The role of the User Experience designer is changing. It’s becoming less about ‘owning’ experience and more about facilitation and collaboration. And this means we’re going to have to learn to let go.

What is it with User Experience CVs? UX has never been about simply churning out wireframes and yet that’s what I’m often confronted with. Obviously, a strong portfolio is really important, as is a strong design rationale, but what I always look for, above all else, is quality of communication. And it’s because our role is changing. UX is becoming less about deliverables and more about facilitation. And here’s why.

The move toward agile development has seen the uneasy joining of two processes that don’t necessarily complement each other – Agile and UCD. The problem lies in a differing methodology definition between the two disciplines. To developers, iterative means incremental growth, while to designers it means multi-revision and honing of the design – and as a result, the processes conflict.

For the two disciplines to effectively complement one another, we need to be more collaborative. The trouble is that in reality, people often don’t know how to. And while small or single person teams will always exist and produce some great work, the need for collaboration is much more apparent in the larger teams demanded by today’s increasingly complex digital challenges. The problem is, in bigger teams the transfer of knowledge slows down and learning becomes harder through a mix of understandings and perspectives.

I’ve heard of agile projects where people slip into the old mindsets of work being passed down the conveyor belt of the linear development process. And working in silos, they forget to collaborate. This way, great design intent becomes lost in the complexities of build and timings, with the end result rarely being fully true to the original ambitions.

I’ve also heard various cycles of talk around UX coding or Development doing UX. Or even arguments for keeping the two separate due to the different mindsets required. I actually think the truth lies somewhere in between. But there’s no escaping the fact that UX really do need to understand the nuances of the technology they are designing for.

Equally as important, Development needs to recognise the psychological and cultural factors, interaction designs and – perhaps even more importantly – the power that emotional engagement can play.

Couple all this with the myriad of devices, screens and technologies we are designing and it becomes glaringly obvious that it cannot be done alone. No one person can effectively combine their specialist skills and knowledge and take on all these other roles too – no matter how T-shaped, Z-shaped or whatever alphabet shape they might be.

So, while interdisciplinary knowledge is invaluable, specialist roles bring specific skills that the practicalities of projects will always require. Yes, UX will still design, but I really don’t see that as the only core skill any more. I wouldn’t want my design team creating deliverables in isolation. I’d want them to be talking to people, to be encouraging, challenging and educating – both other team members and clients – and getting them involved too. This way we can break away from the constraints of conventional thinking and be more iconoclastic in our approach.

So what is the role of UXD going forward? Well, I believe it will be one of a communicator, an educator and above all a facilitator. It will be about possessing the right skills, learnings and passion to recognise and bring together the separate strands of knowledge required to collaborate and solve design problems effectively. Together.

I see the role continuing to unearth insights into the behaviours we are designing for. But I also see it as connecting the dots between the various research silos that inevitably exist, especially in larger more heterogenous environments. We’ll also need to work together with analytics for a better understanding of both the ‘what’ and ‘why’, and then feed these learnings back through clear principles and visualised forms to help communicate meaning and create shared models of understanding.

Our role will become more and more about helping facilitate the design process by building creative environments and then utilising methods in which we all learn from one another to explore our experience design concepts together, through the perspectives of culture, context and technology.

So, as I sift through my latest batch of CVs, I’m not just looking for a great eye for design, but the wider research, synthesis, communication and facilitation skills that will enable project teams at TH_NK to be ever more successful. And if we all work together and learn from one another, we can take our industry to the next level.

This article by Lee featured in .net on 10th August 2011

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