Interaction design professionals are essential members of every UX team. Of all the UX functions, this is often the most central, because you can’t really design an experience without deeply considering the user’s interaction with the product or service in question. An interaction designer is commonly the lead UX professional on a given project, simply because the person in that role needs to be involved in the project throughout the development lifecycle. For example, at the beginning of a project, when a team is defining the target audience and requirements, the interaction designer is necessarily involved because the outcomes of these decisions directly affect the design. As a project goes from mere ideas to tangible design artifacts like wireframes, the work of all other UX functions seems to hinge on the work of the interaction designer. I think this is partly why this team member serves as the lead.
The user researcher serves a unique, but oddly, what some perceive as an optional function on a UX team. Of course, I don’t mean to say that user researchers should be optional. However, incredibly, many companies go without user research because a team can design a product or service without the benefit of knowing the user from first-hand user research, and it’s often not required that a team validate their design is actually usable before releasing it. Of course, foregoing research is a crazy idea, but in many companies, there is still such an immature understanding of the value of qualitative user research—especially when it’s juxtaposed with the seductive notion of big data—that user research is often underutilized or even skipped altogether.
Unfortunately, this continues to happen, even though user research was one of the first functions to appear in the field of User Experience. (Remember when we all called them usability engineers?) I think this has happened because everything else—including engineering, product management, and UX design—simply grew faster, and because these other functions truly are essential to launching a product or service. However, I predict this imbalance will right itself somewhat as more and more companies begin to realize the benefits of really knowing, through direct research methods, what their users need and understanding how to deliver it well. So user researchers should be ready to answer the call.
Writers and Content Strategists
Having high-quality writers or content strategists on a UX team is less common, but these roles are extremely important. Like the visual design, the words in a user interface are among the first elements with which users interact. This leads users, when they first experience a user interface (UI), to make a subconscious judgment about the product’s quality and relevance.
But unlike visual design, the content and information architecture are things that most stakeholders seem to feel they can and should alter themselves. This is unfortunate because, when content is not professionally controlled or at least guided, the result can be a patchwork of compromises and inconsistencies. To help solve this problem, some UX teams rely on providing clear content guidelines, as well as providing training for those who aren’t writers by profession, but desperately want to write copy. While in doing this, UX teams might seem to abdicate their responsibility for having dedicated writers write the words, content strategists who take this approach can at least gain the satisfaction of pushing the content’s voice and tone in the right—or at least a more consistent—direction.