The nature of User Experience (UX) is changing. Complex software is increasingly critical to company revenue and employee retention. Feature parity has changed the definition of value from functionality to usefulness. New technologies, conversational interfaces, and augmented reality are coming and executives are realizing that UX is crucial to corporate innovation.
What do we need to do to meet the challenges to UX in next 15 years? Changes to education? New skills? Improvements to process? To prepare for the future, we can learn important lessons from our past.
Learning From Our Past
UX began as Scientific Management in the late 1800s. By the 1940s, increasingly complex, human-machine interfaces required a different expertise. Unable to step outside its manufacturing-specific processes, Scientific Management was replaced by Ergonomics. Screen-based interfaces in the late 1960s saw Ergonomics, with its focus on engineering and physical interfaces, replaced by Human Factors. By the mid-1990s, increasingly complex software required more flexible methodologies and design expertise, leading to our “modern” User Experience professionals.
Our past presents a clear lesson: each professional era began as generalists and applied their skills to a particular problem. Eventually, new problems evolved, requiring new expertise and, ultimately, a new profession. Like our predecessors, we are facing new problems. While our variety of job titles, qualifications, and backgrounds have provided us with a strength born from a diversity of experience and points of view, our lack of a unified philosophy, referenceable accomplishments, isolated collections of knowledge, and increasing specialization puts our profession’s future at risk.
Becoming Who We Need To Be
Success in the year 2032 will require a unified set of research and design skills honed to uncover and understand the nature of difficult business problems, as well as create artifacts representing solutions to those problems. As a profession, we will require the flexibility afforded by a universally practiced design process and a commitment to formal educational programs that include research and testing, design process, and a deep understanding of our own unique UX history. Lastly, we must create organizational structures that support apprenticeships for new professionals. The sky isn’t falling, but it is time to drive our professional evolution toward a more unified and capable future.
NOTE: This blog was originally a presentation abstract, submitted for consideration to IxDA 2018. I chose the year 2032 because that's when I'll be seriously considering retirement ;-)
Kevin Richardson has been working in the area of user experience for more than 25 years. With a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, he has experience across business verticals in the fields of research, evaluation, design and management of innovative, user-centered solutions.
On the weekends, you can find Kevin on his motorcycle, racing for Infragistics Racing at a number of different racetracks on the East coast.