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Why now is the right time to become a UX designer

By Christian Vasile | Business | Sep 12, 2013

In recent years, user experience design has become a popular topic in the web design community, with discussions focussing on successful examples of good UX design.

With regard to websites, the term covers all aspects of a user’s experience within a particular site. In other words, the visual layout, information architecture, usability, graphics, user interaction: everything. User interface design and HCI, or Human Computer Interaction are both included in UX.

UX design has its roots in the late 1940s as machines become both more complex and more prevalent in daily life, but it was in the 1990s that the concept of user experience design was named and popularized in relation to computer use.

It is a multi-disciplinary field, covering aspects of sociology, psychology, graphic and industrial design, and cognitive science.

 

A good time for UX

The main reason why now is a great time to be a user experience designer is because companies are putting an increasing emphasis upon it.

There is no better place to see the impact of good user experience approach than in your nearest Apple Store; every detail has been considered, and nothing is there by chance. If you have ever been in one of these stores, you will know that feeling that hits you as you walk in: you feel safe, you feel good. High quality technology surrounds you, help is on hand should you need it, and you can play with all these great devices that people talk about. You don’t even have to queue at a till to pay.

Strictly speaking this is retail experience design at work, but the principle is the same, as is the result. Who wouldn’t rather buy their computer from a lovely, glossy Apple Store than Wal-Mart or Best Buy?

To look at an example of successful UX design online, Amazon’s 1-Click Checkout process had a massive impact by increasing conversion rates. Users’ buying experience was improved and Amazon reaped the rewards.

Examples like these have pushed companies to hire, or at least consult, UX designers to help improve their customers’ experiences. Sometimes a complete overhaul is needed, sometimes it means working on the details.

User experience is about making sure your customers have the best experience possible when using your product, and that can mean offering something different, unique or even familiar and comforting depending on what’s appropriate.

 

Why now?

So why are companies investing more and more in this area now and not five years ago? The reason is simple: more and more companies are competing in the same markets and developing similar products, so they need an edge.

Let’s look at Apple again. Samsung, HTC and others developed smartphones which can compete the iPhone on various levels so Apple needed a means to stay ahead. They did so by concentrating on UX including the interface, the App and iTunes stores and their physical shops.

Customers start noticing the attention to detail. Having a good phone is nice, but customers have started demanding more. They want the experience of buying to be enjoyable, particularly when it comes to more expensive items.

There is another, also very simple reason why more and more companies are prepared to invest in UX: it works. Seeing others achieve success with good UX design makes companies willing to spend the money on making changes.

Larger firms have full-time UX designers, or even an entire department with a CXO (Chief Experience Officer), while smaller firms may be more likely to hire consultants as and when they are needed. Regardless of size, UX design becomes an important part of their branding strategy.

 

Solid UX means innovation

It is important to add that good UX design does not only mean happier customers, it often means bringing something new to the table, something that no one else has thought of. Amazon were the first to implement, and patent, a 1-Click checkout process. There was no simple mobile interface until the first iPhone was released. Tablets had been around for some time before Apple released the first iPad, but Apple created a reason to buy one.

The fact that Apple is one of the most innovative companies around, and is one of the best examples of good UX design is no coincidence. And the fact that some of the most popular UX concepts are from hugely successful companies is no coincidence either.

This shows how much difference attention to detail can make. The companies who invested in UX early are now enjoying the full benefit of their high risk, high reward approach.

 

How is this good for you?

You don’t have to be a genius to work this out: UX designers are in demand. Just a quick search for UX on any reputable job or feelancer site and you will get hundreds of relevant results. In fact most web design jobs on offer at the moment include the term UX somewhere in the description.

Another point to keep in mind is that the number of skills required is increasing, while team sizes are decreasing. This may at first appear to be a negative, but there is another way to look at it: In order to be a UX designer, you need to already be a graphic, web, or multimedia designer; you can’t start your career from scratch and become a UX designer in a day. You need broader experience in design in order to specialize in UX, which means that good UX designers have more than one skill. Luckily enough, job postings make it clear that designers with multiple skills are the ones in demand.

These days graphic designers are expected to be able to code at least a little, and web designers are expected to be able to handle backend development. The more skills you have the better your prospects are, and if you can add UX design to the list they get better again.

 

The bottom line

Demand is high at the moment but so is competition. Becoming a good UX designer is not the easy option, but it is rewarding. Because it is a field that encompasses several others, different projects will put emphasis on different skills. And those individual skills, such as coding or graphics, will always be useful in their own right.

If you haven’t already, perhaps it’s time to make a start. Try looking at the work in your own portfolio from a UX perspective. Consider the user experience for every piece of work you do from now on, and you’ll be on your way. 

 

Do you include UX on your résumé? Do Apple represent good UX? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, 1940s computer image via James Vaughan.

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  • Don

    Apple, Apple, Apple, Apple…

    They are so good at UX. It’s maddening. haha. :) Great Article.

  • zzzz

    Oh good, another UX article that only references Apple and Amazon.

  • Map

    Oh good, Apple, Apple, Apple, Apple, Great Article.

  • James

    Yeah I think it is safe to say that, in regards to apple, that there are better examples of UX from other companies these days.

    Apple’s success (let’s be real here) has been from excessive marketing, and even then, its success does not stretch far past US shores (a fact many seem to forget).

    Just a thought :)

    • Christian

      You are wrong here. Apple products are extremely popular in Europe as well. Let me give you an example.

      The adoption rate of iPhones in Denmark, is 50% of the market. Considering the fact that Denmark has an ageing population, and that you can’t expect 70-year-olds to have smartphones at a large scale, the adoption rate for people from 13-50 is higher than 80%. The iPhone is also the most expensive phone on the market in Denmark, and still…

      This happens also in other Nordic an European countries (sure, not in Eastern Europe where people don’t have as much money as in the Western part), and it’s not because market efforts. It’s because their phones are easier to use than all other crap that can be found on the market.

      • Dale

        That’s Europe. Europe isn’t as big a difference. Africa, China, Russia, South America… There’s other places besides Europe.

      • Christian

        I didn’t say there are no other places. James said that the iPhone is popular in the US and not much “past the shores”. I just wanted to tell him he is wrong and that he shouldn’t talk without knowing.

        Regarding all the nations that you mentioned (the largest part of Russia with inhabitants is in Europe as well, by the way), not all of them can have phones at all. Not many can afford phones in Africa, so sure they can’t afford iPhones either.

        The new iPhone, 5C, is meant to reach beyond their current market, in countries like China or parts of the world such as South America, so their popularity will only increase.

      • James

        “I just wanted to tell him he is wrong and that he shouldn’t talk without knowing.”

        Sound advice that I think You should take.

      • James

        Sorry Christian – but it is you who are wrong here.

        All sources point to Andriod eclipsing IOS in all markets BUT the US this year. And yes, I have sources to back this up – but a simple google search will provide the info you are looking for. Anecdotal evidence from one country (denmark) is hardly representative of European Market share as a whole. Agreed?

        —————————

        Please see attached info graphic and these sources:

        http://techland.time.com/2013/04/16/ios-vs-android/

        http://www.forbes.com/sites/chuckjones/2013/09/04/apples-iphone-gaining-share-in-u-s-but-dropping-in-europe-and-china/

        http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats/a

        Plus much MUCH more.

        —————————

        I am honestly surprised by this response when the evidence is so easily collected…

        You think Iphone is going to gain market share in China!!!??? Are you crazy? Mate i have a bridge to sell you :P

        (ps – the green is android, pink is iOS. So, how about that!)

    • http://www.paulvandendool.nl/ Paul van den Dool

      In defense of Christian, I think he just meant to say Apple is indeed popular in Europe although numbers might say otherwise. That’s just the cultural difference between the US and Europe. In Europe we handle money differently which makes people buy cheaper phones, Android phones. That doesn’t mean those people don’t secretly envy the people who do walk around with the iPhone 5S.

      • James

        The only people who ‘secretly envy’ those with an iPhone 5S are those with an ‘outdated’ iPhone.

        Know what I am saying? ;)

  • bealzebubba

    I’ve been interested in UX for several years and have not had an easy time finding my way into it. I think the demand for it is dependent upon the market you’re in (NYC, LA, Atlanta, Chicago, wherever)…I’m in Atlanta..which tends to be more corporate-oriented design.. and UX is kind of a hard sell for some clients.

  • Joe Post

    The trouble with UX is anyone can be a “UX Expert” and given the new-ish market demand for said “experts” many Web Devs. and Graphic Designers are re-branding themselves “UX Designers”.

    • Christina Willner

      Completely agree. But the same goes for graphic designers, web designers, marketers, SEO experts etc. you can really call yourself anything when you are a freelancer.

  • Mobile UX sucks

    The Start Button and the
    Taskbar is the best interface for desktop applications, being adopted by
    Windows and Linux. Sandboxed Tabs is the best for browsers, being adopted eventually by all browsers. Ribbon interface is the best for non-professional applications,
    being adopted by MS Office and increasingly by more and more software.
    “Maze”-Google and IBM are the worst interface and UX designers. For
    mobile devices, since the release of Windows 8, flat design is becoming more
    and more popular, because it optimizes battery life. Even Apple will
    adopt it and will abandon the ske… ske… skeuomorphic! look and feel. But, at any
    rate, all UX for mobile devices sucks. Windows 8, being a good OS, has failed
    for trying to copy the rambling UX from Google. Whoever gets to break the trend of maze-like user experience on mobile devices, he will be the one who get the success.

  • Ryan

    What evidence is there to support that Apple practices “UX Design”? Do they conduct user testing? Do they work with personas? Do they start with lo-fi wireframes?

    Just because something turns out well does not mean it followed a UX methodology.

    • Christian

      Ryan, UX is not only about wireframes and user testing. If a products turns out very good, it means it offers good user experience, so it can be taken as a good UX example.

      I am afraid your approach to this matter is wrong. If you launch a product that is as popular as the iPhone is, then it must be thanks to good UX as well. Their Apple Stores are a part of the UX as well. Everything Apple does is good UX because people enjoy it. That’s what good UX means. Wireframes and personas or the way they reach these positive experiences are less important.

      • James

        ” If you launch a product that is as popular as the iPhone is, then it must be thanks to good UX as well.”

        “Wireframes and personas or the way they reach these positive experiences are less important.”

        Ok, I have to know, what are your actual credentials in UX design? All i am seeing is apple-fanboism with little basis in reality. Your remarks to myself earlier regarding smartphone market share displayed a real lack of research in the field, which really makes me wonder: what qualifies you to be discussing this subject in the manner that you are doing so?

  • http://www.paulvandendool.nl/ Paul van den Dool

    Then it’s a good thing UX is much more than just good design, in fact, good design doesn’t even come in the top three of things important about UX. I agree it can be annoying if people will low skill call themselves UI designers, but so are UI designer that call themselves UX designers. So I’m sorry, but your comment as a reaction to this article is misplaced. Jakob Nielson can be considered as one of the best UX designers and he’s probably terrible at design. Being a good designer has little to do with UX and has surely nothing to do with writing an article about it.

    • James

      And I too, am sorry. For your comment is misplaced also. The authors works ARE POOR EXAMPLES OF UX (especially the old portfolio which has since been updated lol).

      If you are going to right an article about something on the internet, you better have some credentials and authority on the subject or you WILL get shot down in flames by people who do.

      Case in point.

      • chad

        LOL if you’re gonna comment and and argue, at least know the difference between “right” and “write” so that you may some somewhat credible yourself.

  • Harry

    Hey Marcus, it’s not cool to comment on someone’s article and disrespect their work. Bet you are not nearly as “naturally talented” at UI design as you think you are, which is indeed good for the other designers, but quite bad for you. By the way, the author’s work is quite nice, and the article is a positive invitation for others to get involved in working toward better user experiences. Beat it, Marcus.

  • Joe

    A couple corrections to your article:

    1. UX is a sub-field of HCI, not the other way around. In fact, UX is simply the conflation study of usability and human experiential qualities.

    2. UX as a field of study emerged sometime in the 90s.

  • Masqara

    Please let us have your thoughts about this non-profit hard working initiator in UX Talks – https://www.facebook.com/UXSaturdayWithWahid

  • Christina Willner

    I understand that Amazon were some of the first to really take UX seriously… but am I they only one that thinks Amazon’s usability really stinks? Just because you are doing a lot of UX stuff, doesn’t mean you are doing it well. I am looking at you too Google!

  • http://www.adesignaward.com/designer.php?profile=115316 Jaeryong Lee

    Is there anybody to explain how to Apple suggested people to buy iPad than others? Even Apple released late.? Please let me know :-)

  • http://www.adesignaward.com/designer.php?profile=115316 Jaeryong Lee

    oh…