Design Titles

by Drew Wilson


Let's talk about the titles we give ourselves in the software industry. And by "talk" I mean: let's all share our opinions on this matter. I'll start.

Every aspect of building software is design:

Figuring out how to implement the data structure is... design

Architecting the internal and external APIs are... design.

Devising the best structure for your code base is... yep, design.

Arranging pixels on a screen and layout of the interface are also... design.

So why do we, professional software makers, and the entire software industry only refer to pixel arranging as design? We go so far as to define the very word "design" as arranging pixels for display on a screen.

This is grossly inadequate and leads to confusing titles, especially for people new to the industry. Titles like "UX design" and "UI design", etc. The "UX" there stands for "User Experience". Which obviously applies to all aspects of software development, since all aspects of software development impact the user's experience. If your software has a poor data structure then retrieving data will be slow and thus cause the user to wait a long time to see results on their screen. Every part of the software affects the user's experience. So "UX Designer" is essentially an alternative term for "Software Builder". Yet in our industry "UX Designer" refers to someone that determines how to arrange the pixels on a screen, and may or may not actually draw the pixels themselves. Not at all adequate, specific or very accurate. 

Let's change this.

Currently in the software industry any title that has "Design" somewhere in it refers to someone that arranges pixels on a screen. I propose that any title with "Design" in it should be applicable to anyone working on any aspect of software. 

In this new world a developer that builds APIs could call themselves an "API Designer" and no one would assume this person has anything to do with arranging pixels on screens. 

If that is to be the case, then what do we call the pixel arrangers? We call them "Visual Designers". Here's my reasoning:

The title "Interface Designer" doesn't accurately or specifically target people arranging pixels to be displayed on a screen. Since an "Interface" isn't always a screen. The same logic applies to the title "Human Interface Designer". However, when we refer to someone that arranges pixels, those pixels will always be displayed visually on a screen. So you could call them "Screen Designers", or a better and more understandable title to the lay person would be "Visual Designer". Since this is the only part of building software that is visual, the title "Visual Designer" is distinct from all other "Designer" titles. 

What should we do with "UX Designer"? We should throw it away, as it can be applied to anyone doing any aspect of building software. 

What about "UI Designer"? If you have this title and all you do is arrange pixels for display on a screen then you might consider being more specific and replace that title with "Visual Designer". "UI" or "User Interface Designer" is still a useable title for many scenarios, it's just not specific to visual interfaces.

What about those that research and wireframe visual interfaces, but don't actually draw the final production pixels? "Visual Design Researcher" or even better: "Design Researcher". 

Ok, so now that your a "Visual Designer", how do you shorten that title like we do with "UI" or "UX Designer"? If you must, "VZ Designer".

The benefit of "Visual Designer" is that it is more specific than "UI Designer". "UX Designer" is nearly useless in its specificity.

On the other side of things we have "Developers" and "Engineers", which are a great titles. If people with those titles would like to be more specific they should have the freedom to call themselves an "API Designer", for example, without anyone assuming they arrange pixels for display on screens.

One thing I might point out is "Engineer" is more specific than "Developer". A "Developer" is the same as a "Programmer", it just means they are someone that writes code. An "Engineer" should refer to someone that writes code, but also understands and can build the entire system from scratch. 

For clarity, if we think of it in terms of the auto repair industry, a developer is someone that works on the mechanical parts of a car. This could include someone that just changes the oil. An engineer would be the person that could build an entire engine. They both work on the mechanics of a car, but the engineer is much more experienced and knowledgeable. 

My point: Not all developers are engineers. 

So there you have it. If you're currently a "Designer" nothing changes. If you want to get more specific, then let's actually get more specific. You're a "Visual Designer" or a "Design Researcher". 

If you're both, then you're a still just a "Visual Designer".

If you design the overall software system and can do both development and visual design I'd suggest the title "Software Designer".

What do you think about these new design titles? Hit me up on Twitter @drewwilson or write an article.

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