Search for “What is UX” on Google and you get over 40 million results.
On Linked in there are over 270 UX groups
Search for “UX recruitment” on Google and you get over a quarter of a million results.
UX is hot right now, its the niche area to be in, the silver bullet that gets you a great product; but you know what, I think UX is already dying.
I will explain myself, I do User Experience (UX) and have been for around 12 years now, except when I started it didn’t have a name, or university courses dedicated to it, or specialist consultants charging the earth for their time and unique skill sets. But I have been doing it, and for a while I focussed on it drove it forward with a passion and ferocity that ensured I was able to be part of a team that delivered exceptional products.
I am still focussed on it, I think it is vital but ultimately I think we are going through a UX purple patch that will soon enough morph into a much better and more efficient status quo.
Now don’t get me wrong, UX adds real and measurable value. The processes and practices have concrete benefits, and the people practising it are passionate and capable. So why do I take this view, you might well ask.
The problem that I see right now is that UX is too detached to add real value, its an extra layer in the process, it adds complexity into an already complex process, it adds resource requirements into an already resource heavy world.
To understand this we need to take a look at what UX actually is. My view is that UX is a set of tools practices and processes that enable us to get to the heart of a problem and deliver a clear and guided path to a solution. User testing, Wire framing, Card sorting, Use cases, Personas, IA, Site mapping, Use cases, Prototyping, Eye tracking, analytics, Heuristic evaluation, all of these are just tools.
Currently a UX person is capable in one or many of these things and is able to slot them together as required to deliver a direction forward.
My first point around this is that a lot of these existed in one form or another long before the UX fad came along, the second is that with the right amount of training and some intelligent team and role structuring, most of these tools can be folded into existing teams and processes.
Take wireframing, most visual designers do this without even thinking and yet with wireframing is very often done by one person and the visual design by another even though the visual designer probably has much better talents in laying out visual components.
IA, flow charting, user journeys, software engineers already do this and possess these skills some additional training around doing this from a user rather than functional centric point of view would enable them to take the role of the IA.
This is how I see it progressing, Job roles created to fill a void currently will eventually be mopped up by other job roles with Product managers being able to so a lot of the discovery work, visual designers, software engineers and Web developers doing the interface and IA work and so on. I don’t think this is a bad thing either, It removes a whole layer of communication of understanding of getting the point across that is required now. It means that we equip people with the right tools to do their job effectively rather than propping them up with extra teams and resources.
Some very specialised skills will probably remain solo such as interviewing and user testing but on the whole I believe that a lot of the other things can, will, and more importantly should be rolled into other peoples tool boxes.
However we have a long way to go before we get to this point. Universities need to rethink their courses to include teaching relevant tools into the relevant courses. Companies need to think about their structure and processes as well as the skill sets of the people they want to hire. Our industry also needs to change and stop looking for the next buzzword by which to differentiate yourself with, Digital agencies are now morphing into UX agencies which will then morph into something else when it goes out of fashion, how about solution agencies and then it will always be relevant?
Finally lets spare a though for the poor UX specialist, where will he go now that I have consigned him to the ever dwindling UX Job board? Well never fear, this is going to take a good few years to filter down so there will be plenty of work around for a while. in the long run these people (well a lot that I have met have great skills anyway and could easily go into product management, project management, Design or one of the other fields that will swallow up their job roles. Even the relatively specialist skills in research and testing will get swallowed up into the Market Research umbrella, but all this is fine it just means that we have specific centres of excellence within a broader field.
And the UX industry itself is not doing its survival chances much good either. Something that will speed up this process is the frustrating trend for UX resource to increasingly look toward the short term lucrative nature of contracting in their careers. to deliver value you need to be more than a simple wire frame monkey pushing screen elements around a page. You need to take time to understand the customer, the product, the environmental elements to get the solution right, that’s not something you can do on a 5 week contract, no matter how good you might be. Ultimately companies will discover that in the short term its cost effective not to take on headcount to deliver some wireframes since the first second third and often nth after that are still not the final project and each time that contractor comes in it quickly adds up. They will soon find out its cheaper to develop the skills of the Product manager to bypass this requirement, when this happens the contractor market will dry up.
In the short term however contracting remains lucrative and managers like me, trying to build a team, find it difficult to do so with any medium to long term development plan.
To combat this I have started to look and recruit people with broader skill sets where these tools are just part of their arsenal. I think all companies and agencies should start thinking about this now. How can you skill up your team to get the maximum value. Solving problems and meeting needs and ultimate providing a positive user experience is what successful business is about.
So give you or your company the skills to create great products remember that just as David Packard once famously said “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department” I think that “UX is too important to be left to the UX team“