When Fabricio Teixeira and Caio Braga look at the UX design content populating every corner of the “design internet,” they see a fundamental problem with the industry. It’s not that the overabundance of how-tos, listicles, and tips and tricks articles are inherently bad. In fact, they say, these pieces of content serve an important purpose — but it’s what’s missing that counts. High-quality, critical UX journalism is nearly impossible to find, and what’s out there is even less likely to get many views.
“We feel like these kinds of channels are really so saturated with the same types of articles, over and over again. When we see really great content, we have noticed it never gets as much attention as it deserves,” the duo said. And they should know — Fabricio and Caio run UX Collective, a popular Medium publication devoted to UX design and UX designers with an audience of more than 2.5 million monthly visitors from 45 different countries. Recently, they set out to determine why UX content hasn’t evolved alongside UX design as the industry matures.
The two approached the question, unsurprisingly as designers would, doing considerable research and publishing their findings in their first essay on the state of UX design discourse. It got Adobe’s attention, to say the least, echoing many of thoughts and findings of our own design leaders — there simply isn’t enough thoughtful analysis of UX design to push the industry forward.
Claps, hearts, and likes over critiques
During the course of writing their essay, Fabricio and Caio explored a fundamental issue facing the creation of UX design content: who creates it, how they do it, and how that affects the content we see online. Experienced designers and leaders are usually too busy with their day jobs to write in-depth thought leadership about the industry. Often, they’re even too busy to read thought-provoking articles about UX. Meanwhile, platforms like Medium have made it easier than ever for anyone to create a post and share on social media.
This often means the designers and writers that do write about UX design are only motivated to do it when there’s a clear immediate benefit — they focus on selling and/or celebrating their own work, or furthering their company’s business goals. Easy-to-digest, tactical content often rewards its writers with more claps, hearts, likes, and shares than something more challenging to read. That’s not always a bad thing, but it is often to blame for a lack of critical analysis of the industry.
“It wasn’t surprising. I think it’s just a reality for people who work in digital marketing or design.
“We know that these content types are very effective, and it’s understandable. When Adobe does a product tutorial, for example, it makes a lot of sense and we need that content. There is a new generation of designers out there that needs to learn the basics and about what’s interesting in the industry. This short content fits them better, and there is space for that,” Caio said.
“But I just feel like we are treating our readers just as we’re treating our consumers. I think we are underestimating their analytical thinking skills, so I think there is a big opportunity for something more in depth that resonates to them and their needs.”
The dangers of not correcting course
We’ll get to that big opportunity in a minute, but first, Adobe’s own principal designer has a few thoughts on the big risk of not changing our approach.
Khoi Vinh has spoken out publicly about the danger facing the state of UX design if it doesn’t provide more critical content. In an article for Fast Company, he wrote about the bigger questions that UX journalism is avoiding — a lack of discourse on what design means in the world, and whether it is actually contributing to the greater good.
“It’s here that those questions about design’s larger meaning in our society and culture go unasked. Amid all the focus on clicks, no one bothers to wonder: Is what was designed actually in the long-term interests of its users? Does it model healthy or unhealthy interactions and behaviors? Does it strengthen the long-term relationship between the brand and its customers? How does it contribute to the way people relate to technology, media, and to one another? Is the design aesthetically good or bad? And why?” said Khoi.
It was this article that partly inspired Fabricio and Caio to take this deeper look into why this kind of content is mostly missing from the landscape. “When we read Khoi’s article, it all suddenly clicked. What we’ve been feeling and thinking about for years had been finally put into very well-articulated words,” said Fabricio.
Khoi also points to the example of architecture for inspiration on how UX discourse can improve. Why does the field of architecture have a thriving dialogue on the good, bad, and ugly in the industry, but not UX design? And how far has architecture been pushed, in positive directions, because its stakeholders weren’t afraid to criticize each other’s work and discuss its impact on the bigger world around us?
“As design matures, we need this self-assessment to know where we’re heading and the challenges we’ve had in this ever-changing industry. We need to view it in a way that’s sustainable for us and our careers and those that are affected by our work,” said Caio. He shares Khoi’s sentiment that if UX designers can’t open up to the outside world and discuss the positive and negative aspects of their industry, they can’t expect UX design to retain its importance.
In short, we’ve spent a lot of time and energy convincing companies, organizations, and user bases to take design very seriously. Now, we need to prove it’s serious about advancement and the betterment of the world.
Opportunity and the responsibility of the reader
The fault doesn’t lie entirely with content creators, according to Khoi. UX designers themselves need to approach UX journalism in a different way to help create meaningful change in the industry. Designers should ask themselves when they read an article, blog post, or list, whether it challenged their assumptions or opened them to new ideas.
“If more of us, as designers, approach what we encounter on design aggregators every day in this way, perhaps we can begin to affect some structural change. By and large these sites are just as susceptible to the allure of clicks as the craft of design. But if we are more selective about what we consume, we may be able to encourage design publications to follow that lead by applying editorial judgment to what gets shared every day,” Khoi said. If demand drives supply, it’s time for UX designers to direct their clicks and their time to content that makes them and their industry better.
Resources should equal responsibility
But why should companies like Adobe follow suit with the content they’re creating? It seems unlikely, given the findings, that investing in in-depth design journalism over simpler, easier-to-digest content will result in more conversions, purchases, and clicks. For Caio, it’s about a certain responsibility companies have to create space for discussion.
“What we see is a content marketing-only approach with a bunch of link-building, or a particular company trying to own a certain theme or topic because it’s aligned with their business,” he said.
“I understand the goal to bring traffic, but I see companies as uniquely having the resources and voice to provide the space for this kind of discussion. If they really value the design community and really want to connect with designers, I think that’s how we advance the state and future of UX.”
Adobe values the design community because the company itself is made up of individuals who are deeply ingrained parts of the design community. For example, Adobe XD is created and run by designers who love what they do and are invested in the advancement of UX design. We, as content creators, are taking our responsibility to serve those designers, internal and external, seriously. So, we’re making some changes.
A brighter future for UX journalism (if we have anything to say about it)
At Adobe, we know what’s good for UX design in general is good for us and the designers we serve. In addition to continuing to create content to help designers learn and master Adobe XD, we’re renewing our commitment to creating thought-provoking, industry-advancing articles and blog posts that push the boundaries of UX journalism and discourse. You’ll see a lot fewer posts on surface-level UX topics that have been covered several times on our blog and others, and a lot more content discussing the unique issues, challenges, and solutions on the forefront of our industry.
We hope you’ll join us as we work together to tell the story of UX design in the 21st century — where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we’re heading as we seek to create a better world through smarter and more effective products and experiences.
Originally published at theblog.adobe.com on September 17, 2018.