Job titles are signposts

In the “Lets Make Mistakes” podcast, episode 50, there was a listener question that prompted a characteristic rant from Mike Monteiro. To paraphrase, the question was, “If you create wireframes, are you are designer?”, to which Mr. Monteiro became very heated in explaining that if you are helping to solve the problem at hand, then yes you are a “designer”, because you are designing solutions to problems. End of story.

I understand Monteiro’s line of argument very well, as it is something I have argued myself many times. He is adamant that no time should be spent on figuring out job titles. We should just unify in solving the problem. Makes perfect sense. I always hated being in an environment where a) there were titles next to names on office doors or cubicle badges and b) people aspired only to have their name next to that title instead of actually doing a good job. However I think there is a deeper point being missed here.

The phrase “to explain the problem is to start to solve the problem” immediately rang around my head as Mr. Monteiro picked up speed. The need to create job titles such as Information Architect, User Experience Designer and Content Strategist, is part of the process of understanding the problem. Roughly 5-7 years ago there was a burst of interest in Information Architecture. As websites grew, and the web matured, organizations realized that there was a mess of incongruent information on their web holdings, and no unified pattern of navigation. So, Library Sciences emerged from the physical bookshelves and started applying similar rigor to the web. Yes we gained a job title that may seem superfluous, but underlying this was a need to start thinking about the organization and navigation of information on the web in a more holistic fashion.

Looking back over the last 2-3 years there has been a similar surge in interest around Content Strategy. As the “content first” argument picked up traction, so a new specialist profession was born of people who do not manage content and it’s creation, but instead strategize around what that content should be, and to what broader organizational goal it should serve. Had people always been doing this job? Yes, absolutely. But was it common practice? Absolutely not. Hence a new job title and consulting business space was created to specifically serve and evangelize this need.

Now take User Experience (UX) and we see the same pattern. To again paraphrase Monteiro, “everyone is having a user experience, whether they are using the train or buying a coffee, so what the hell does a UX Specialist do?”. Well, as aggravating as the title may be, appending “UX” to a title is an implicit acknowledgement that the correct strategic dissemination and organization of information on your site is not enough for it to be successful. It is the physical embodiment of the realization that there is an emotional component to your website or application, and somebody needs to take responsibility for that.

If that person is called a “Designer” then great, just so long as there is someone or process to deliver on that, then who cares what they are called. Job titles in many way are signposts along the way to a better understanding of how to build and manage engaging websites and applications. They may represent a bureaucracy and hierarchy, and the many big business negativity that comes with that. But they can also represent the progression of understanding in the field.