The rise of the UX specialists

Although user experience (UX) is now an accepted industry practice, specialisms in UX roles are yet to be universal. However, at Tyk, it’s embedded in the way we work.

This is a trend which has been emerging for a while. Still, it’s come to the fore with recent post-pandemic shifts in the job market – it’s an employee’s market out there, which means that employers need to attract talent by offering roles that people want; this increasingly means in-depth specialisms. 

We’ll talk about two types of UX specialists here – focused and diversified. 

The former is a natural evolution of the UX role, identifying the critical elements of the overall function and creating roles tailored to these. The latter are new roles that still need to be universal and are often custom-made for individuals.

What is a focused UX specialist?

The UX function is primarily defined by two strands of work, research and design; these are about building the right thing and building the thing right

Over the years, the UX discipline has developed, skills have evolved, and the techniques and methods have grown in depth and number. This has led to the two key disciplines of UX research and UX design (UXR and UXD, respectively).

Sometimes, there’s room for UXD to split into user experience design and user interface design (UID). However, many small-to-medium organisations get on fine without needing both. 

UX researcher

The Interaction Design Foundation has an excellent, neat definition of UXR:

UX (user experience) research systematically studies target users and their requirements to add realistic contexts and insights to design processes. 

What does that mean in real-world terms, though

All of the users of our software will have a set of jobs to be done that define the very reasons they are thinking about using Tyk in the first place.

The first step is understanding what those jobs are, what success looks like, and what the potential users are like. This is the job of the UX researcher; using a range of techniques (both qualitative and quantitative), they attempt to understand a generalised ‘user’ with their standard set of jobs to be done and neatly defined success criteria. 

UX designer

What many consider the more traditional UX role is the design of the user’s interactions with software. This can mean something other than user interface design, though often the two are conflated and, in many organisations, carried out as part of the same role. 

Again, the Interaction Design Foundation have a handy definition, but it isn’t in the most easy-to-understand terms: 

​​User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. 

What do we mean by ‘meaningful’? In this context, a meaningful experience delights the user, leaving them feeling it was well worth their time interacting with your product. It may have been straightforward to use, helped them complete their task, or did something they’ve done before, but in a new and exciting way. 

If the experience is designed well, the user ought to come away feeling that they would recommend the product to a friend or colleague attempting the same tasks. 

UI designer

It’s worth briefly mentioning this specialism. In organisations with sufficient resources and GUI-heavy products, there is often space for UI design (UID) as a specialism, distinct from UX design (UXD). 

In these cases, the UX designer would focus on the ‘shape’ of the software – which screens do we need, which features are on each, and how should they flow together? – and the UI designer would concentrate on ensuring that the interface’s look and feel were spot-on. 

UI designers work hand-in-hand with UX designers and front end engineers to bring their designs to life.

What is a diversified UX specialist?

Curiously, it’s in the widening of skill sets that we find a whole new range of specialisms emerging. 

Diversified UX specialisms are hybridised roles, borrowing skills from other disciplines to create a mashup that is more than the sum of its parts. Successful diversified UX specialists are classic tech unicorns.

A diversified UX specialist will combine specific UX skills with capabilities from a related field. You might make a process quicker or more efficient by doing it yourself rather than handing it off to someone else. That makes a diversified UX specialist more attractive than someone purely focused on traditional user experience tasks; it’s a more joined-up way of delivering products. 

The downside? It’s tough to find people who can do both sides of the role well, although as UX is getting taught earlier and earlier in life, successful diversified UX specialists will become increasingly common. 

What are some examples?

UX developer 

A UX dev is someone who not only designs how the software should work but also codes the front end. This specialism makes a lot of sense – if you can design and deliver the GUI, the development cycle will be far more efficient, and you can implement change faster. 

Most UIX devs will understand Javascript frameworks and mobile front-end SDKs and be comfortable interacting with back-end developers to create full-stack capability across the team. UIX devs are more common in mobile app development than anywhere else, as it is an environment where most team members will wear several hats.

UX writers

The collective term for the words you see on screen in an application is ‘microcopy’. Getting the microcopy right can mean the difference between a successful and a failing application. If your users understand what buttons do without having to click them to find out, your product will be more ‘discoverable’, and discoverability is a prized trait in UX. 

The UX writer specialism has emerged as a blend of user experience and technical writing (which in the past has been limited to help documentation). 

UX leaders

This might seem strange to identify as a specialism, but UX leaders are undoubtedly different from typical product leaders. Of course, the crossover between the role types is significant – after all, a good leader is a good leader, regardless of industry – but UX leaders need certain qualities specific to their role. 

For example, they should understand all the specialisms of the team they run. They should also keep abreast of UX-specific industry trends and understand that their team members will typically feel like outsiders in most tech-heavy companies, no matter how welcoming build teams are. 

Developer experience 

DX is becoming one of the most widespread UX specialisms. It exists where the primary market for a product will be developers themselves, and it recognises that there are specific requirements that a standard UX process falls short of delivering. 

While developer experience might be viewed as just another UX specialism in other places, here at Tyk, we have a dedicated DX function with its head. If you want to know more about how Tyk supports and encourages the developer viewpoint, you can email us directly at [email protected].

Roles that add real value 

Nothing worth doing in tech stands still for very long, and UX is the same. In an industry where the main currency is innovation, we’re all looking for ways to refresh and expand on our roles so that we keep adding value. 

Our UX and DX teams are tenacious, work smart, and deliver outstanding results through collaboration with peers. If you’re considering a role with Tyk, check out our vacancies.