Since the early 90s, when the term User Experience was brought to wider knowledge, the UX design profession has been dealing with a lot of key challenges. Besides new emerging roles accompanied by an increasing amount of new — and sometimes rather confusing — job titles, UX has mainly been struggling with its role in the product development process as much as with its influence and impact in large product organisations.
In many cases, designers struggle to speak the language of business, struggle to communicate the value of great User Experience to the management level and fail to have real impact due to organisational structures. Until now, UX is often treated as a service, has little involvement into strategic decisions, and is often assumed to just make things »look pretty«. Thus, designers are merely involved into any product and business related decisions. If UX fails to evolve over time, our craft will lose more and more relevance regarding product and business involvement.
The UX design profession is broken.
We have become a craft that spends a lot of time debating about the wrong things: We endlessly discuss design details, sounding job titles, whether we should code, or about having a seat on a table, when we should rather care about how to improve our value for the product and business, how to create significant value for our users, and how to translate UX outcome into business goals.
Organisations, on the other hand, need to understand that UX design is not just a service that makes things look pretty, but a profession that can add a lot of value to product development processes and strategic business decisions — something that has an impact on the success of the whole business. UX contributes to the key metrics users and businesses measure success with. This is why designers must be measured by the success of a product from a user’s and a business’s point of view, rather than by the look & feel of an interface. To stay relevant, UX design must re-define its role and responsibilities in large product organizations.
Re-thinking UX from a product perspective
Today, UX designers fulfill more product-oriented roles than ever before: we are copywriters, visual designers, interaction designers, researchers, content strategists, information architects, marketers, visionaries, growth hackers and much more. We slip into any role that is needed to make progress in making a product successful and thereby do less hand-offs in favour of working interdisciplinary between these roles.
We’ve outgrown our job-titles.
Most of today’s job titles do not meet these requirements of fulfilling various roles and responsibilities, because they often describe just a single role: interaction design, for instance, is just the description of one role that does not cover additional roles. As designers are often reduced to the skills and tasks that are reflected in their job titles, they end up in limitations and frustrations. A role as a job title artificially takes a lot of responsibilities away from a job. It cuts UX design into many pieces, where responsibilities are shared among many shoulders.
However, we are much more than our job titles might say about us. Titles stopped to serve and started to work against us. They do not say anything about our repertoire of roles we can fulfill. They limit us, support silo-thinking, and let others reduce us to a specific task and perspective. This is where we are missing out on the bigger picture and stop contributing to it. Basically, it limits our ability to think holistically and to shift perspectives when we look at problems.
We shouldn’t limit our skills and responsibilities to our job titles.
Titles don’t matter. What counts are the roles we can fulfill to contribute to user, product and business outcomes. The big number of confusing job titles might vanish in favour of two main UX disciplines that cover various roles: designers that care about the graphical representation of the product and aim to make the surface beautiful, simple, and easy to use — Interface Design — and designers that care about the product as a holistic ecosystem, that solves core problems, grows the user base, and generates user and business outcome — Product Design.
The evolution of UX design in today’s product organisations
A product is more than just the graphical representation of a solution — it is a complex system around solving user problems and generating valuable outcome. One logical consequence to this is the evolution from interface- to product-oriented design roles. Product design is the natural extension to interface design in a business environment. Product designers are Product Thinkers and understand a product as a whole ecosystem from a product’s conception to its launch, to scaling, to its maintenance, where they are involved into every aspect of the product development process.
Product design is the natural extension to interface design in a business environment.
A product designer’s main job is to make the whole product successful, not to craft a stunning interface. She works closely together with product management and user research to craft product vision and strategy that can make a difference in terms of outcome. Also, product designers contribute to high-level strategic decisions based on user insights and valid facts. They do not hand off their work, but work interdisciplinary across various roles together with marketing, growth, product management, and many more to to make the product successful. And their performance is measured by that.
Whenever a product helps to make progress in solving a problem for a user, it creates value that can be captured and measured. Organisations need to establish user-centric metrics translated into business goals and to measure UX design by that. We need to make our impact to business goals transparent to the whole company.
The future of UX relies on UX.
When a company understands the value of design and the impact on the business, designers get more involved into product strategy and decision-making. They attend strategic meetings, influence them with facts stakeholders care about, and enable stakeholders to make better decisions by creating empathy for the users as well as providing validated facts from research. By that, they actively create design requirements, not just receive them like a service. Designers must be influencers, not the influencee’s.
»The world is the way it is because we shaped it. Be a change maker not a victim« — Alex Osterwalder
However, a change never comes easy. The future of UX design relies on us to create the conditions for good design in large organisations. We need to shape and claim the future of UX proactively. We must prove our value and relevance to a business and not wait for organisations to create and control the future of our craft.
UX design is crucial to the success of every product and business. To communicate that effectively, we need to make UX impact on business goals transparent to the whole company through user-centric metrics that contribute directly to product and business goals.
UX design must refine itself to a discipline that works between various product-oriented roles to make the whole product successful, not just a small part of it.
When we evolve into having greater impact on product and business while still creating value for users, we will become more relevant than before. Then, the debate about a seat at the table becomes unnecessary, as it will then (and should now) come automatically.