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.

10 Observations on the changing UX Landscape.

Some of my general observations and thoughts about changing technology trends and user behaviour.

  1. MOBILE phones.   I heard at a recent Digital Hub event – If you don’t have a mobile strategy in next couple years, you won’t have internet strategy.  Maybe a bit melodramatic but we can’t deny how increasingly important mobile phones are  becoming to how users engage with the internet and looks like mobiles are also set to have big impact on how consumers purchase on-line.
  2. Importance of Location Based Services: such as Facebook Places which allows users to log in and locate which friends are nearby via GPS Mobile.  Handy when you’re wondering where everybody is on a Friday night.
  3. Growth of On-Line Deals.: 120,0000 people purchased online deals in July 2011 from Living Social, Groupon (City Deal) and Grab One.  Will this phenomena continue?  Will Groupon, as rumoured, start offering international deals?  How will the Facebook equivalent; Facebook Deals  do when it launches in Ireland in the near future?
  4. Social Media is NOT  just an add-on to internet strategy.  At a recent Social Media Working Group we heard from Tourism Ireland on the importance of Social Media in engaging customers and the impact it has on consumer decisions.    We now know that it is also an import driver of traffic to your site.
  5. The Value of Peer to Peer recommendation in Social Media.  At the same working group Activis Marketing told us that 90% of consumers trust recommendations from their social circle and 70% make decisions based on that recommendation.   It’s official – Personal recommendations far out ways the official company recommendation.
  6. Proliferation of Media on-line:   At a recent ReMix meeting in the RDS, Mike Downey, Media Guru (or is it evangelist?) at Microsoft, told us that currently 49.2% of internet traffic is streaming media; some of which is audio but mostly made up of video (You Tube).   We get it – people like to watch and share videos (and TV/movies) on-line.
  7. The Evolution of User Action.  Tha is, how users interact with technology, such as touch or (less so) voice.  We are used to touch on our mobile phones and IPads but  Windows 8 operating system will also be touch activated and other technolgies bound to follow.
  8. Users want to be more In Charge of the experience. As Mike from Microsoft calls it, going from ‘a lean back’ to a ‘lead forward’ experience.  Users like interactive experiences that they can adapt to their own needs/taste.
  9. Just in Time Content.  People want be able access their own information quickly and easily and not have to wade through lots of data/different screens.
  10. Social Media working group presentations tell us that people prefer to talk about and share Positive rather negative stories on-line.   And I have no statistic for this but a colleague recently told me the top (non-serious news) trends on twitter tend to be either A) a hero story  B) about an animal..  so if you have a story about an animal who rescued someone… dog