Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Pantheon of Interactive Design Jobs

Happy 2013! I hope everybody survived 2012 and is looking forward, not back.

There seems to be a bit of confusion about different design roles in the interactive fields. Too many designers I meet are confused by job listings they read. Too many job listings are cut and pasted together, even I don't understand who that company is looking for.

Recently I've been helping companies hire interactive design talent. I know soooo many people and I like to make them all happy. I haven't really formalized this but I'm toying with the idea of becoming a recruiter myself... If anybody wants to help me formalize this idea let me know!

If you are a graphic designer looking to do more interactive work, or if you're trying to hire interactive designers, take a look at my list. I've defined the various roles and described the nature of the work. Feel free to comment.

Steph's guide to interactive design roles:

UI Designer
This person designs "user interfaces" and they usually do "front-end" code. All the stuff that you actually SEE on a web page is produced with   HTML, CSS, and Javascript code. This is often a production, junior role.

Information Architect (IA)
Aka Information designer. They organize the layout and the flow of information. This is really important.  IA's create wireframes and site-maps. They use programs like Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Omni Graffle & Visio. They do not draw pretty designs.  Writers can be IAs, as the design is more about how a web page (or app view) reads than how it looks.

Visual Designer / Interactive Art Director
Other names used for "web designer". These designers draw the pretty interface design and usually somebody else codes. In some companies the visual designer will take wireframes from the IA and then render them into a final design using Photoshop (or Fireworks).

Interaction Designer
This is like a bonus skill, I rarely see it headlining a job listing. These people are going by the name of UX designer these days. Interaction designers detail the step-by-step "flow" of interactive components. It really helps to be able to code, just to prototype and test out interactivity.

User Experience Designer (UX)
This is what some agency's call their IAs. It's really all these skills rolled into one. I think UX designers should have additional research, strategy, and heuristic skills. They should be able to conduct user tests, & do other research.

Web Product Designer or Product Manager
This is the most senior of interactive design roles unless, of course it's a design manager role, in which case you should be able to do this level of work too. Gmail is an example of something that is a product more than a website. The Web Product Designer is a UX designer who makes "applications" - complex, interactive apps and websites. I don't see many people advertise for Web Product Designers though, they usually advertise for UX designers. A lot of web Product Managers come from design and UX backgrounds. You'll find this kind of work at a lot of agencies these days as everybody wants an integrated app for their company.

Marketing & Social Media
So much of the web is interconnected so it's good to know online marketing. For example, designers should understand how search engines, social media, and email will interconnect with their clients website.  Good web marketing people are familiar with analytic and reporting systems and they make good money.

Should designers know HTML, CSS, Javascript or not?
Many interactive jobs list coding skills as part of the job requirements. Virtually every designer, and writer, and project manager, I have ever met has asked, "Does this company really expect me to code too?"  There is a difference between understanding how HTML and CSS work - and actually hand-coding HTML and CSS.  But most of the job listings I see do not make this distinction. So recruiters, if you are reading this please make sure your job listing clearly states if the designer actually needs to write code.

Although I am proud of my coding skills I have found these skills make me LESS money. Designers who can code tend to get more production work and miss out on creative roles they've trained for.  Coding skills can prevent designers from advancing in their career.  This is a big reason why a lot of talent won't respond to a poorly written job description. If I see a role for a User Experience designer that requires coding then I immediately expect the job the pay over $140,000.00. NOT $40k.  Why? Because these are different jobs (literally a UI designer job and an information architect job). There are some instances where it's good to have a designer who can code but most companies and agencies aren't set up this way. They don't merge these roles together. Agencies will merge these roles if they can get away with it to save money (but this makes people unhappy). I only see web start-ups do a good job at merging coding with design and usually these people know what they're doing.