In design parlance, the user interface (UI) is what the user sees; the user experience (UX) is how the application behaves. Both recruiters and practitioners stress that designers need to know the latter as much as the former. That is, they need to concentrate not only on how a design looks, but on the whole "wireframe" of the application, and where their requests are going into the back-end of the system.
What's driving the demand for such skills? Many people in the industry lay the credit -- or perhaps blame -- on Apple, with its near-fetishistic attention to how design, hardware and interface intersect. "Now people expect everything they interface with to have the ease of use of the iPhone," says Matt Miller, CTO of Irvine, Calif.-based technical recruiting firm CyberCoders.
"Apple forces everybody to match their aesthetic," agrees Masiero. "The image of your brand is at stake in your mobile application now. Companies that have great design, whether they're a restaurant chain or a car manufacturer, have a more valuable brand," and the same standards apply internally, he says.
Moreover, as mobile computing explodes, a company's client base becomes both broader and more demanding of a consumer-like product experience. As Masiero notes, 10 years ago his company's sole target audience was the human resources department. That's no longer true.
"With mobile devices becoming ubiquitous, we have to serve 30 million users, from somebody on a construction site to an airline pilot to a hotel manager. And you have to create a design so that the experience is accessible to everyone, while still providing them with a sense of uniqueness," he says.
High tech, high touch
With design at the forefront of everyone's mind, UX experts are suddenly in high demand and short supply. One reason they're hard to find is that the position spans multiple disciplines: design, programming and human behavior. "When you find that person, let me know," jokes Masiero.
"We do a little bit of market research, a little bit of psychology. We're synthesizers, pulling bits and pieces of different methodologies together," says UX designer Whitney Quesenberry, who runs her own agency in High Bridge, N.J. and has done work for Novartis, Siemens, Dow Jones and Eli Lilly among other companies. "UX is like programming -- there's not just one job involved."
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