Generalization, not specialization is the future
To be competitive in our hyperconnected, globalized world, most recruiters and counselors advise that jobseekers become highly specialized. By becoming specialists—the thinking goes—we insure that we cannot be readily replaced by robots, overseas workers, computers, and so on.
In UX, I disagree. I believe the best way to remain competitive is to generalize—not specialize. Like a lot of industries in our new SAAS economy, UX is becoming more democratized and accessible to anyone with even a passing interesting. Where UX research once required generous budgets and highly-trained researchers, it can be done inexpensively, frequently and easily by anyone with an idea, access to the internet and a few bucks.
Where prototyping and testing once required prohibitively expensive software, interaction designers to create the prototype, and UX researchers to facilitate testing, tools like UX Pin, InVision, Principle and UserTesting.com (dozens of others) now let a designer, non-technical startup founder or even a bakery owner quickly design and deploy a prototype to real users.
Is the quality of findings the same? Are these cheap remote methods as useful and actionable as more traditional approaches? Like all tools, they are only as good as the man or woman wielding them.
And there lies the real way for UX designers to remain competitive in this world where everyone has design opinions and now even access to a lot of the tools that UX designers use—by doubling down on their expertise and academic knowledge of UX.
UX principles are more important than ever
While macrotrends will force us to wear many hats, and more people than ever can participate in aspects of design, our academic knowledge of user experience as a discipline is our real way to specialize and survive.
Our role at the table is not because we know how to use any given tool, but because of understanding of user experience as a discipline. Our understanding of psychology, usability principles and human-computer interaction is the real value we bring to the table.
Software will continue to live and die based on UX
This trend is by no means new—since the launch of the iPhone, consumers have demanded software “that just works” in ways that we didn’t see during the days of crashing hard drives and blue screens of death. Software firms have taken note. Apps live and die by their UX. This will no doubt continue.
Software agencies will continue to take note and expand their UX teams.
Role of UX vs. PO will continue to blur
As software firms continue to value UX and we get our seat at the table, there’s a question emerging about the role of product owners and UX designers. In firms that take a user and human-centered approach, questions around scope, features and prioritization have been the domain of UX designers. Additionally, discovery facilitation and workshops have typically been lead by UX. However, in traditional software firms that may not have UX in the past, this has been the domain of product owners. This naturally creates tension and questions.
Where the line of demarcation is (or will settle), I don’t know. We’re in flux and this makes it an exciting time. However, in terms of long-term outlook, leading with usability and design principles is also our way to provide unique value.
Still white hot
Lastly, and most excitingly, user experience will continue to be in-demand. The future for UX designers is bright, albeit uncertain. Such is the nature of tech and that makes it all the more worthwhile.