Paul McAleer

UX is exploding. Here's why, and how you can join in.

Paul McAleer

It’s safe to say that user experience, as a practice, is currently exploding. I’ve been amazed at the demand and it’s been absolutely encouraging for my colleagues who are looking to do great work. Here are a few notes on why I suspect this is happening now, and a bit about a big skill UXers will need to help.

Why now? Was there any one thing that clicked and pointed the way towards user-focused software? I’m not sure. I don’t think so. But there are two big factors which I think have had a very significant impact.

Apple

No matter what you think of them, Apple is absolutely on fire, selling every single iOS device they can make - and Mac sales have jumped nicely as well. Apple is known for being a company which invests heavily in industrial, aesthetic, and functional design. Other companies see this success, the buckets of money they’re printing every quarter, and say, “I want a piece of that action!” As well they should!

That’s not to say that design is Apple’s sole reason for success, but it’s arguably the most visible. (I can’t even imagine the infrastructure necessary to design and execute something like the Mac App Store to send petabytes of data on the wire. Or how they engineer curved glass so well. I mean, it boggles the mind.)

Constraints are falling away

Phones are powerful computers. Tablets exist now. E-readers are real. We’re collectively seeing new markets and new gadgets pop up on a very rapid basis.

One of my favorite things about devices like the Kindle, iPad and (hopefully someday?) Android tablets is that they throw away the baggage associated with the PC for the past 30-odd years. No file system, no blue screen of death, no discs, no turbo button, and so forth. People-focused, not technology-focused.

This is exciting because it’s becoming clearer that these shackles were sitting on the brakes while the right foot was pressing down the accelerator. Take them away, and you just go. And sure enough, we are going.

Risky moves? Yeah, but they’re paying off. We all win with simplification, and the potential to make technology even more straightforward is tantalizing.

Where UX fits in

User experience experts are definitely in an enviable position right now, but it’s vital for us to jump in intelligently.

The dilemma here is that some companies might think they can simply drop in one UX person and boom, their problems are solved. That’s really rare. In reality, they’ll be embracing a new and exciting set of problems centered around design as a whole.

Here’s what I’ve seen happen. One UX person joins a company and needs to not only do her work and do it well, but defend her work constantly - and, more importantly, educate people about her work. She has to do the research but also needs to talk about it; why she did it, what the business value is, and the like. Ultimately she needs to be an excellent salesperson for her own skills.

But if she’s good at it? Like, really good? Then she’s put herself in a great spot. She’s doing great work, making others aware of it, and just cranking. That’s a very good thing and can lead to bigger change - change which can support design-led activities, for example. Or even just hiring another person and starting to build out a practice.

The missing piece

So what I’m really getting at is: yes, it’s an exciting time to be in UX. Very much so! But it’s becoming quite important to know your skills and limitations, sure.

Moreso it’s essential to be able to tell your story. Your passion. Your experience. Your drive. Your love for what you do. Without it, you’re just filling a seat. Don’t be that person.