tree-swingI’ve always loved this picture, mainly because of its rather accurate depiction of digital projects and the inevitable ineptitude with which we try to navigate them.

But where does UX sit in this image?

Ideally, our new UX box should have exactly what the customer needed as well as some extra oompf factor that they didn’t even know they wanted, but after using it couldn’t understand how they had ever lived without it. Also, the UX picture is the one that will replace all of the above as they provide a single point of contact for the entire project team, hopefully removing any communication breakdowns.

This is not a standard description of UX – many, many practitioners will insist that the users should drive the design of our new product rather than just be a passenger. I disagree – if this was true then the latest innovation we might be looking forward to in the future would be the wheel. Equally, many information architects and business analysts will try to retro fit the user into the vehicle designed by the business, usually leading to disastrous products.

The correct solution, in my opinion, is a combination of the two, wrapped around an innovative USP that will be instrumental in helping the first to achieve the second. Notice that I am not suggesting that one approach supplant the other, in contrast to popular belief, our true UX consultant is there to represent users as well as the business.

Just in case you’re interested I have listed all the weird and wonderful role acronyms from the title and their meanings at the bottom of this article, but the crux of this message is that there are simply too many of them.

A sad but true fact is that I have officially worn every single one of the hats mentioned, except visual designer of course, nobody would be crazy enough to give me that title. Not that I can’t design, I can, but again in my opinion such an important role requires a dedication to the field that I do not have. UI Designers are there to provide a artistic representation of the UX work to help the customers achieve their goals and which needs acceptance by the business.

Let’s discuss the roles of UX,BA and IA and to start it off, I think it’s worth having a semi-official description of each.

IA: Information architecture is the structural design of shared information environments; the art and science of organizing and labelling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability; and an emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape – link

BA: Business analysis is a research discipline of identifying business needs and determining solutions to business problems. Solutions often include a software-systems development component, but may also consist of process improvement, organizational change or strategic planning and policy development

UX: User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency. User experience may be considered subjective in nature to the degree that it is about individual perception and thought with respect to the system. User experience is dynamic as it is constantly modified over time due to changing usage circumstances and changes to individual systems as well as the wider usage context in which they can be found.

Those are the official ones. Now here are mine. The BA is concerned only with the business, they are official recorders of the needs of said business and the designers of  high level solutions but not granular to a coding event. The IA is primarily involved with defining the information on a new solution, determining entities and taxonomies and presenting a structure for said information to exist. The UX is, theoretically, the role which subsumes the IA and BA role and also offers a brand new perspective to the structure and the solutions which are taken from the end-user or customer perspective. They have to be part BA in order to find and resolve conflict between what the business needs and what the customer wants. They are interested in re-writing the business needs in terms of journeys or stories that the customer will travel through happily and their primary concern is with the emotional impact that software solutions will impart to a customer. Hopefully good emotions. And finally the role is about communication in the project, they need to be the mountain guide that keeps strategy, design and development on the same path safely.

Here’s a trickier one, what is the difference between a UX designer, a UX strategist and a UX architect? Well, none in many peoples eyes. I have seen cases where the latter is more qualified than the former but also cases where a 21 year old fresh out of Uni was given the title of architect. I think it’s more important to look at what they should be producing and have experience of rather than the title alone. So here is a list of outputs and tasks I would expect my UX body to be able to create or manage:

  • Documentation and presentation skills, clear and concise, explaining the role of UX in a project to the business
  • Conducting expert reviews – including an heuristic evaluation and usability review of existing UI as well as full journey analysis
  • Conducting competitor reviews
  • Running requirements or discovery workshops for users and the business
  • Business analysis skills
  • Creating and researching customer personas
  • Collating a series of journeys and stories the persona’s will travel
  • Interaction design experience
  • Creating wire-frames, prototypes and entity life histories
  • Creating technically sound (Javascript frameworks, CMS exchanges and API concepts for RESTful solutions) and budget friendly specifications for UI and back end functional and non-functional requirements
  • Conducting user research with techniques like card sort and interviews
  • Creating taxonomy and information architecture
  • Managing client engagements, budgets and quality assuring all deliverables

If you have this, then you have what I would be happy to call a UX architect. Anything less and there will probably be some tears at bedtime.

So here’s the list:

  • UXD – User experience designer
  • UXA – User experience architect
  • UXS – User experience strategist
  • IA – Information architect
  • BA – Business analyst
  • EA – Experience architect
  • CX – Customer experience architect
  • IxD – Interaction designer
  • UID – Designer

As for me, myself and I, well, I don’t particularly fit into any specific mould, that’s why I have decide to call myself an Experience Engineer. Silly, isn’t it. Just you wait, they’ll be thousands of them before the year is out.