I think most “user-experience designer” talk is bullshit. If you are a designer of any kind, you must design experiences. Whether you’re a graphic designer, industrial designer, interior designer, or whatever, you are failing if you aren’t designing with the principles of user-experience in mind.
Design is / Design is not
As far as graphic design is concerned, I’m thinking the need for people to differentiate themselves from your average person who calls herself a designer, is that many “designers” are not creating solution-oriented work. They use many of the same principles and practices of design, i.e. typography, photography, etc., and may be great at it, but they are creating images to communicate a single, or in some cases, a few ideas. I think graphic design is a broader practice than that.
For me, the practice of graphic design should be about logical solutions to problems whether simple or complex. If you have a definable, personal graphic design “style,” I think much of your work probably falls into the illustration category. I’m not at all knocking illustrators. I’m saying instead that illustration is a subset discipline of the graphic design practice, like typography, photography, etc. Plenty of the professionals in each of these subsets are graphic designers anyway, but how can you have a personal “style” if your work is chiefly for communication? It seems a contradiction in terms. As a designer, you work should be indicative of the need for communication, not of the times, or your favorite music or whatever. A graphic designer should be constantly studying when and how to use various communicatory disciplines and how to make them work together. Ideally, but maybe years down the road, a designer’s complete body of work should be “style” agnostic.
The practice of graphic design has now lost its scientific meaning when the term is heard by most people. They think, “Oh, this person makes things look pretty.” Is that what we do? Yeah, probably most of the time. It’s fine to make things pretty, as long as it serves a purpose. I think the work of real graphic design should not be dictated by trends or fashion. It should be dictated by problems, and as such, it only truly succeeds when it addresses those problems.
Apparently, when you say you’re a UX or UI designer, people think that’s a loftier discipline, and that you’re more of a critical thinker. So it goes, many graphic designers who are decent at what they do have changed titles to seem more knowledgable, but they haven’t changed their methodology, or added anything to their toolkit. If you’re like me, and you’ve been telling people you do graphic design, there’s a good chance they’ve been walking away with the assumption that you basically just put distress marks and drop shadows on things. Regardless of how often we’re able to do effective work, the goal of the designer should remain the same; we’re supposed to communicate, in whatever medium.
Who’s who? What’s what?
“User-experience design,” is the widely used catchphrase for agencies and firms promoting their services to prospects. The concept isn’t at all new, but it seems to have been made popular in certain circles because it clearly states the discipline. Just to be clear; everyone’s goal is to do good work, and every designer’s goal is to communicate effectively with an audience. The problem is that graphic designers, web developers, illustrators, and people who make visual data shiny-looking, are all calling themselves UX designers when they don’t really use the same method or science the traditional definition of UX design practice would suggest. It just throws salt in the game for everyone, because everyone ends up being confused about who is making choices and why choices are being made.
In my ideal world, the UX designer would direct a graphic designer on the requirements of a project. The graphic designer would be tasked with distilling the UX person’s brief into a logical, effective, and visually pleasing solution, using elements of illustration, typography, and photography where she saw fit. These folks would work together, hand-in-hand, testing and retesting solutions until they were optimal. Maybe the disciplines would be rolled into one amazing person. The world would function right and look great and everyone would be happy. It would rain chocolate and donuts and we would live in harmony. Tupac and Biggie would be there recording songs together, and no one would be using Internet Explorer.
At least, that’s how I feel about it right now. No big swig.
Further reading along these lines: