A Higher Calling: From UXD'er to Digital Product Designer

Photo by  Austin Chan  on  Unsplash

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Moving beyond the identity crisis, clarifying the role change and harnessing that newfound power.

Opening Note: Thank you for all the support! Especially Don Norman, taking the time to engage (on the LinkedIn post of this same article) and offer truly encouraging constructive feedback & kind words of support. Super grateful.

In their article, The Definition of User Experience (UX), Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen define “the user experience to encompass all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”[i] I know what you’re thinking—that’s not how UX is being utilized in today’s big business. Currently, the enterprise working model has shoved all things user experience into a supporting role to the designed output. This has always concerned, even haunts, the seasoned digitally-minded designer working in today’s user experience design space. Why is UX stuck in the pixels?! The designer knows user experience belongs at the top of it all, as the larger overarching umbrella. But then where does that leave the designer? That’s the catch. It’s been causing designers to tailspin into somewhat of an identity crisis for the past few years.

There’s a growing popular sentiment that we digital UXD’ers (UXD, UI, IA, IxD, etc.) should switch their professional title to product designer. Like tangible goods made by industrial product designers, digital offerings are products for the digital channel. But beyond that surface connection, the proposed title change hasn’t clarified a role change. Is it a new role, or just semantics? Hint, it’s not semantics.

The trend has been to use both the user experience designer title(s) and product designer title interchangeably—which is shortsighted. SOOO shortsighted. Designers are missing the flashing neon sign pointing toward a bigger calling. But certainly, the intuition is there, right? Effectively, designers are toying with titles to re-position themselves out from under the frustrations of their current job role. And whoa, are there frustrations! Especially hurdling the stereotypes working against us as creatives. These are all indications that change is coming, an inevitable revolution is on the horizon.

The digital product designer wave is set to be the revolutionary shift that transforms both the designer and digital. A shift that I believe will trigger the digital product space to rearrange and unify—comprehensively integrating the user, design, and technology to mindfully drive a business forward. Each of the four digital product disciplines—business, design, research, and technology—will be truly interdependent. Gone are the days where we all play nicely but are ultimately separate entities. The advent of this movement to better realize products hints at the beginning of a new era for digital, with the designer leading the way.

Yes, designer friends, you heard me. It’s time to lead. Embrace the wave of change by summoning the courage to embark on this transformative pilgrimage. Here’s the fine print: it won’t be easy. We have a lot of work and a long way to travel before arriving at the promised land. The demanding journey will require user experience designers (UXD, UI, IA, IxD, etc.) to shed their go-to pixel-based habits and expand outward from an exclusive focus on the user and near-term tactical output. The rite of passage will be completed only when a designer has evolved their product game and strategic maturity to emerge as the bridge that connects design-to-business.

Once christened as a fully-fledged digital product designer, the way to harness your power is by championing the product vision: visioneering. The way I see it, the product vision is the keystone of a digital product. Think of your product vision as the strategic compass that keeps an evolving digital offering aligned with a company’s north star—its mission and purpose—and deliverables tethered to a course that’s solving for user problems through the lens of commercially critical business objectives. Any way you slice it, it’s all about the vision and the strategy to execute that vision. 

If you’re thinking, Whoa, this all sounds like a lot, I totally get it. As a hardworking, contributing designer myself, I know this is a tall order. But transitioning to a digital product designer positions the designer to truly fulfill their modern design calling:

We are called to be the architects of creativity, assembling sparks of connections through skillful problem solving. We possess the gift for sculpting the inevitable: change. With this gift we bear a weighty responsibility, a commitment to effect change for better.

I’m pulling for all designers—not only my digital compatriots—to hear that call. And bonus: as digital folks, we get to keep ownership of the pretty pixels.

It’s a point in time when we are finally mark a long-awaited coming of age. An evolution that’s been twenty-five years in the making. Amen to that. 🙌

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[i] Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen, “The Definition of User Experience (UX),” Nielsen Norman Group, https://www.nngroup.com/articles/definition-user-experience/.

All rights reserved © 2017, 2018, 2019 Laura Fish. The Designer’s Guide to Visioneering.