“Maybe this is a stupid question, but what is the difference between a Product Designer and a UX Designer?”
Every few days, I hear different students of mine ask a variation of the same question.
I was going to write an article to explain all of these confusing job titles, as I do know what they mean — generally speaking.
Having been in the design industry for the past decade, I had my fair share of “rip my hair out” moments when I submitted hundreds of job applications, hoping to land the one.
It was not because I studied so hard in school that I know what these titles meant.
It was not because I read more carefully than others.
It was not because I was a better designer than others that I know what they meant.
It was because I have worked in corporate long enough to know the chaotic nature of everything we do.
Here’s the truth — people in organizations tend to make up whatever they think make sense and just fire it off to job sites.
Instead of writing an article explaining increasingly multi-hyphenated job titles, I’d like to break down a few problems in design recruiting and help candidates navigate through this chaotic mess of unbridled expectations from the corporate world.
The Most Popular Design Job Titles
Before we get into the problems, let’s do a rapid fire review of design job titles so you have an idea of what they generally mean.
Designer Paulo Dziobczenski wrote a series of incredibly helpful explainer articles to demystify the most common design job titles you’ve heard and been confused by.
Give it a read if you want more technical and thorough explanations.
If You Are A Chef, Can You Also Knit For Us?
If you think design job titles are confusing, wait until you read the job descriptions.
Although it’s not a new problem, design job requirements are getting out of hand these days.
Take a look at the following snippets I copied and pasted from LinkedIn. Company names are “redacted” to avoid any potential awkwardness.
Experience in digital and print design is required. UX and/or packaging experience is a plus.
In what world does UX design and packaging design belong in the same job?
Packaging design came long before UX design — we have always needed design for physical product packaging and probably always will.
UX design came along with the boom of the tech industry when we needed the design of technology-enabled products, such as websites and mobile apps, to be easy to use so that users keep coming back.
It’s hard to imagine designers who spend their days thinking about user experience solutions for digital products also find time to learn how to draw dielines in Illustrator and vice versa.
Job descriptions like this is not an isolated example. It is everywhere.
It’s like asking a chef to also knit while they cook.
I’m sure there are plenty of chefs who enjoy knitting in their free time, but they didn’t become a chef to knit.
Neither should designers be expected to do several jobs that are completely different.
This is a bullet point from a Senior Marketing Designer job ad.
It is one thing to ask for “excellent written communication skills”, which is necessary for almost any jobs. It is another thing to ask a designer, who is not a writer, to write ad copies.
Designers and writers are two jobs. If companies want a writer, they should hire a writer.
In my own experience, I have had to explain many times to a hiring manager that combining graphic designer and project manager into one job is a bad idea. Most designers come into this profession because they love to create, not to field requests and get on client calls all day.
We Want You To Do 6 Jobs, But We Are Just Paying You One Salary
Some design job descriptions seem to include keywords that are more closely-related to each other. A great sign, right?
Well, not until you read all of the keywords, which will take a while since the number of keywords keep getting longer and longer.
Take a look at these snippets from different design jobs:
Part product design, part visual design, part front-end. You’re a master of all!
And this one:
Highly skilled in visual design and typography. Motion is a plus!
The common theme among these two job descriptions is that they are asking a lot from one candidate.
Even though a lot of the skills they ask for are indeed related, but when combined in all, nobody can be the “master of all”.
You can be a jack/jane of all trades designer, multidisciplinary designer, or whatever fancy title you came up with to brand yourself, but you are essentially a generalist who knows a little bit of everything, which is excellent for a small team.
However, a generalist is not a master of all.
In the second job ad, the company listed an incredible amount of coding skills required for a design job. That amount of coding language proficiency is enough to land most candidates a job as a developer.
In addition, they also listed video editing, animation, graphic design, UI/UX design and prototyping skills.
They are basically trying to hire 1 person for 6 jobs: front-end developer, back-end developer, graphic designer, video editor, motion graphics animator, UI/UX designer.
If such a candidate exists, why would they want to work on 6 jobs at the same time while receiving 1 salary?
Extraordinary talents always exist, but they will have suitors — a lot of them.
In the creative world, they most likely have already built their own personal brand and not be looking for traditional employment.
We Want You To Be Entrepreneurial, But We Are Running This Place
There is a word in some job descriptions that constantly intrigued me: entrepreneurial.
I understand what companies mean — they want candidates with a can-do attitude who will roll up their sleeves when faced with challenges.
It is undoubtedly an admirable trait most companies want in their employees.
However, that is not the same as being “entrepreneurial”, which is literally starting your own company.
I am assuming these companies are not looking for that — at least not for the jobs they are recruiting for.
This is one example of the word “entrepreneurial” being used in design job ads:
…is looking for a talented, entrepreneurial, Visual Designer to join our rapidly growing team.
Instead of asking your candidates to be “entrepreneurial”, how about stating that the company is a startup that requires candidates to be flexible and “wear many hats”?
Just because employees are given equity options doesn’t mean they are running the company —if they are, they would not be applying to this job.
Of course, I’ve seen many great companies encouraging employees to work on side projects and eventually congratulating them when they manage to take their side hustles full time.
This is the type of entrepreneurial spirit that I’d like to see more often from companies — recruiting motivated employees and providing them with a great environment to grow in the direction that works for both the company and the individual.
Here’s What You Can Do
I seems like I’ve painted quite a dismal picture of the design job landscape. But my intention was never to discourage you from pursuing a career in this field.
It’s far from it, in fact.
I always start from a place where I discover the problem, highlight it honestly and think of a way to solve it.
This article highlighted the problems we are facing. So what’s the solution? Here are a few things you can do:
- Don’t get overwhelmed by job titles or descriptions.
People make them up not knowing what they are talking about half of the time. Some of them were written by non-designers, and that’s why we should take the job descriptions with a grain of salt. Read everything carefully, but read between the lines and don’t get intimidated.
- Highlight your unique value proposition.
Let’s face it, the job market is a lot like the dating scene. Everybody has a list of what they want, but ultimately, they are going to find someone who they “click” with the most, not the “perfect” person who checks off everything on the list. In fact, a surefire way to ensure that you never find anyone is to insist on finding someone who checks every box. That’s when the opportunity comes in for you as the candidate. Don’t be discouraged to apply if you don’t meet all the requirements. Instead, find your unique combination of skill sets and turn that into a powerful value proposition.
- Beware of companies with unbridled expectations.
If you see a long list of required skills that don’t really belong together like the ones we looked at in this article, proceed with caution. You should still consider them, but go in knowing that they might expect a little too much from one candidate. You can certainly ask why they want all of the skills they mention to learn a bit more about the company.
- Keep learning new skills, but take it one day at a time. Even though companies could benefit from being more realistic in their expectations, there is one thing we cannot deny — the more skills you have, the more employable you become. However, it’s important not to try to learn too many skills at the same time. Otherwise you may become the master of none.