“You don’t need to be a designer to [create graphic assets for a website like a pro]”, writes Podia’s guide and proceeds to list out the tools that help put together mockups of all sorts. “You don’t need to be a designer to look professional”, promises CareerArc’s visual editor.
There are valid concerns associated with the current rapid growth of AI tools, such as job displacement due to automation, data protection issues, and security risk considerations that need to be proactively managed. In a sense, this revolution, if you want to call it that, began as early as 2018, it’s just that the pandemic slowed it down for a while. But the changes I want to address today have more to do with people and organisations than tools.
What I believe is that we are entering a new era in UX design - one that Katherine Barrow from Pixel Fusion so cleverly labelled “Post UX”. Much like the term “Post Digital” which refers to the normalisation of digital, Post UX represents a state where UX has become an expected and valued part of the tech industry, and where the role of UX designers takes on an entirely new form.
For instance, when I look at the tech industry now, I see a very different picture than in the first golden age of UX during the mid-noughties. The user-centred world that we have been fighting to create for so many years could finally be turning into a reality.
The transition into Post-UX
The transition into the current age of UX is being driven primarily by two clear shifts. One, the changes in the relationship between design and business and two the relationship between design and users. Let’s dive into these.
1: The relationship between design & business
More and more we see companies who not only know what UX is, but list it as a key success criteria for reaching their goals. Businesses’ overall user experience maturity has increased significantly over the last decade.
When I first started out as a UX designer, the “business” was our biggest rival and much of our energy was consumed in convincing the powers-that-be to see the value and importance of UX. When I moved from product to services, we dedicated significant time to convincing our clients of the same, and explaining that they couldn’t just “take the UX out of the project” because they didn’t want to pay for it. While this mindset does still pop up every now and then, it’s far less frequent.
This is further reinforced by the almost frenzied acquisition of design agencies by large corporate consultancies in the last couple of years. Accenture, PwC, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, McKinsey, and IBM have all entered the ring. These consultancies aren’t exactly what I’d call early adopters. They’re big ships, and take a long time to change course, so this shift in their strategy indicates a wider shift in the industry and its perception of design.
2: The relationship between design & users
With advancements in VR, the Metaverse, and most recently AI and Machine Learning, our digital world will begin to merge with our physical world, and thus the distinction between “user experience” and “human experience” will fade.
To date, our ability to create digital products and shape their UX has been largely constrained to a screen. However, that’s all beginning to change. We are entering a new world, where technology and our interactions with it will move well beyond the screen and become more conversational and intimately embedded into our daily lives. Our digital world is beginning to merge with our physical world, and thus the distinction between “user experience” and “human experience” will fade. As product leaders, we are faced with a dizzying and ever growing array of new technologies, tools, and interaction models to master, all of which will allow us to design more than just interfaces. We’ll be designing how people experience day-to-day life.
The challenges of Post-UX
Post UX is an era born out of these two fundamental changes to the industry- the increasing UX maturity of businesses, coupled with the explosion of new technologies and form factors. What’s more, it will come to be characterised by the way that we, as leaders and innovators, adapt. We are poised now, on the cusp of this new world- a world that we fought to create- and it is up to us to shape it for success despite the challenges. There are many challenges to face In this context, but here there are two key challenges that I would prioritise.
1: The decentralisation of UX design and roles
UX will no longer be the domain of a dedicated role. Instead, design activity will be distributed across entire businesses - everyone from the CEO to the people on the ground. Everyone in the organisation will have to own the user experience.
Organisation's budgets for behavioural usability testing is going up, becoming a core part of the project management pipeline in service companies. Psychologists already have departmental presence in companies. Soon sociologists and anthropologists will be officially inducted into technology companies.
In this environment, the challenge UX designers face is embracing change. They will need to move from being owners, to being custodians of the experience, and use the skill sets and experiences that we have acquired to empower those around them.
2: Keeping the ethic compass for Human Experience
As technology and design become a more ubiquitous part of our daily lives, it is crucial that we create consciously, and with an awareness of the impact of how our products are designed.
And, as design efforts become decentralised, the task of keeping decisions aligned to the ethical path becomes challenging. We will need to move from expecting UX practitioners to be revolutionaries, to being partners. Their history of user advocacy, depth of understanding for human factors and empathy, mean that they can be more than just the voice of the user - they can become the tech industry’s moral compass - advocates for what’s right, and what’s fair.
“We need to fear the consequences of our work more than we love the cleverness of our ideas.” -Mike Monteiro
As it becomes ubiquitous, User Experience as we know it is shifting dramatically, and we will need to adapt not only to new roles and technologies, but to a new level of influence and responsibility.
In conclusion, we find ourselves in the midst of the Post-UX era. As businesses continue to come to grips with the impact that design and technology can have. Where the relationship between design and users is changing. As we embrace new ways of working, new business landscapes, and perhaps more significantly: new technologies and interaction models, like what AI and the powerful Natural User Interfaces it is enabling us to create.
To business leaders engaged in technology, I propose to not only embrace these imminent transformations, but go beyond that, spearhead them. Seize the opportunity to shape your organisations externally by empowering diverse manifestations of UX work.
User Experience as we know it is shifting, perhaps dramatically, and UX designers, both seasoned veterans and ones new to the field, must adapt not only to new roles and technologies, but also to new levels of influence and responsibility.
The challenge for all of us in tech, is to not be afraid of standing up for users. And to now more than ever, champion what brings true value to people’s lives and ensure that the experiences we introduce to the world remain ethical, empathetic, and all-encompassing as never before.