On being T-shaped while job hunting — and why we need to define a new Product/UX role

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Since we’ve decided to move to Los Angeles, I have the opportunity to reflect on my 17 years experience in London and think about where I’m heading career-wise as I approach companies for full-time roles.

Over time, I’ve built a professional network in London of people who understand my background and what skills I bring to a team and discussion of title has generally followed an understanding of what my role would be.

Looking back on the titles I’ve held, I’m also struck by the fact that I’ve pushed myself to grow and learn in each role I’ve taken — becoming T-shaped, so to speak, with a wide range of interests and skills that can make it difficult to evaluate a role based on the job description or title alone.

Let’s recap some of these:

INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE

I very much enjoyed being an information architect in the early 00’s, but it’s a title that has nearly gone extinct. Part of the problem (which I’ll revisit with User Experience) is that the practitioners spent a lot of time defining and redefining what it meant to be an IA. For a while we had the ‘Big IA vs. Small IA’ debate — between IAs who were stronger at concept, strategy and user-centred design and IAs who preferred working on the deliverables (sitemaps, wireframes, taxonomies). Ultimately, the ambiguity meant that ‘Small IA’ won — people came to understand Information Architecture not as the thinking behind it, but as the work artefacts and deliverables. As a result, people who wanted to continue user-centred design practices invented ‘User Experience’

USER EXPERIENCE

I also very much enjoyed practicing User Experience for the majority of my career. It’s the vertical core of my ’T’ shaped background. There were very few people practicing at the senior level in London circa 2007– so UX was commanding (and still does) a premium consulting day rate. Therein lies the problem. There was a sudden influx of junior ‘UXers’ from many different backgrounds (or people redefining themselves as UX after previously working in content or project management) — and there was not enough senior talent to train and mentor these juniors. I moved into director levels, and mentored my team, however when I returned to the freelance market, I found it unrecognisable. Today, you will hear UX/UI together a lot — the two have been conflated. Often a UX designer is asked to create mockups and the final design itself. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing — but it’s no longer the concept and strategic work it once was. So where did that go? Product management.

PRODUCT MANAGEMENT

Traditionally product management hasn’t been a hybrid role with UX– but often product managers will work directly with designers sketching out the requirements and going straight into high-fidelity prototyping. I think people have seen in this process, a loss of focus on the needs of the user, so many of the user experience / user centred design practices have been re-introduced back into the role. So you’ll increasingly see a hybrid Product/UX person — and recently a friend introduced me as a “product & UX guy.”

However, I’ve found in my product management roles, I’ve had to take off my hat as a designer so that I can focus purely on creating the product roadmap and assigning stories, tasks and milestones to the team.

Which leads me to the conclusion: We need to define a new hybrid Product/UX role — one that is equally responsibly for the product roadmap, as well as ensuring the quality of the user experience.

What do you think? Are you a T-shaped person who has found roles to suit you? Or have you stretched the definition of titles to fit your role?

Follow me on Twitter, @kaigani — I’m currently looking for contract work in London through 2016 and full-time roles in Los Angeles from 2017.

Written by

Experience Design at Netflix • Follow @kaigani

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