Both UX specialists and UX generalists should exist. But I think that currently, it’s hard to survive and grow as a specialist.
Before I start with my story I wanted to clarify that I don’t think a specialist is someone not interested in other fields but someone who researches different fields for his specialty mainly. While a generalist is someone who researches and uses research for different specialties. I consider a UX specialist someone who does not work with UI and concentrated on the UX side only. That’s for understanding my side of this.
While choosing my path as a specialist-oriented UX designer I would never think I’m choosing a harder way. Those issues are with learning, the overall perception of specialists, and a job search.
As a specialist, you’d want to spend most of your time on the profession you are trying to be a specialist in. As a junior designer, it’s extremely hard to do. Most vacancies, especially for beginners, are basically do it all. My way here was grabbing and asking for more responsibilities in the field I wanted to be a specialist in when I saw a chance. Of course, a manager willing to give up such tasks and a company that is interested in growing specialists and not just using them is something you’ll need to look for.
Additionally we have a lot of sources available to learn like Nngroup and Measuring U that are highly specialized. There you also can find their suggestion on other sources as well like in this article Recommended User Interface Books.
Just to note, when I started in Ukraine there were no such majors as HCI or UX designer or anything like that. So staying at University to study and research the topic more profoundly was not an option for me. But now, if you have such a possibility, that might be a good option. I hope maybe someone can share their story of growing as a UX specialist.
Everything and almost everyone keeps pushing you to be a generalist. Colleges would say things like
“why don’t you just do UI”
“It’s gonna be easier to find a job if you do UI”.
Companies would sometimes overlook that you want your main responsibilities to be UX related and you’ll end up doing UI most of the time. I actually saw a negative reaction to the fact that I’m solely a UX designer and on my views about being a specialist and not wanting to “grow” into a generalist.
I still don’t feel like I’m doing real UX. I want to be more involved in the early stages of the products, doing more testing. My work is more UI than UX, even though my enterprise considers me as a UX designer.
— User Experience Careers Report 2019 by NNgroup
But even if you are a generalist, something we should agree on is that both should exist. Similarly to the important impact generalists bring to the table, the specialist also does.
Even before the war in Ukraine, I had a hard time finding a job as a UX specialist. Moving to Canada I thought a larger market will help me with that, but it just got worse. All vacancies I applied to with the title “UX designer” still include UI in it(while non of it was mentioned in the vacancy), making a search or even getting a feel of the market very difficult.
During the course of interviewing I found that companies are less interested in unique experiences, creative problem solving, technical background, and critical thinking. And, I have a feeling that the advantages of a diverse team are overlooked. Differences are not in a job title sense but the difference in thought process and experience. We see a long hiring process, striving to find an ideal candidate but if you’ll ask about a candidate they are searching for most will give you a generic response.
If I’ll talk about a sample from my life. I’m someone who cares more about the technical side of the job and thinks hard skills can prevail over anything. And, in the past, I would look down on people with less technical skills and more soft skills in my profession. But working with people like that did teach me about another side of the job and showed me areas I might want to improve. And no one can be perfect in the end but that’s why it’s important to have different views inside the team. Similarly, I think companies can benefit from having specialists and generalists working together.
Also, let me know if I was the only one feeling like the interviewing process didn’t seem to align with the needs the company presented.
Additionally, companies might consider reviewing their policies towards generalists if they encounter such problems:
- Are you doing a lot of testing after each design? Is testing a helpful tool to identify pain points or just countless troubleshooting for quick design?
- Do you use deliverables that are clearly not helping with your specific demand? Do you have the necessary time to suggest improvements to the design process?
- Are there people who rather than working on a task look at the bigger picture that could’ve caused the issue and suggest more major changes?
If you are not convinced and think only generalists sound good, no need to have it any other way. Let’s also think about our industry growing. Currently, we have groups of highly educated specialists in different aspects, specialists like Nngroup which is the most famous example (here are their thoughts on generalists and specialists), I would argue it would be hard to grow the industry without such specialists. Let’s also look at other industries like Medicine and Architecture.
Medicine, as one of the most complex industries out there, couldn’t help but split into specialties, gust rapidly growing knowledge forces to have specialists. Nowadays medicine still has both, and, if robots don’t replace us all, it’s not planned on going with only generalists.
Architecture also by becoming more complex grew to be a combination of specialists and generalists. Here is an article about it by Thet Hnin Su Aung.
I don’t know about you but I want our industry to grow further than design systems, simple research, and project presenting. I want to be involved with AI, and big data, making new research and further improving our industry.
We also see growing numbers of people being unsatisfied with the profession, I’d say a lot of it has to do with the superficiality of it currently.
Feel like quitting UX? You’re not alone by Chuck Rice
Is the current state of the UX Design industry a “s*show”? by Chris Kernaghan
This twit and replies:
While sources like Measuring U show other statistics in their article (based on Glassdoor statistics) we can see more and more designers unsatisfied. It would be great to have a more hands-on approach to this career research.
I think some concerns that I see rising about the state of UX has a lot to do with: trying to put every designer in the same box, not embracing the difference, searching for generic skills, searching for the people who will fit perfectly in the team opposed to searching someone who adds to it and companies not using their resources to help new and current designers.
Currently, my challenge is to survive as a specialist and grow more. I’m interested to hear from other specialists in the field about how they survive and strive as UX specialists in the current market.
All advice I’m receiving so far is to just lean into UI and hope I can find a job that way and then pursue my other goals…
Hyper-Specialist or Generalist: Which Architect Should You Be? by Thet Hnin Su Aung
Generalists Versus Specialists: The Winner Doesn’t Take It All by Kumar Abhishek