An Event Apart: Great Time To Be a UX Designer

by Luke Wroblewski April 2, 2013

In his It's a Great Time to Be UX Designer presentation at An Event Apart Seattle WA 2013, Jared Spool talked about the reasons why designers are in high demand today and what skills they and their organizations need to deliver great experience design. Here's my notes from his talk:

  • There are 41 imitation Apple stores in Kunming, China copied down to the last detail. In North America, Microsoft and Barnes & Noble have done the same.
  • Why is everyone copying Apple’s stores? Last year Apple stores had 120 million shoppers. Apple stores earned 17 times more than the average mall store: $6,050 per square foot.
  • Every aspect of the Apple store is designed -it is all intentional.
  • Design is the rendering of intent.
  • Similarly, Samsung lost a billion dollar lawsuit to Apple when they copied many aspects of the iPhone design.
  • Imitation is intentional as well.
  • Innovation is the creation of value. Imitation is trying to take it from others.
  • Why do people imitate? It’s less risky and less expensive. Innovation has high costs and high risk.
  • Organizations that tend toward imitation don’t tend to value design. They don’t have senior design teams or leaders. Innovative companies view design as a competitive advantage and invest accordingly.

Disrupting Experiences

  • The newspaper industry used to make lots of money from classified ads. Craig’s List killed this market. And now AirBnB is disrupting Craig’s List. Square is disrupting the payment industry. ZipCar disrupted the car rental industry. And the list goes on.
  • The innovative route is where the big payoff is.
  • Cirque Du Soleil made a design decision to remove animal acts from the circus. This reduced transportation and animal care costs and allowed them to cater to more affluent adult audiences. Instead the spent the money on better performers, music, etc. Since kids weren't coming, they could charge more money and serve alcohol. They now make more money each night than all of Broadway does every night. They did this with design.
  • Design is not about the visual. Design is about the business.
  • By owning their own stores, Apple controls retail, distribution, and product. They take 100% of profits instead of only 40%

Filling in the Gaps with Intent

  • Products break. How do we map out the journey from frustration to delight?
  • Innovation is adding value where there wasn’t any before.
  • Apple put Genius bars in their retail stores that allowed people to make appointments which brought them back to the stores when their products broke where they shopped again while waiting.
  • Intuit designed a mobile application that automatically files taxes by simply scanning the contents of a W2 form. This drastically changes the experience of filing taxes.
  • GE painted MRI machines to look like pirate ships and fun scenes to make getting an MRI less scary for children. The rate of children that needed to be sedated went from 80% to 0.01%
  • Experiences can be mapped, measured, and designed. You need to map out the experience so you can understand and design it.
  • Experience design is rendering intent in the gaps. That’s where the big money is and the competitive edge.
  • Who gets to figure out where those gaps are? Designers.

The Making of a Great Design Team

  • Designers are in high demand across the World. There’s over 150,000 designer jobs currently open in the US alone.
  • Be careful what you ask for, lest it become true. For years, designers have been asking for recognition. Now they have it and they need to deliver value.
  • What skills do design teams need: information architecture, copy writing, design process management, copy writing, user research practices, interaction design, information design, visual design, marketing, analytics, ROI calculations, social design, ethnographic research, editing and curation.
  • Jared’s team interviewed hiring managers and asked what the best designers in their teams did: tell stories, critiquing, present effectively, facilitate meeting and align people.
  • 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. Compartmentalists are only experts in one area.
  • The future is about UX generalists: designers that have more than one skill. These people are UX designers but they’re often called “unicorns” because they are hard to find.
  • How to become a design unicorn: pick one subject, learn it deeply, and practice over and over again, deconstruct as many designs as possible, actively seek out feedback from others, and try to teach others.
  • The unicorn's is design's most important innovation. It’s a great time to be a designer.
  • Check out Jared's Unicorn Institute for more.