often including HTML, CSS and Javascript

user experience architect & user experience designer – very similar to IA and Interaction designer. The only noticeable difference was the remit of these roles often included ‘visual design’ which I didn’t see once in an IA job description

usability specialist & usability analyst – usability engineer seems to have lost popularity as a job title and this appears to have coincided with a broadening of remit. These roles are very similar to the IA and UX job descriptions but with a greater emphasis on designing, conducting and analysing usability tests.

So essentially the job descriptions are very, very similiar for all these job titles. They *must* mention wireframes to be an IA, the UX prefix may widen the job description to include visual design, UI designer is probably more techie and a usability prefix will mean more emphasis on user testing. But these are subtle distinctions. A great deal more unites than divides.

Now job ads aren’t the end of the story but it is interesting that we’ve created so many different job titles and then essentially described them the same. No wonder the applicants are confused.

Written by Karen

May 6th, 2008 at 8:53 pm