Right now it’s a shit show for UX people but I say — hold tight. The thing that is destroying UX may very well be it’s savior.
After a career that spans over 10 years, in various job roles within the UX gamut, I have noticed a steady trend that I find not just disturbing, but depressing and even anger inducing. I am not the first to notice it, but I write this not to just reiterate it for the sake of relevance, but to offer a possible glimpse to what happens after the trend is over.
I’ve been around since the beginning. I have, at one time, sold “internet pages” to companies who did not know what the internet was yet. I popped a bottle of champagne with fellow colleagues, believing I was going to be a millionaire, only to watch the early internet industry crash and the company go out of business a few weeks later. A website for a music band that I created entirely out of Macromedia Flash was nominated for a Webby. I have been a UI Specialist, a UX Designer, and a UX Researcher. I have a Masters in Human to Computer Interaction, a Bachelor of Arts in English and Communications, a Bachelor of Science in Programming, and more certifications then I care to list. I have worked on projects for some amazing clients such as Reuters, PBS, Disney.
Throughout my entire career, my north star was always the same — Create a user experience that benefits the user in order to create revenue for the business. If you are in the UX field, and I am guessing you are because you are reading this, then you know this is no longer the case. Product folk seem to have a different north star — Make the shortest path to producing revenue for the company by creating the longest path for the user. In other words, make it so hard for them to cancel their account, to downgrade, or even get real help, that they give up. And, this path has been working.
It works because stakeholders can’t “see” the delight a user has and even if they did, they themselves are not delighted by it. Let’s face it, showing the revenue from a delightful experience has always been a challenge. They can, however, see a new feature a programmer developed and the money that feature makes because that feature means a new subscription tier. They can see the profit graph go up every time a product makes it harder for a user to quit that product. The programming guys get to program, the product guys get to make presentations to show the stakeholders, the stakeholders rejoice and give out bonuses. The UX person? That’s the guy fighting for the user that induces eye rolls and then is removed from projects by taking away the budget to do their job and then they either quit or are let go.
And right now, UX people are talking about it because that’s what we UX folks like to do. We talk about it, we analyze it, we research what to do next. Right now, there is a party going on and the UX folk are not invited. We are grieving together and venting together and giving advice to each other on what to do next. My advice? I believe that just as the business machine is causing the UX field harm, it will eventually, be it’s savior.
The business machine has one job — make money. Frustrated users are making money for the business machine right now. BUT, that frustration creates opportunity. Frustrated users mean that when they give up trying to cancel their membership, they start looking for alternatives. We are already seeing apps that help people unsubscribe automatically. Where one business causes pain, another will provide the remedy and both will do it in the name of profit. This tilts the scales and one day, when one business is making money by helping people cancel their account from another business, a new strategy will be needed. That strategy will involve regaining the trust of users, it will mean more transparency and more focus on the user’s needs. It will need UX once again.
So what do you do while waiting for the pendulum to swing? Treat yourself like a business and change strategy. One way I can think of is to start making connections with venture capitalists, start attending business incubation meetups, start visiting sites where business pitches are being made. These are the new businesses that will be taking on the old. Another is to take advantage of AI because it is coming on at a fantastic time for UX people. Make some connections and have AI write a program that scans online agreements and lists out any warnings. Create an app that auto answers company customer service lines to get to a live person. In other words — UX THE PROBLEM.
I hope you leave comments on what you plan to do, or what your take is on this new scenario. I can’t wait to read them and, more importantly, what you collectively come up with to help each other. As corny as this is, I will always believe — UX FOREVER. ❤️