Having been immersed in a design career for over a decade, I’ve witnessed how much rapid innovation has changed my job and the design landscape. As technology offers more tools that make design work faster, it has become clear that a designer’s main goal is to answer the question: “How can we make this experience – any experience – better?”
I’ve been involved with User Experience since its infancy and have seen the desired skillset for designers shift from depth to breadth. Now the industry wants ‘jack of all trades’ designers who know visual design, interaction design, research, and more. How does that affect those of us immersed in the industry and those just entering it?
My Path to UX
I started at Blackberry as a visual designer, working on various interface elements, themes, and icons. Over the years, my role changed and I started leading design efforts encompassing entire operating systems, including PlayBook OS and BlackBerry 10. This continued when I founded and led the team that built Firefox OS at Mozilla.
In that time, you can imagine how my skills changed from from icons to entire experiences. But, the evolution of ‘designer’ didn’t end with everyone designing bigger experiences.
“Hey, there’s no FireFox OS anymore…”
Every industry starts off with many approaches to the same problem, which causes a proliferation of products until standardization happens. In mobile, the vast majority of devices are either iOS and Android – not Palm, Blackberry, or Windows. Android and iOS are different, but they’re actually pretty similar in aesthetic and interaction patterns.
Today, digital tools for product creation are more accessible than ever. End users understand and expect common conventions as the technology we build for has reached its maturity. On your phone, you know you’re going to find search at the top of a list.
Aesthetic details are not what makes a product stand out when the trend is standardization. A product’s design stands out when it solves a relevant problem for its users, appearing effortless.
Today’s UI = No UI
Design roles have moved from focusing on small execution details to providing input on the bigger picture. Designers need to know the business value behind every choice made and remain in the loop on new technologies.
When you design ‘experiences’ it means more than just illustrating screens, as today’s landscape moves to include the ‘internet of things’, wearables, VR, vocal interfaces, and chatbots.
A ‘UX’ or ‘Product’ designer can’t even remain focused on one medium (screen, voice, etc). You need to keep an open mind about how you can best solve a problem – it isn’t always a new app.
As I continue to work to evolve the course I design and teach at Bitmaker, I push students to be problem solvers. UX and product design is about imagining the best solutions and bringing them into reality.