In many countries, yesterday marked International Workers‘ Day – a day when we celebrate workers, what they do, and what they bring to the economy and society. However, the work of UX designers is often tough for non-UXers to understand, and the impact often underappreciated (even if they are busy solving trillion dollar problems). With a growth rate double that of other industries, it is no wonder UX design struggles to be understood. It is evolving before it can explain itself. Let us unpack why this is and how UX specialisation can help.
UX Designers Technically Can Do It All
We often get the question, what does a UX designer do? The answer is often a long one because there are so many things a UX designer can do – from user research to experience strategy, information architecture, and user interface design – and within each of these subfields there are many different aspects. Because of this when asked, people, even UX experts, have a variety of definitions and expectations of what a UX designer does and this is where it can get sticky.
Expectations for UX designers are often unclear because, for some, they should be working on user interface issues most of the time, while for others they should be busy collecting user research. For others, they should be unicorns doing it all. So we should hardly be surprised that from this lack of clarity, frustration arises on both the employer’s and designer’s side around what is expected.
UX Design Profession and Everything that Goes with it is Growing Rapidly
Even with the aforementioned frustrations, UX design is a field that is growing at a fast pace, with a 10-year expected growth of 13% – double the overall job growth. Companies are learning that user experience is a major determinant of success – if the user has a good experience, they will be back. If not, they will be on the search for an alternative product or service. This realisation is what is driving the growth in UX design, but it is not necessarily creating a clearer understanding of UX. In fact, it is likely making it foggier.
As any profession grows, so does the knowledge base and the tools utilised within it. UX is no exception here. Just think of how much more we know about things like design biases and rapid product development, or all of the great tools, such as clickable prototypes and eye tracking software, that were not even around ten years ago.
As exciting as all of this is, it also points to a problem. As UXers, we cannot master all of the knowledge or tools available, and it will only get tougher as the industry grows.
UX Design Needs Real Specialisation
As the field grows, UX designers need to develop specialisations to avoid this confusion for themselves, for employers, and for the industry as a whole. If we think about other professions such as law, teaching, or medicine, there are relatively specific specialisations with precise training requirements. This, however, was not always the case. Take medicine as an example.
If we look back in history, specialists were few and far between. Instead, the general practitioner prevailed and took care of everything from eyes to feet. Ultimately, among other reasons, so much knowledge developed and with it the appropriate skill sets, making it impossible to master it all. Besides, there became a strong desire among doctors to expand medical knowledge, and this too led to people focusing on specialised areas. While there are still generalists such as family or internal medicine, as the number of doctors and the knowledge they produced increased, so did the number of specialisations.
As these medical specialities and subsequent ones evolved, so did the training around them to ensure that specific competencies were adequately covered. This, in turn, required that trainees had enough practical experience in the field. Of course, this varied across the different specialities.
It is important for UX designers to get a complete training that encompasses all aspects of UX. But as they grow in their profession, they will likely start to migrate towards a focus area within UX naturally. However, with the growth in the number of UX professionals in the field and the amazing creativity and talents they bring to it, along with an ever increasing number of industries that are taking UX seriously, the UX knowledge is reaching a point that requires specialisation. And yet the UX field currently does not offer specialised courses of training and dedicated practical experiences to meet the anticipated demand.
I have personally witnessed an early first step in the direction of specialisation at the company I represent, CareerFoundry. In fact, we identified the need to work with industry leaders to create UX specialisation courses for UXers who are looking to focus their knowledge and skill sets further. One such specialisation was the need to have a course that is specific to voice recognition user experience. We are developing this course in conjunction with Amazon to train UXers on the different requirements for voice design, specifically with Amazon’s Alexa voice service. So you might ask, what would a specific UX course such as this one, cover? To name a few areas, it naturally includes the neuroscience behind voice design and when best to use it. But it extends this to address how to best combine Voice User Interface (VUI) and Graphic User Interface (GUI), creating user flows for voice design and writing scripts to go with them, and also natural voice interactions. Additional specialisations in UX strategy, user interface design, and conversion rate optimisation are also in development.
UX Industry Specialisations
A UX designer in a company focused on cars will have a vastly different set of responsibilities than a UX designer at a company selling enterprise software. Or for that matter, UXers working in healthcare, virtual reality, voice recognition, commerce – or “insert your industry here”. Looking at the different types of skills necessary and the ins and outs of the work points to the need for specialisation.
Just think about the types of issues that come up with making cars more user-friendly, where problems to solve can include anything from how one gets into the car, to how to use the navigational system properly, or how to know how to put air in the tires properly.
On the other hand, a UX designer in an enterprise software company needs to think more about serving a user who is in turn serving a user and a market that is ever evolving to expect consumer-grade experiences that are also ever improving.
Or take virtual reality (VR) as an example. UXers in VR have to fold in design elements such as head tracking and acceleration to ensure the user does not feel dizzy and the experience feels real. They also need to take into account scale and spatial considerations and of course, aesthetic appeal. In the UX of VR, failing to account for these elements could result not only in a disappointed user but a disoriented one who feels ill!
As companies recognise that a good product is simply not good enough without a good (more like great) experience for the user, we will continue to see a proliferation of UX designers. This will lead to an abundance of UX knowledge, skills, and tools (yeah!) but will also result in the need for clearer paths of specialisation within the UX design field, to ensure the profession is not watered down but focused and providing the expertise required to benefit the user.
(Lead image: Photo-Mix – Creative Commons)