The Evolution of UX
Lately I’ve been thinking about how the role of a user experience designer is expanding and evolving.
When I first started doing what is now called UX in 2000, there wasn’t really a name for it. I used Photoshop, Visio, and Powerpoint. My deliverables were low fidelity and often clunky, but they were infinitely valuable to the engineering teams I worked with. Creating usable interfaces was a mystery to them; they relied on me to make technology usable.
Fast forward to 2012. The best developers and designers now understand usability explicitly. Tools like Bootstrap and WordPress make it easy for anyone to create a clear, usable interface (of course, it’s also possible to create something incredibly clunky with these tools as well). So what is the role of a UX designer?
In my opinion, UX has expanded. Our toolkit – personas, site maps, wireframes – is not always useful in an agile world. Certainly, there are many projects that need these tools, but more frequently I find my self moving pixels in Photoshop and tweaking CSS. The line between UX, designer, and developer has blurred – and I think it’s great for the industry. The more we understand and respect one another’s crafts, the better our work will be.
Aarron Walter has an excellent take on this evolution, in an article titled “UX Design is Bollocks”:
User experience designers have to understand design, usability, front-end and server-side development, and content strategy. They may not be an expert in all, but to do their job well the have to know how all pieces of the puzzle fit together to create a great user experience. UX people peer into the silos of specialization that divide our teams and find the thread of experience that runs through each. Our tools are complex, the platforms we design for are diverse, and our teams are increasingly divided. Now more than ever we need people to pay attention to the big picture of our projects, and never lose sight of the users we serve. That’s why user experience design is not bollocks; it’s essential.
Great UX designers have expanded their skill set to include other disciplines. Being a renaissance man or woman is a drastically different model of working than the traditional agency waterfall process. But I think the messiness and blurriness is a good thing – it lets us move quickly and respect one another’s work.
And it’s fun.