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when uxers get old

February 2017 – Frank Gaine

Ever wondered whether or not you’ll be in UX for your entire life? What happens when you pass forty and then fifty, could there be sixty year-old UX designers? Will the discipline even exist in say 2040 and if not, how will you make a living?

Here are the pervasive concerns we have uncovered and the many reasons for hope. We spoke to senior design practitioners such as Jared Spool and Giles Colborne to qualify our thinking in this regard.

“Will I always be at this level?”

The traditional career ladder would have us believe that one starts as a junior and eventually works their way into managing people or ultimately gets something more strategic to do. However, there is always going to be more worker bees than Queen bees so what happens to the UXers that don’t get to those positions? Is it feasible for a UXer to spend their entire career creating wireframes for websites?

However, we spoke to Jared Spool who pointed out that organizations are now creating career ladders for non-management designers.

“There’s a difference between design leadership and design management. The former being about setting the design vision and the latter about making the designers effective in their work. Organizations are seeing this and responding to it.”

UX is also a great foundation from which to future proof your career by diversifying or pivoting your skill setPicking up complimentary skills in order to enhance your prospects is always a good idea. Learn to code, find out about the world of Product and Design Strategy, brush up on Physical Interaction. These related disciplines will open up a whole new world of meaning for you, opening up new and exciting jobs along the way.

Giles Colborne of CX Partners states: “You can grow a career in many ways. Transfer your skills to a new domain. Move from generalist to specialism. I’d advise anyone to think five years ahead and plan their next couple of moves”.

“Will AI end up doing my job?”

It is only in recent years that we are taking AI seriously. It’s obviously getting smarter and the ecosystem that enables it to do more is becoming more and more sophisticated. By this rationale, it’s arguable that in a few years you’ll be able to say to Siri ‘Build me an app that does XYZ’. The AI would then go and get some design patterns from the web, suck in some open source code, connect to the relevant APIs and hey presto, done! Where the role for the UXer in that scenario? Giles Colborne recently spoke at the Amuse UX Conference on this very topic.

“The crucial part of design is finding the right problem to solve. AI is very far off from being able to do that”

Even if AI comes closer to piecing together a UI, designers will still be needed provide for empathy in the product or service, identifying and deciding how to manage sensitive issues such as money, disability and family for example.

Jared Spool went on to say

“Whatever “job” AI starts to do will create a broader need to solve bigger problems that AI can’t deal with yet. Plus there are all the problems that adding in AI will create.”

 “UIs are disappearing; will my job also disappear?”

Recently we have seen the rise of conversational commerce and assistants such as Alexa, Google, Cortana and Siri. The task of designing the algorithm that the AI uses is that of an engineer or data scientist. So, in a world where buttons do not need to be pressed, what exactly does a UXer do?

The reality is that people like us will also be required to design the broader ecosystem within which the UI exists and the appropriate interaction of the various touchpoints a user comes into contact with. UXers see the bigger picture and will ensure that the holistic product/service experience is as good as it can be.

Trenton Moss of Webcredible added “People (not AI) are still in the strongest position to design the overall service that will transform digital services that integrate seamlessly with existing physical services.”

Colborne summarises “Our skills will still be required but our practice must change to adapt to new technologies. This is already happening every 5-10 years in my experience.”

Furthermore, graphical user interfaces are not going to completely disappear, they will exist in parallel and compliment voice for quite some time.  Therefore, it looks like you should not be too worried, at least for the next generation or so. The key is to keep your skill set flexible. Take the opportunity to learn other skills along the way as mentioned above. Keep abreast of technology as it arises and keep advocating the importance of understanding people, something that only another human being can do adequately well.

ux giles colborne jared spool


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