Re: Re: The Golden Age of UX is Over

August 7, 2017

This is a blog reply to Andy Budd’s article The Golden Age of UX may be over, but not for the reasons stated.

When I read Andy’s piece I found it a bit presumptuous to name your own agency as one of the leaders in a field. But I respect Andy and it’s actually true so I guess he can do that. I still remember his brilliant presentation somewhere in 2008 or 2009 at the one-time Twiist conference in Leuven and have been following his writing ever since.

The article raises lots of points, one of them being the muddying of the term UX. This is something that we talk about a lot in our team, because about 1/4 of what we do as a team is what you would call UX work.

This ratio is growing because we feel that the only way we will design better software is by asking the right questions; and not just start with designing screens from the getgo.

We are currently looking for a UX researcher/analyst for the team and I really hope someone reads this job description and thinks “Damn, that’s me!”.

The truth is that the right UX profile is really hard to find, because first of all there’s not a lot of people doing the actual work that entails UX design, and second of all, is that the term is so muddy.

A lot of people who aren’t UX designers at all consider themselves to be a UX designer. Someone labelling themselves a UX (or even UX/UI) designer is already a huge red flag to me. What they say might be the case, but my first interview question would be: what’s the last piece of research you have done?

We are currently redesigning our website and we had tons of discussion on what to call our services. We ended up calling what we do “designing digital products and services”; although I kind of fought for using the term “UX”.

Even though it is an umbrella term that has lost most of its meaning, you can define it in a way that respects how it grew as a practice, and talk about the specific work that has to get done. By taking the historical perspective AND talking about the jobs to be done you can make it clear again what -you- mean by UX.

What I define as UX work is a range of activities, from usability tests to user interviews and other kinds of (sometimes technical) research. When it gets to information architecture work and design patterns things cross over into UI work, but depending on what you’re doing it might be a pure UX job as well.

That’s a lot of work that is *not* screen design. And it’s a lot of work that for me is a *lot* harder than just sitting behind my computer writing some code and making some designs.

For me it is frustrating for people to “claim” the term UX when they’ve never ran a usability test; when they have never done a series of user interviews; when they never travelled to the people who are using the software/websites/whatever they design to spend a day with them to talk and learn.

This is something that I have to fight for in offers because people don’t seem to value it. But after we did the work I never regret it. I’ve never once ran a usability test and thought: hey, now that was a waste of time! The same counts for user interviews and spending time doing research before starting to design.

As Andy notes, at some point a ton of people started calling themselves UX designers, to surf on some kind of golden wave and profit from the term.

In reality what most people do/did is much closer to UI design, or, really not even UI design, just (marketing) web design. If you decide where a button goes, it’s not UX design. It’s just applying (expert) knowledge and that’s that.

You’re not a UX designer if you read “Don’t make me think!”, 2 articles by Jakob Nielsen and that design of everyday things book. You’re a UX designer if your day-to-day job involves a lot of the aforementioned tasks.

Near the end of the article Andy makes the point that depending on where you’re at, your golden age might be over or starting.

Andy notes that one might associates a golden age with one’s formative years. On Twitter I said (half-jokingly, but that probably wasn’t very clear) that maybe 2008-2012 were his formative years. I can’t speak about Andy’s career, but it feels weird to make a connection to a specific era as being the golden age while at the same time acknowledging that the definition of a golden age is tied to one’s formative years.

I guess in the end it’s a personal thing. I went from web designer to UI designer and now I feel closer to being a UX designer than ever. For years I avoided the term UX because I didn’t feel it was the work I was doing. But now it (partly) is.

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