The Dumbing Down of UX Designers
by David Echeverri
With an emerging economy of quick-fixes including one-day online courses, one-week science curriculums, and three-hour full-development courses, the design industry is on the verge of suffering a dramatic dumb down. In this highly opinionated post, I’ll break down exactly why I think this phenomenon is occurring, what is causing it and how it will end up being extremely costly for the internet industry as a whole. In the past, and still today, many designers make an effort to stand out by mastering multiple crafts and disciplines such as graphic design, web development, animation, video production, and marketing along with some other skills.
Now, if you can do some doodling, hand sketching, and you dominate a full pack of Crayolas, you can call yourself a UX Designer. You can use the new catchy UX buzzwords and apply for industry jobs. But here’s the scary part… these masters of crayons end up getting hired and are then entitled to make critical decisions compromising technical feasibility and time-to-market of products. Since Steve Jobs gave UX design a front-seat role in product development, many other tech companies have tried to follow the trend. The difference is, designers at Apple are not just doodlers, they design products with high technological sophistication.
The Typical Example:
A SaaS company has a product initiative, they pass it to the UX designer, the designer uses his new weapon of choice: paper, pen, and Crayolas. Forget about the computer, forget about design software and don’t even think about code… no, designers, these days want to earn 120k/year for making a couple of sketches per month, and when their stress levels go up, they will probably start outsourcing their designs, not to India or China, but the nearest elementary school’s art class.
So, what is causing the dumb down?
Codephobia: Many Designers refuse to learn code and will threaten to commit suicide if they are asked to do so. What about reading data or using numbers? What the hell is that? No way Jose, “I’m a designer, not a numbers guy”. Codephobia is likely the number one impediment stopping designers from getting a better understanding of what’s under the “hood” of the designs they want to see implemented.
Art History Ignorance: New designers are completely ignorant about where design’s roots come from. They will claim “flat design” or “grid design” is the latest trend, not knowing how these trends came from 70 years ago when your great-grandfather was dating your great-grandmother.
Ultra-Specialization Complex: Designers think their role is now so specialized, that they can get away with designing buttons in sketch or InVision for the next three years, staying busy and compartmentalized while earning 100k.
Peer Comforting: Designers are being told by their peers or Medium Magazine not to try to learn code, or business, or marketing because that is not “design”. Some progressive design groups encourage disconnection of mechanics because if they get too technical… they stop being designers and will end up being less creative. Peer comforters claim that creativity comes from ingenuity and not from knowing technical restrictions. They wrongly equate technical proficiency with lack of creativity.
Creative Product Entitlement (Arrogance): Since UX designers are the new cool kids on the web, they can make the argument that “design and medium are different,” and based on this logic, a design made on a toilet paper square or a sketch on a napkin can contain the pure concept. The more abstract the concept, the sketchier, the more device-agnostic it is… therefore, the designer will be praised and rewarded for this progressive approach.
Gimmicky Software: Designers think that learning the latest sketching tool will get them to the top of the design chain, so they will claim they use 20 different programs. What they don’t tell you is that all those new programs are simply improved versions of Microsoft Paint with zero production-ready output.
Kindergarten Nostalgia: Even Senior Designers are known for displaying their collection of action hero toys on their desks, they want to claim back their childhood because this was when they were free to explore the potential of plastering and water-color brushes. Nostalgic designers will do anything possible to convey their ideas on paper, on napkins, on any low fidelity medium, because the less fidelity, the more “pure” or “conceptual” the idea is.
What designers can do about it:
Unless designers claim back their hard skills, design departments will get closer and closer to looking like a preschool classroom. Would you let a kindergarten class take control of your product development? No, of course, you wouldn’t, instead, you should demand competent, well-rounded professionals who can take care of your project, with an understanding of the creative, technical, and marketing components of the business and industry. Contact Models of Identity (www.modelsofidentity.com) and have your project handled with the proper care and knowledge.