UX Immersion: Great Time to Be Designer

by Luke Wroblewski April 24, 2012

In his It's a Great Time to Be Designer presentation at UX Immersion, Jared Spool talked about the reasons why designers are in high demand today and what skills that and their organizations need to deliver great experience design. Here's my notes from his talk:

  • There are 22 fake Apple stores in Kunming, China. From the wall decorations to the employee badges, everything has been copied. In the US, Microsoft and Barnes & Noble have copied the Apple store design as well.
  • Apple stores make 17x the revenue of an average mall store. 2x as much as Tiffany’s.
  • The experience being copied has been designed to extraordinary detail. It’s the design that’s creating value and being copied.
  • The pebble watch has raised over six million dollars on Kickstarter. The Nest thermostat sold out its first production run in a few days. Square is using design to rethink the finance industry. Mainstream business magazines are writing about the need for designers.
  • People at the boardroom and level are paying attention the value of design. Experience design is more mission critical than ever before.
  • It’s a great time to be a designer.

Experience Design

  • When technology first comes out, if it works is what matters most. When everyone can make it work, people compete on features. After features, technologies compete on experience (less features but the ones that matter).
  • The 6 Flags experience is about going on rides –there are 48 on the map of the 6 Flags amusement park. Disney does not explicitly call out all their rides on their map. Why?
  • Six flags thinks in terms of activities. Disney thinks through the gaps in between the activities -the total experience. This costs more money, requires more training, and takes more time but it creates an overall experience.
  • UberCab has rethought the experience of hailing a cab (which is hard to do). It makes use of geo-location, phone capabilities, and maps on mobile devices to transform the entire experience of getting a cab.
  • Activity vs. experience: differences are becoming more pronounced. People are getting big wins by focusing on experiences instead of just activities.
  • Agile development is not a chaotic process for shipping things quickly. It’s a way to re-envision what the design process should be.
  • Mobile is a wedge to put into the business that forces user experience to the forefront.
  • It’s much less expensive to produce things than ever before. Expectations, however, are high so we need to release quality out the gate.

Being a Designer

  • What does it mean to be a designer these days?
  • Lean UX: is about asking one question over and over again. “Are we getting closer to a better user experience?” Get things out quick, learn from them, and try again. This has been part of design since the 1980s. People are ready for it now.
  • Be careful what you ask for –you might get it.
  • If we want teams to build great experiences, we need different skills like copy writing, information architecture, design process management, user research practices. And understanding of technology, roi, social networks, marketing, analytics, business knowledge, story telling, and more.
  • Though the number of skills required is increasing, the number of people on teams is decreasing. We can no longer compartmentalize. We all need to cover more than one skill.
  • The economics in most companies don’t support specialists. They need generalists. Even specialists have general skills they trained over years before specializing in a particular area.
  • Not every company can afford to hire specialists. Regional economics drive specialization. It only exists when there is enough demand. In fact, in very high demand economies only specialists can survive. It should be noted that specialization is not compartmentalization. Specialists have the breadth of skills across their entire discipline but the bulk of their experience is within their specialty.
  • Designers need to be careful not to compartmentalize themselves.
  • Don’t have specialists do what they are best at, have them teach it to others. Teaching what you do makes you better at it.
  • Designers that code can create prototypes know what’s possible in development and can better communicate with developers. Knowing to code makes them a better designer.
  • “I really want to do strategy” is the new “I want to direct”. But design is about making things. Good strategy is about knowing how to make things.

Within Organizations

  • Most products grow by adding features. A release 1 product usually comes out with only a features, then a few get added in 1.5, then 2, and so on. Eventually over time things get really complicated. Lots of features add up to complexity. At this point, you notice most features aren’t used.
  • The next release should only include the features that matter. This is the shift from features to experience. It is usually a competitor that releases this version. They figure out matters and release a cheaper version with less features but a better experience.
  • Experience rot: happens when you keep adding features and experience quality goes down.
  • This is a cycle that happens over and over again. Some organizations get this. Others don’t.
  • If a system is hard to use, maintain, or sell –there will be frustration. If you can pinpoint where the frustration is, you can push experience design by addressing known frustration points.
  • Frustration can be found in: lost revenue from missed sales, additional expenses from added support, added expenses from re-doing things, and expenses from building things no one is using.
  • Doing great experience design is expensive so you need to understand executive priorities in order to get it funded. Executives care about: increase in revenue, decrease costs, increase market share (new customers), increase business from existing customers, and increase shareholder value (this is measured on long term growth).
  • Unconscious incompetence: when you don’t know that your design decisions are causing problems.
  • Conscious incompetence: you realize you don’t know what you are doing.
  • Conscious competence: you know what you need to do and are actively learning/doing it. You need to think about what you are at every step of the way.
  • Unconscious competence: you know what you are doing and don’t need to think about it.
  • Most organizations are in a state of conscious incompetence. We need to help them move up the progression.
  • Good design judgments come from experience. Experience comes from making bad judgments.
  • When extraordinary design is embedded in your culture, great things happen.