Suddenly, everyone is buying UX tools and looking for UX designers (the field is expected to grow by 60% over 10 years). You have to wonder why.
For a term that didn’t exist before 1993 (when Don Norman coined the term at Apple Computer), “user experience” (UX) has shown enormous growth. Companies that provide the tools for creating user interfaces (like Progress Telerik) exist because of the demand for creating great user experiences. I wrote a course on UX Design that’s been running for over 10 years and the number of people taking that course just keeps growing and growing.
Obviously, the companies that are purchasing these tools and sending their people to my course (and courses like it) think UX matters. This shows up in predictions for growth in the field. The Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) estimates that there were 1 million “UX designers” in the world in 2017 and expects that to grow to 100 million by 2050. If that sounds extraordinary, remember that there were only about 10,000 people doing what could be called UX design in 1990, so 1 million people in 2017 already reflects a growth factor of 10,000 in less than 30 years.
But … that 100 million by 2050 still seems high, though not by much. CNN Money predicted that the demand for user interface (UI) designers to grow by 27% over the ten years beginning in 2017. That’s great all by itself, but CNN Money also expects, separate from “UI designers,” for the demand for “user experience designers” to grow by 13% and for “user experience researchers” to grow by 19% (I’ll do the math: that’s a 60% growth over just 10 years).
But don’t take the experts’ word for it: Look at actual job postings.
I live in a small city that’s about 120 miles south of Toronto, Ontario, in Canada. On Glassdoor.com, right now, in Toronto alone, there are just over 250 job postings that reference UX or UI design. For over 100 of those postings, the only requirement is UI/UX design (and about 50 of those postings are still open 30+ days after posting because the supply can’t keep up with the demand).
These companies are voting with their wallets because they think UX design isn’t a luxury. They think it’s a necessity.
So the obvious question about this demand is “Why?” The answer is: Because we’ve given up on trying to design our users.
In the bad old days, the first thing we did in building an application was to design the database. Because we’d adopted object-oriented programming, the next thing we did was build the objects to manage the data in the database. Then, on top of that foundation, we built the objects that delivered the application’s user interface.
When all that building was done, we then inflicted the application on our users and (surprise!) discovered they couldn’t use it. These applications made perfect sense to the developers—but they were people who didn’t do the job that the application was supposed to support. These applications didn’t make sense to the people who actually did the job and were supposed to use them.
What did we do? We trained our users. You can think of “training” as “designing users to work with our application.”
So the answer to the question of “Why is UX growing so much?” is: We can’t keep designing users for our applications.
In those bad old days, we built applications that were used only by other employees of our company (or our clients or the companies that bought our software). That was a relatively small number of people and, as a result, organizations were willing to allocate the time and money required for that training.
Now we build applications that will be used by our customers or our business partners. There isn’t enough money in the world to train all those people to use our applications (or, for that matter, enough time). Plus, of course, those customers and business partners have no desire to give up their time to be trained. I first ran across this problem 25 years ago when the company I worked for considered rolling out a system to the independent dealers who sold our company’s products. One dealer put it succinctly: he told us he didn’t have the time to learn our “silly-ass” system.
Since we can no longer design our users to work with our applications, we must design our applications to work for our users.
And that’s why UX design is vital.
Next up: Design Systems for Developers—what are they, how can they help and how do you start one?
Peter Vogel is a system architect and principal in PH&V Information Services. PH&V provides full-stack consulting from UX design through object modeling to database design. Peter also writes courses and teaches for Learning Tree International.
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