Usability is an Umbrella

It encompasses several obvious disciplines, which have some overlap.

Anything is possible if you don’t know what you are talking about. — Lachlan McLachlan

UxP has a close working relationship with Documentation.  This area is vital to our success because it is the vehicle by which we communicate.  UxP is often the project’s de facto documentation manager.

UxP has a close working relationship with QA, because UxP is the ultimate owner of product quality.

UxP has a close working relationship with Process Management. One of the biggest challenges in product development is reiterative design – the “fine tuning” of a service in response to customer, client and enterprise needs.


UxP is the point of integration for several disciplines

The major influences of our craft come from diverse backgrounds.


Graphic Arts

Most of the interactive designers that I’ve met originally came from the visual arts: illustrators, animators, print design. It figures. In the screen-centered environment we tend to think of “user interface” design as a graphical skill that delivers a checklist of good design attributes.


Mandated to record functional specifications, tech writers are usually most interested in being helpful: creating accessible, understandable end user guidelines, training, online help, etc. Because of our organizational and communication skills, we are often the de facto usability advocates on the development team.


In the technical development environment, artists and documentation writers traditionally carry little weight. However, the Business Unit champions the customer relationship, knows the customer best and is a strong lobbyist for “usability”.

Behavioral Sciences

Cognitive studies probably acccount for most of the credentialed “usability lab” folks. Although originally few in number, they can be exceptionally influential, bringing academic rigor, testing methodologies and professional credibility to the mix, along with a focus on the dynamics of interaction.

Quality Assurance

Product testers are the “tecchie” version of the behavioral scientist. QA is generally more concerned with functional conformance to the workflow than customer satisfaction, but – because of our process-orientation – we are also vigorous champions for “best practices” & standards.

True enough to form, my background includes strong graphics (I had been a commerical artist and animator) and documentation / training (a degree in educational media). I’ve done a lot of marketing presentations for new media ventures and roll-outs. I honed my writing, editing & librarying skills as a Documentation Manager and Technical Writer.

Art or Science


UxP already embraces a broad umbrella of activity: graphics, navigation & structure, behavior, online help and personalization.

Within all that,

There are two major approaches to the usability role:

The Researcher

is an Academic person

with Analytical approach

who Evaluates

in a Laboratory environment

making Tests & Reports

is good at Identifying Issues

through Rigor & Methodology

The Usability Researcher is more likely to identify customer needs, data and behavior that have somehow been missed.

The Designer

is a Creative person

with Proactive approach

who Innovates

in a Studio environment

making Prototypes & Models

is good at Proposing Solutions

through Skill & Talent

The Interaction Designer delivers immediate solutions that can be easily grasped and provide satisfaction.

With appropriate backgound information the Interaction Designer can look at a site and come up with a fair number of viable design improvements quickly. Often that’s all the client wants.

But there are also strong arguments for Usability Analysis. We now expect our sites to handle a more intimate relationship with the customer. We have the tools to harvest the customer behavior, organize the business information and deliver personalization.

The Usability Researcher should be able to identify things you’ve missed.

But you’ll probably still need an Interaction Designer to come up with creative solutions.

Many production environments lump the two schools of effort together, even though they are actually very different. You rarely see this sort of rigorous separation of responsibilities. The “usability expert” is often expected to wear both hats, providing neutral analysis and creative advocacy. Sometimes that can get a little confusing.


What’s in a Name?


The UxP professional goes by many names

It may be that universal history is the history of the different intonations given a handful of metaphors.
— Jorge Luis Borges

Look at this long list of UxP Job Titles

(I’ve answered to most of these over the course of my career.)

GUI Designer
Information Architect
Usability Engineer
Interaction Designer
Graphic Artist
Visual Designer
Usability Analyst
Interaction Architect
Content Integrator
Data Modeler
HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) Specialist
Documentation Writer
GUI Web Specialist
Online Help Designer
Help Systems Analyst
Content Manager
Usability Specialist
UI Engineer
Front-end Designer
Customer Experience Design
Business Design Analyst
Conceptual Designer
Requirements Analyst
User Centered Design
Interface Architect


This whole UxP thing has emerged only relatively recently. The role itself is an integrative one that encompasses several major organizational silos.

Just Call Me “Slash”

The UxP professional is a designer / architect / librarian / documentor / psychologist / artist / technician / counselor / etcetera polymorph who wears many hats.

So it’s not terribly surprising to find that “the UI guy” goes by many different names, depending on who’s defining the project space:

  • Creative
  • Documentation
  • Marketing
  • Business
  • Technical / QA

But –  When it comes right down to it…

The UX Practitioner is the only guy on the team with “user” in their job title.


“Generalists are the heart of interactive, self-aware information.”


© The Communication Studio LLC