What is the role of a UX’er today?

Two things I read recently prompted me to think about this question. First was an interesting blog post about the demise of UX research from Salesforce’s Nalini Kotamraju and her suggestions on what skills UX Researchers should learn. The second, was a book I am currently reading by Scott Hurf called Designing Product People Love and one his sections in book where he talks about different roles in the Product team. Both these got me thinking about what role and skills should a UXer have today? And importantly what skills do we need to think about developing so we are still relevant tomorrow?

UX Research is so hot right now…

When I was with Paddy Power, we used to make a distinction between UX Research, UX architecture and UX Design roles. But then Agile came along the role became less about a specific skill set and more about being the person on the product team who was the champion for UX (and the user).   Coming from there to work as a UX Consultancy a couple of years ago, it was a bit of a surprise to see that so many companies, especially the larger ones, seemed quite behind in terms of UX practices.

Though not all companies may not be where they want to be yet in terms of UX Maturity, there does seem to be an increased recognition in the role and value of UX . We see a movement in our clients towards employing more UX people and undertaking more diverse UX activities.  And companies are talking more about UX at a strategic level and looking at ways to implement it across the board to improve performance and drive growth.

Just as companies are maturing in their approach to UX we too, as UX’ers, need to consider how our roles and skills need to evolve to support that shift.

What does the UX’er of tomorrow look like?

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  • Researcher: Being curious and asking questions is, I think, one of the core attributes of being a UX’er. We need to have empathy with our customers so we can translate insights into meaningful product features and design. Being a researcher is about being independent and stepping away from institutionalised thinking. We need to be the champions of the customer voice and customer goals and ensure that they are at the core of what the company does. An interest in psychology and understanding more about why we behave the way we do has been personally valuable to me when thinking about this.
    Of course, understanding user needs is not the sole propriety of UX. Especially these days as there is a raft of tools available to those who want to understand more about their customers. And is great to see that more people, who are not necessarily UX, recognising this and making it a part of their role. However, what I think UX Researcher will continue to bring to the table is considering which methods and tools to use when and to consider research in planned systematic way. And to be the glue in the team that facilitates and drives research from other areas of the business.
  • Analyst : As we get more access to data on our customer and their behaviour, knowing about the numbers and trends to back up and add to insights is and will continue to be, a crucial part of the research process. A knowledge of how the data works and being able to communicate this back to the business in a relevant way is important in selling in the benefits of UX activities. We need to work with the business to define what success means in terms of a good experience and determine metrics of how we capture that. And then monitor how we are doing, so we can take actions to improve.
  • Information Architect: Is the next step in converting insights into something meaningful. It is about doing something with what we have learned about customer behaviour and expectations and organising information in a way that makes sense to them. This allows us to design products and particularly the paths within those products, to behave in the way that customers expect and want them to behave.
  • Communicator: As UX’ers we need to be able to report back concisely with recommendations that are specific and relevant to the context, in both written and visual formats. However, a picture paints a thousand words. A large part of our work as UX’ers is taking the insights we learn from testing/research instilling them into visual communications and artifacts such as Personas/User Journeys to make those findings come alive.
  • (Interaction) Designer: Which is also part of communicating ideas. I’m not referring to UI or web design here but more Interaction Design.   I see this as translating insights and findings from research into visual outputs such as flows or wireframes to illustrate how a user will step through the different stages of the journey.
    Not everyone is an artist (definitely include myself in that) but everyone can draw and putting ideas and sketches on whiteboard or on paper allows us to quickly discuss and improve on those ideas. Low fidelity sketches/ideas, especially in an agile world, are our friend. Being able to then link those sketches through prototyping allows for quick testing and feedback.
  • Facilitator: Facilitation skills I believe, are going to be one of the key skills of the UX’er of tomorrow. We know there is alot of internal knowledge within the business and part of the role of UX is to work with teams to extract that knowledge and involve everyone in user research. We will need to work with the team so we can collectively work up ideas based on research insights and bring the designs or product onto the next stage.
  • Strategist: This is another area where we can move up a level in UX. As more companies are thinking about UX not just at product level but as an organisational level this gives UX more clout at higher levels within the business. This give us opportunity to look at UX in a more holistic manner and think about how we can build out the whole UX experience through our business processes, policies and products. Our role here will be more analyst and working with the business to solve problems and suggest ways to improve.
  • The U ‘X’ Factor. Being obsessive, but in a good way. Some of the best people I know in UX are a little bit obsessive about UX in general. They want to know about developments in design/UX/technology and are always eager to try out new tools and methods. They also see the world in a slightly different way and examine everything in terms of the user experience and how this might apply to projects they are working on.

Will we become Jack of all Trades?

No. I don’t think so. I don’t think everyone has to be an expert in every one of those skills, certainly in our consultancy different people have more experience/stronger skills in some of the areas over the others. However, just as the companies we are working with are scaling up in terms of UX knowledge and activities, we as UX’er need to broaden out and evolve own skills to support that change. What we are seeing is a move away from specialisms in different roles UX and a move towards UX taking a more consultative approach were adapt what we do depending on the situation and the problem we are trying to solve at that stage.

And the good news is there are loads of resources, many of which are free or not hugely expensive that can help us be prepared for our evolving roles. Here are just a few of which I have found useful:

Learning resources

Understanding the basics of Google Analytics 

Online User Experience Courses from Interaction Design 

Statistics from Udemy Learning

Smashing Magazine online articles on Wireframing 

Overview of UX courses on line from UX Mastery

Last note:  Just before I published this post, I attended an interesting Conference in Edinburgh called Design It Build it and shout out to Chris Compston at Sky and his talk at the conference “The UX Designer is Dead, Long Live UX” as many of his points about the future of UX resonated with me and my thoughts in this post.

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New Year. New Learning

This January I have been inundated with emails about learning opportunities from organisations like Coursera, Udemy and Lynda.  What is really interesting is the type of targeted programmes they are sending me; Programming and IT, Leadership and Innovation and even Equine Nutrition (how did they know I used to work on a horse stud farm?).  These emails and the fact that it is January made me reflect on:

What type of learning I should think about doing and also what type of learning is necessary for the industry I work in, the so called ‘Flat White Economy’?

The Flat White Economycoffee  

Forgot your soya lattes, Flat White’s are where it is at these days.  Or rather the ‘Flat White Economy’, a term describing those coffee loving hipsters from London who work in the Media, Internet and Creative (MIC) sector.  A sector which is set to increase London’s growth rate over the next five years to 15.4pc according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).  This will reinstate London as the UK’s fastest growing region.

Of course these industries are essential in driving innovation and growth in the rest of the UK too,   So what  types of skills and behaviour do we need to need learners and workers to adopt to support this growth?

  • An interest In technology. Obviously. Much of this economy is driven on (new) technology and of course we need coders and programmers. Not everyone needs to be technical but they do need an understanding of different types of technology and how different systems work together. BTW teenagers spending 5 hours online on social apps and messaging does not count.
  • Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand the world from their perspective.  A great example of this University Warwick Business Programme where students take on different roles in Shakespeare Plays to better understand the world from different characters’ viewpoints.
  • Being good at fostering and building relationships. With clients, within teams and with all different levels of stakeholders within the business. This is especially important to maintain as more of our work is being conducted remotely and over the internet. Never underestimate the power of asking someone to go for a coffee to chat about a project.

quote socrates

  •  Being Curios and interested in what is going on. Questioning why things or processes work the way they do and thinking about ways to improve them. Creativity is not always about something new but rather is new ways of looking at old problems and being smarter about how we solve them.
  • Closely aligned to curiosity is the ability to define and solve problems creatively.  As I mentioned in a previous blog looking at different definitions of intelligence, one researcher closely linked being smart to how quickly a person can take in information and grasp the complexity of the situation.  And of course having the imagination to come up with creative insights and solutions.

  •  Embracing Lifelong Learning and recognising that we could always benefit from more learning. This is about being reflective, open to feedback and curios about the world.
  • Being Adventures.  To learn by doing, succeed by failing.  To be up for giving it a shot and not giving up when it does not succeed the first time.  Always testing our own assumptions. Learning and Improving.
  • Flexibility (and Trust) and the willingness to work within new situations and jobs that are increasing no longer just 9 to 5 or even office based.

Of course its not just learners and employees who need to think about what skills they need to embrace for the future. Management in our educational systems and workplaces need to think too about how they will encourage and support this skills and behaviours to create that climate of innovation and growth.

The importance of being curios.. in UX Research

 

questions

We people are social animals and questions are an important part of how we socialise   and relate to each other. One only has to spend a short time with a 4 or 5 year old child to hear them constantly asking Why this? Why that? Those questions and the corresponding responses are an important part of the development of that child.

As we get older, questions continue to be an important part of how we all engage with the world around us. Our brains love questions; it is how forge new associations and wire neural connections.

Curiosity is an essential part of creatively and innovation. Through questioning we spark new ideas and then use more questions to pull apart those ideas and build them back together again.

Questioning is also an integral part of UX Research.

question mark
Clckr.com

Promoting a culture of questioning and debate

In prod development once we agree internally what we think the product might be and what the important features are, we need to test this with users.  The important phrase here is what we think the product ‘might be’. As UX researchers we need to challenge the thinking from inside the business that they already know how the product should work.  We are not merely undertaking a validation test with users to prove our ideas but rather we are undertaking a test to test our assumptions about the product.   The difference may be subtle but it is important because if we frame our product ideas as hypothesis this allows us to say that we (as a business) don’t know what the answers are yet and that we are open to discussion and debate on what those answers might be.


Jeff Gothelf in his blog on his Lean UX approach puts this very well when he suggests starting with testing a hypothesis of what we believe the new product or design to be.  When the new product/design or feature is framed as a hypothesis e.g we believe x feature will deliver x value to customers, is more of a question about our assumptions that a statement of fact.

The aim is to test not only that users understand and can use our products but also that they actually desire it.  And if we frame our product ideas as hypothesis this allows us to say that we don’t know what the answers are yet and be more open to the results.

As UX Researchers it is vital that we never forgot that curios 5 year old inside us who is always asking why? Questions will help us deliver not only more usable but also more meaningful and valuable user experiences.