UX professional is a real role, and an important one
A web site or app should be the product of a Web Designer and a Web Developer…(a)nyone else who is added into this equation is a waste of money and time.
This seems a fairly limiting argument on the face of it, as his argument is clearly confined to small (perhaps 2 person, if we take his example literally) teams. He further clarifies his position in the comments:
Why would someone hire web designers [who are awesome at making a site look good…but horrible at making an interface usable]? That’s the point of the post. UX shouldn’t be an optional skill for web designers.
which would probably confirm to most people that this article is merely a linkbait article with a controversial title.
Now, I could leave it at that, but someone is wrong on the Internet, so I am compelled by duty to continue.
As someone who has certainly worked with many good user experience designers (my fiancée being one of them), I feel the need to weigh in with my own opinion. Be warned that this response may be condescending.
Much like the recent flame war over SEO specialists being “snake oil salesmen” etc., I can see how a small team, like Ryan’s, would not feel the need to hire in specialists. After all, when you’re building “web apps” (most of us professionals still call them “websites”, since that’s what they are) with the size and audience Carsonified’s sites usually get, you don’t really need to specialise, as a small team can, on the surface of things, achieve all that’s required for a four day buildout.
However, this is the same boneheaded planning that leads developers who have installed Rails for a personal blog to believe they won’t need a sysadmin, or the same developers to believe they won’t need a backend specialist to actually make their system scale (Twitter circa 2008 being a fantastic example of the latter). At some point and level of success, you’ll want people who are the best at their individual piece of the puzzle, be it: administering servers; optimising your site for discoverability (a nice way of saying SEO); keeping your RAM usage low; or designing a complex multi-form flow in a way that doesn’t haemorrage users through sheer boredom and depression. The latter is just one way a good user experience designer can help (for the others you want people of the beards and sandal variety).
Again, when working on simple sites, like a conference site, or an agency site (basically just structured content), you probably don’t need to get in a specialist. And whilst most of the UX professionals I know have come from a design background (the “web designer” Ryan mentions in his post), and they certainly fit his mould of “do-it-all designers”, I don’t think there’s room in a single person’s head to stay on top of all current research on user experience, much like there’s not really enough room in my head to understand 7 browsers with their quirks, and also understand how to optimise a message queue for high throughput. This is a simple human limitation, and I’m okay with that. I’d rather have a team of 7 specialists doing their piece than 5 generalists doing an 80% job.
Why? Because user experience is simply too important to not take into account, and to not have the best people working on it. Being a methodical, precise person who is happy to dig through reams of research and multi-variate testing doesn’t necessarily make for a good creative, so I’m perfectly happy to see them as separate people and roles. Yes, it’s nice to have people who are superstars at everything, but in real life this just doesn’t happen. As managers of teams we need to be realistic about this. And utimately that’s my problem—his idea simply isn’t realistic (leaving aside the fact that it’s an incredibly rude post to begin with).
Writing a post like this has simply shown up Ryan to be vastly less experienced in sizable and cutting edge web teams than he pretends, and should be a valuable lesson for any aspirants reading his blog: successful teams are made up of many people, and the bigger the team, the more specialised they need to be.
Update 3 (yay, more): Andy Budd has written an excellent rebuttal to Ryan which includes a brief foray into the history of job titles on the web, and how UX fits into that scheme. I agree with pretty much everything he’s said.
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