Who are we … I am not a Developer


Stairways 2

The other day I went to get my business cards reprinted, you know it’s a thing you do from time to time, and with that process you naturally review the information on them.

Now I have two sets of business cards.  One set I hand out to the general business owners, potential clients and so on.  The other set I distribute to agencies, the web industry and IT people.

Why do I go to all this  trouble.  To start with business cards are cheap, ($88 for 1000).  I also discovered years ago that non industry people just didn’t get the specialist roles in which I worked.   Sure you can explain it to them, but at the end of the day unless you make an impression,  they will no understand the specialist terms, or job title on the business card.

So I have one set that is generic, I’m Gary Barber, Director, of  radharc a web design consultancy.   Then I have cards that are for  the web and related industries that understands, at least in part, what user experience, information architecture and usability is.

It’s interesting that the A List Apart 2008 survey shows tell us what we are calling ourselves, and it’s all over the shop, as you would expect.   As Craig Buckler points out it doesn’t really matter that much what we call ourselves, in the longer term, as there just isn’t established job titles in our young industry anyway.

Combine this point with Jesse James Garrett’s comments in his closing plenary at IASummit 2009, that have caused a little bit of a stir in the information architecture and interactive design community:

Information architecture does not exist as a profession. As an area of interest and inquiry? Sure. As your favourite part of your job? Absolutely. But it’s not a profession.

…there’s no such thing as an interaction designer either. Not as a profession. Anyone who claims to specialise in one or the other is a fool or a liar. The fools are fooling themselves into thinking that one aspect of their work is somehow paramount. And the liars seek to align themselves with a tribe that will convey upon them status and power.

There are no information architects. There are no interaction designers. There are only, and only ever have been, user experience designers…

…We are not information architects. We are not interaction designers. We are user experience designers. This is the identity we must embrace. Any other will only hold back the progress of the field by marginalising an important dimension of our work and misleading those outside our field about what is most important and valuable about what we do. Because it’s not information, and it’s not interaction.

We’re in the experience business. User experience. We create things that people use…. – Jesse James Garrett

As you can see, seems Jessie thinks we should all be User Experience Designers. After listening in full to the audio [M4A file] of this session, I tend to agree with him, I can see his point, in part.

However  I do find this debate very amusing.

Perth, Western Australia, the city which I operate from is not really on the leading edge with the latest trends in design. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful place, great lifestyle.  Just not Sydney, New York or London.

Just the other day I was quizzed by a friend over the term Web Architect.   He was 100% verbatim that I was pulling the wool over peoples eyes, as he knew I was not an Architect.   That’s true I don’t have a degree in Architecture, but we are not talking about the construction industry are we.   Then there is the term User Experience Designer, yeah that gets the same reaction.   So in my local business community anything other than web designer, as a title, is going to be looked on as being a little pretentious.

Sure it’s an education issue,  from a business view point it’s about educating people as to what an Information Architect or User Experience Designer is.   But after all these years, it’s just easier to call myself  a Web Designer and then explain my various specialisations that I can offer.

So it may work for you, Jessie, but locally I don’t think the term User Experience Designer is going to work outside of the web industry and large organisations.

Sometimes I do wonder about if I really fit in this User Experience community at all.   I  love to do the user research, the planning, the designing and building of user tested web interfaces, even down to the graphical design elements.  Being creative is in my blood.

Maybe I’m just a fool or a liar, or just a Web Designer.   All I know is I don’t develop  web sites, I can plan, design, implement and project manage them, just no server coding for me –  the rest  of the deal I do.

So what do we call all that?

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  1. Thought-provoking post, Gary. I struggled with my designation on the business cards as well and find myself explaining a lot, like you pointed out.

    Thing is, 90% of people call anyone who’s in any way involved in building websites a “web designer”. Sometimes I just give up and nod.

  2. About two years ago, a couple of other people and me thought up the designation “Website Planner”. It seemed to be a generally understandable term and cover a multitude of specialist skills.

    My business cards and email signature describe me as a Website Planner and Content Writer.

    One of the challenges with “Designer” is that it can mean so many different things. Visual design? Interface design? Experience design? Database design? But then, that also gives you the opportunity to explain and educate, which is a good thing.

  3. @Tom – I can understand the just nodding. Sometimes I’m tempted to put weird title just so it gets client’s eyebrows raised.

    @James – Yeah, problem with website planner is people think you only do the spec send, not the interface design. It just does say all of it. Mind you I don’t think there is an easy answer.

  4. I’ve worked for over 8 years as an interaction designer for a fairly large (ahem* web-Internet company) … and disappointed that it’s not just clients but internal staff/managers who need to be educated (especially when they assume roles without understanding the responsibilities)…

    so when people ask I say ‘digital plumber’


  5. For those interested, those business cards.

    Well as fate will have it the printer took over 18 days to print them and then screwed up the resolution on the print job to the point that the cards are not usable. The entire print job was trashed. Needless to say I will not be using this unprofessional printer again, nor recommending them to anyone.

    So I still have to get new business cards. Maybe I’ll review the job title… again!

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