Evolution of UX roles in the past decade, based on my data point of one

Shanshan Zhou
Apr 12 · 3 min read

The UX industry has grown quite substantially in the past decade, and now it is quite a multi-faceted craft. Depending on the stage of a UXer’s career, and the type of organization they work for, their roles and responsibilities could look really different.

In this post, I’d like to share the changes I’ve experienced in my own role as a UX designer, and a few thoughts on why this change occurred (other than I’ve stayed in the business longer and got “more senior” overtime). I hope that my journey and lessons can be helpful for you on your own path to navigate the land of UX design.

Designing user experience from 2012 to 2021

Phase 1: Design the design:
design wireframes, design UI mockup, design and export assets

Phase 2: Deliver the (UX) deliverables:
Everything above + interview stakeholders, map user flow, design site map, map user journeys, map mental models, visualize user personas,

Phase 3: Design the solutions to problems:
Everything above — but actioned on a need base as opposed to for the sake of delivering output+
run participatory-design workshops with SME, prototype concepts, evaluate solution with usability tests

Phase 4: Explore solutions with the team:
Everything above + facilitating co-design/ideation workshops with team, evaluate the solution and gather feedback, facilitate rapid iterative design/prototype of solution based on feedback

Phase 5: Enable team to effectively solve a meaningful problem
Everything above + lead discovery research, bring the team on the discovery journey, cultivate a shared understanding of customers and their problems, facilitate collaborative analysis, facilitate assumption mapping, facilitate prioritization based on value for users, measure the outcome with analytics and metrics

From individuals to teams; from doing to enabling; from output to outcome

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying you should stop delivering UX design, user research, analysis as individual practitioners, and purely facilitate others to design the user experience. This may not be possible or ideal for many organizations.

However, I am compelled to urge UX professionals to consider empowering a diverse team to collaboratively own the discovery, exploration, and creation of user experience together. With the entire team empowered to care and create a better experience for our users, we tend to arrive at more robust and empathetic solutions which means ultimately better outcomes for our users.

What drove the changes in my roles?

It was clear to me that design skills alone were not enough to ensure we deliver the best experience to users. In order to optimize the impact I can achieve on the experience for the users, I needed to adopt skills in user research, product management, communication, leadership, storytelling, to name a few.

Although it may seem like I’m drifting away from designing the user experience, this change is a necessary response to my mission to create better experiences for people, in the most effective way possible.

For me, it is not enough to treat the surface problem of usability, what it takes is rewiring an organization to be more human-centered and holistic in how they think about the relationship between their product and their customers.

There are a few constants

Although the roles look very different from now to then, there are a few consistent threads that make me proud to call myself a user experience designer.

For me, being a UX designer has always meant having the following traits

  1. work with functionalities but also appeal to emotions
  2. a healthy blend of intuition and methodical analysis
  3. relentless curiosity and care (aka empathy) for people we are designing for and designing with
  4. a daring optimism/perfectionism to demand we make the status quo better than when we found it

Now back to you

I would also love to hear from you to learn about how your role has been changing over the years, and how do you see the future of our roles may evolve.

Design, discovery, life

Design, discovery, life

Shanshan is a UX designer and discovery facilitator. Here are some of her reflections on her practice. Also, a place to share any inspiration or food for thought. More details on | www.shanshanz.com

Shanshan Zhou

Written by

Design, discovery, life

Shanshan is a UX designer and discovery facilitator. Here are some of her reflections on her practice. Also, a place to share any inspiration or food for thought. More details on | www.shanshanz.com