Demystifying UX job titles and levels

On the back of a previous article that reviewed the UX Recruitment Market, Andy Budd from Clearleft asked for some further clarification around levels in industry and what job titles suit different practitioners and companies better. I think this is a common problem for clients so thought I would share our views to help the debate.

Andy sums up the main problem as:
"I’m constantly being asked by individuals and companies what they should call their top staff, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much consensus, so I’d love to know your take here." 
Here is an extension of that conversation and a clarification of what we consider general definitions for key UX job titles. 
How do you differentiate between a Head of UX and Director of UX?
The biggest difference is between different types of business: agency / consultancy / client side. Generally, though: 
Head of UX: 
  • - Line management of a team of 5 to 10 people
  • - Still involved in providing UX direction at a project / product level
  • - May still be hands-on with discovery work, will pitch for a secure budget but won’t usually hold the purse strings 
  • - Still involved in providing UX direction at a project/product level
  • - 10+ years of experience
  • Director of UX: 
  • A director role is normally seen in larger businesses. The primary differences between a Director and Head of UX are:
  • - Full P&L responsibility
  • - New proposition development
  • - Greater involvement, voice in central business activity and direction
  • - Oversee a much larger team, normally with a ‘Head of’ or a few Leads supporting the line management – so lots of line management is delegated, giving them space for strategy and visioning (and other similar buzzwords)
  • - 12+ years of experience
In Banks or Management Consultancies, there are sometimes band/grade levels such as Director, Manager and VP. They may mean the same or can be different to the above. That's probably worth another article though!
Do you see them as basically doing the same job, but one has board level responsibilities, or is “Director” in this case more of an honorific title? 
It can be honorific in some places, but we normally see a distinct difference. See differences below. 
Do you see companies having multiple “Heads of UX” or multiple “UX Directors”? 
Yes, any complex organisation such as banks, telecommunications or even Tesco will most likely have multiple Heads of UX. They will oversee different business units or markets. Sometimes you’ll have someone more senior driving consistency and board level agenda and that could be a director. 
Do you see “Lead UX” as the most senior practitioner, before people move into running departments? 
Normally yes, though the terms Principal and UX Director are also used.  
However, if a candidate is the sole UXer in the company or on a project / product, that doesn't automatically mean they are a Senior or Lead UX in terms of overall experience in the wider market. UX Director isn't the same or equal to a Director of UX. 
Other Job levels 
  • - 0-3 years’ UX experience  
  • - Juniors support UX activities and learn how to transition any previously taught theory into commercial environments
  • - Juniors will need regular guidance, training and mentorship throughout UX lifecycle
  • - 3-6 years’ UX experience 
  • - Mid-weights are comfortable executing production work, documentation and standard usability testing
  • - They are in more of a supporting role through formative research, more complex UX analysis problem solving, client/stakeholder facing workshops & presentations
  • - Mid-weights still benefit from regular guidance though management time and training is less intensive
  • - They are relatively autonomous on small projects (1-4 weeks)
Senior UX 
  • - 6-8 years’ UX experience 
  • - Seniors are comfortable executing the full UX lifecycle and are autonomous on medium sized projects (1-3 months)
  • - They may have a few skills that they are refining though and should be able to provide mentorship on a task by task basis to more junior members of the team
  • - Seniors may be developing good breadth or a specialism in terms of specific platforms (e.g. responsive web or native Apps) or industry
  • - Low management time required
  • - Any professional training needed is likely to be more focused on developing team leadership skills for next level up
Lead UX 
  • - 8-12 years’ UX experience 
  • - They are autonomous on large projects (3-12 months) and comfortable dropping into working on a wide range of platforms and subject matter / industries. Alternatively, they could be a specialist in one
  • - Management time needed would be minimal and usually focused on helping to refine leadership skills
  • - Differences to a senior are: more advanced leadership skills, comfortable leading on a wider range of large engagements, will be comfortable delivering in a complex stakeholder environment
Principal UX  
  • - 10 years + 
  • - A Principal title may be used for someone who is experienced enough to be a Head of UX but is used as a floating resource across a number of teams, i.e. maybe someone who doesn’t want or isn’t suited to line management and the more formal leadership responsibilities, but is an awesome practitioner
  • - They're also likely to have deep knowledge around a particular industry
  • - They are more commonly seen client-side
UX Director 
  • - 8 years + 
  • - Very similar to Lead UX though more typical to find this used within an agency
  • - They are likely to be leading a large engagement for an agency, working closely with one massive client or a few medium-large accounts as the most senior UX person facing / directing the client
  • - May have line management responsibilities for a 2-3 person team. Might also be comfortable leading across visual design too though not a prerequisite
I hope the above is a useful window into how we differentiate between a Head of UX and Director of UX and other job titles. Comments, feedback and questions are always welcome:  
Read more from Jon

This article was originally published on the Futureheads Recruitment website.