You make great observations, Jonas, about UI/UX and the various other names used to describe design work. The frustration you describe really resonates.

Your discussion about design being one thing also rings true. I believe that the emerging idea (over the past half century) that design should revolve around human-centeredness has given designers a worthy banner to rally around and has been a major factor in unifying design as a discipline. This focus has given us principles of design that make sense whether talking about urban design, architecture, industrial design, service design, digital design, or many other types of design. I love that we can now talk about design as a thing across such a broad range of specialties and industries.

On the other hand, I strongly believe that although design is one unified thing, it is not carried out as a single skill. The design of any type of product or service requires distinct skills across a spectrum that covers:

  • strategic design: focused on creating something that is meaningful to users and meets the objectives of the sponsor of the project;
  • interaction design: focused on making the thing designed usable; and
  • emotional design: focused on making the thing designed delightful.

In “Design thinking, unboxed,” I illustrate these aspects of design as layers that build upon one another from strategic to interaction to emotional design, to create an overall user experience.

Each of these “layers” requires a fundamentally different mindset, even though all are working together toward creating great user experience and in fact reinforce one another. Designers like yourself, who can comfortably traverse this spectrum, are rare. Although I think every designer should endeavor to learn design as a whole and to stretch themselves to gain skills across this whole spectrum, the reality is that most designers excel more particularly at one aspect or another. I think this is perfectly okay.

For example, a great graphic designer—at the emotional design end of this spectrum—may never be the very best at strategic design. She would do well to understand and gain skills in strategic design, as well as in interaction design, but she should not feel the least bit inferior because of her graphic design specialization. In my experience, even “full stack” designers like yourself are strongest in some range of the design spectrum and benefit from working with other designers with different strengths than themselves.

IMHO, this kind of “layered” understanding of design provides a better model for understanding design jobs and how they relate to each other than either the UI/UX/CX/IxD alphabet soup approach that no one really understands or the idea that design is a single skill.

The unity—and spectrum—of the discipline of design was originally published in The Design Innovator on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.