UX Trends

By Daniel Szuc

Published: March 7, 2011

“Reading … enables me to identify UX trends and better understand where the industry is headed, how I can position myself in it, … and whether my current thinking is in line with or opposed to that of other UX experts.”

In between project work, travel, and presenting at conferences, one activity I have kept up diligently over the past ten years is reading. I do this both to ensure that I am as up to date as possible as a UX professional and to ensure I am passing on current knowledge to both colleagues and clients. My self-education includes reading feeds and books, listening to podcasts—from folks like UIE, Adaptive Path, Gerry Gaffney, and Radio Johnny to name a few—catching useful links from colleagues I follow on Twitter, and bookmarking key paragraphs in Delicious or Google Reader, so I can refer to them later or share them with colleagues.

A significant benefit of this activity is that it enables me to identify UX trends and better understand where the industry is headed, how I can position myself in it, where the market in which I reside sits in terms of the global maturity of the UX marketplace, the role I want to play in it, the skills I need to improve upon, how I can better lead or direct people, and whether my current thinking is in line with or opposed to that of other UX experts. In short, it gives me a perspective I can share and fodder for discussion when I meet up with other UX professionals.

So, as I reflect back over the past few years and what I’ve learned from my reading, recent travels to a UPA Board meeting in Atlanta, Interaction 11 in Boulder, Colorado, and UX Hong Kong 2011, here are some UX trends I have discovered.

Note—I’d like to open up the discussion of this article’s topic to you, the readers of UXmatters, to learn whether you are seeing the same trends in your respective markets and in the industries in which you work.

User Experience Is Becoming a Better-Known Term in Business

“The term user experience has become better known in business, so selling user experience is no longer as hard as it used to be.”

Over the past few years, the term user experience has become better known in business, so selling user experience is no longer as hard as it used to be. It’s becoming easier to tell the UX story, because through success stories like Apple, businesses are beginning to see the value of great design. However, there is still a gap between knowing how to make UX operational and how to source and invest in the right skill sets to make great design happen.

It’s Really Hard to Find Good Designers

Many businesses are looking for good designers, because of the effect Apple’s success has had on people’s expectations for product design. To create great products, they need designers who have significant project experience, think through design deeply, can facilitate and lead design in the business, and can communicate design clearly to people who are not part of the design effort.

Apple Is a Great Success Story, But We Need Our Own Stories to Tell

“Telling success stories helps us to communicate the value of UX design.”

Telling success stories helps us to communicate the value of UX design. It’s easy to talk about Apple’s success—their end-to-end service and channel design and how it’s had a positive impact on their financial results. This is a great story—especially if you love Apple products. But it would be nice if we all had other great stories to tell—including our own success stories. Whose are those other stories?

UX Is Not Always Integrated into Product Teams

Too often, product development organizations still see User Experience as belonging in a separate silo, so it’s not always integrated into the way they develop products. Sometimes, they think of User Experience as just one more process to deal with, another language to learn, and more tools to think about, when they’re already coping with too many of these.

We Need More UX Leaders

There is a great need for effective UX leaders, who can provide product direction through user research, take charge of product strategy, drive innovation, and use UX approaches to reduce the risk of product failure through iterative design.

Some Think Usability Testing Is an Activity That Occurs at the End of Product Development

“Some people still perceive usability as a testing-only activity that gets done at the end of a product development cycle.”

Some people still perceive usability as a testing-only activity that gets done at the end of a product development cycle. Unfortunately, with this mindset, usability gets marginalized and commoditized. To overcome this mindset, we need to make a greater effort to show the strategic elements of what user researchers do.

Storytelling Helps Us All Do What We Do

In my recent interview with Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks, the authors of Storytelling for User Experience: Crafting Stories for Better Design, we discussed how stories can humanize design work. Talking about how stories can help in product development, Kevin said:

“What storytelling does is: it can take rational ideas that may be about numbers or math and bring them more fully into the world by giving them a human context to affect people. So one of the best things about stories is that they inspire other stories. Stories are a way for people to be constantly breathing a form of life into a very rational process.”—Kevin Brooks

Customer Understanding Is Broken in Business

“No one is endeavoring to bring everything the organization knows into focus, developing a deeper, shared understanding of customers….”

Often, there are various different groups in a business who think they know the customers and own customer experience, but no one is endeavoring to bring everything the organization knows into focus, developing a deeper, shared understanding of customers, and presenting it somewhere the entire organization can benefit from it. How do we stop just selling to customers and start engaging them in real ways, so they won’t feel like they’re just a number to us.

Global Business Is Hard

Understanding the balance between global and local business, and truly grasping the effort it takes to understand designing for the needs of local markets is a constant challenge. Locals want to have a voice in the design process. Understanding what it means to work across cultures is critical.

Understanding Products’ Core Value

“User Experience [can] help product teams think beyond meeting short-term targets in a project plan and understand the core value of what we make.”

It’s becoming critical for User Experience to be involved in up-front product planning, to help product teams think beyond meeting short-term targets in a project plan and understand the core value of what we make. It’s time for UX professionals to not only take a seat at the strategy table, but to lead product teams in achieving strategic goals pertaining to products, product lines, programs, services, and organizational strategy.

What do you think about the UX trends I’ve identified? Are you seeing the same trends or others? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

2 Comments

Yes to everything stated, as corroborated by statements of others I know of in the software UX design realm, as well as in my own experience. Especially “Customer Understanding Is Broken in Business,” which I’d have titled Customer Relationship Ownership Is Contested in Many Businesses. This seems to come down to control. In some sense, the business function is bleeding into design and visa versa, so the ability to claim or maintain the primary customer relationship provides design control. Customer experience, as another trendy term, seems to be gaining in usage as a bridge between traditional (industrial age) business functions (marketing, customer service, and support) and UX. Unclear yet where the chips will fall, but I do expect—and encourage—the functional integration to continue, and core values to slowly evolve—too slowly.

And I also see more liability and reliance on UX designers where we are actually doing product management and marketing jobs for them instead of helping them….which is awesome and unfortunate for us. =(

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