Interview with Peter Morville

President, Semantic Studios

This year we’re celebrating 10 years of UX London! In the run up to our special anniversary conference, we caught up with Peter Morville to hear his thoughts on the evolution and impact of UX, and how his own career has developed in this time.

On the evolution and impact of UX

How has UX changed in the past 10 years?

In 2009, Jesse James Garrett gave the infamous closing plenary in which he told the attendees of the IA Summit “There are no information architects. There are no interaction designers. There are only, and only ever have been, user experience designers.” A decade later, I’m still not quite sure what to make of that historic speech, but one thing is clear: UX London was born at the right time.

In the ensuing 10 years, by most measures, user experience flourished. But, as befits my age, I’d like to suggest all is not well in the kingdom. UX is as old now as IA was then. The bloom is off the rose, and as Peter Merholz tweeted recently, user experience is being subsumed by design. I don’t see this as a problem. Integration is inevitable. But it does present new challenges.

It’s vital that within the discipline of design, we advocate for education in information architecture and user experience. Clearly, we need teachers in schools and colleges to dare beyond surface into structure, but that’s not enough to meet the demands of lifelong learning. That’s why we need events like UX London to bring us together periodically to teach and inspire one another.

How do you see UX evolving over the decade to come?

As people increasingly live and work in places made of information, designers who lack depth are a danger to society. The work we do matters a whole awful lot. It’s obvious the number of people doing user experience work will grow dramatically in the next decade, but will they do any good?

My primary concern is ethics. In the early years, outsiders in IA and UX struggled to create better experiences for users, and executives left them alone. Now we are part of the organization, it is harder to fight for the user. But we must. That’s our job. If we continue to allow dark patterns to spread like cancer, the sacrifice of ethics to boost short-term metrics will be our undoing.

Now if we get the ethics right (which requires fixing Capitalism and Democracy), tomorrow is bright. The near future of technology has never been more exciting. We have the potential to make life better for all sentient beings. So you see, I’m not as gloomy or grumpy as you thought.

On your career

What challenges are you facing at the moment and what are you doing to overcome them?

These days I’m often asked to help large organizations that already have significant, established user experience teams. This is not easy. I’m working on what Edgar Schein calls humble inquiry.

Anything else on your mind at the moment?

I’m happy to have published a brand new book Planning for Everything about the design of paths and goals, and I can’t wait to talk about it at UX London. See you there!

Join Peter and a host of other fantastic speakers at UX London 2018 — the 10th anniversary edition of Clearleft’s trailblazing UX conference. UX London takes place 23rd-25th May 2018 at Trinity Laban — tickets are on sale now at www.uxlondon.com