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The new UX skills

The role of the user experience designer is changing. It’s becoming less about ‘owning’ experience and actual design and more about facilitation and collaboration, says Lee Allen of TH_NK

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 that’s becoming more important as our role is changing. UX is becoming less about deliverables and more about facilitation. And here’s why.

The move towards Agile development has seen the uneasy joining of two processes that don’t necessarily complement each other: Agile and UCD (user-centred design). The problem lies in two very different outlooks. 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 truth, people don’t always know how. Often, 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 a linear development process. This way, great design intent becomes lost in the complexities of build and timings, with the end result rarely being true to the original ambitions.

So what’s the solution? Well, for a start, UX designers need to understand the nuances of
the technology they are designing for. Equally importantly, developers need to recognise the psychological and cultural factors, interaction designs and, perhaps even more importantly, the power that emotional engagement can play.

We must specialise

Couple all this with the myriad of devices and technologies we are designing for and it becomes obvious that it can’t be done alone. No one person can effectively combine their specialist skills and knowledge and take on all these other roles too.

So, while interdisciplinary knowledge is invaluable, specialist roles bring specific skills that the practicalities of projects will always require. Yes, UX designers 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.

So what is the role of the UX designer going forward? I believe it will be one of a communicator, an educator and, above all, a facilitator. It will be about possessing the right skills and the passion 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. 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 to help communicate meaning and create shared models of understanding.

Our role will become more about helping to facilitate the design process by building creative environments and then utilising methods in which we all learn from one another.

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 originally appeared in issue 217 of .net magazine - the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

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