Andy Budd on the rise of user experience

This article first appeared in issue 225 of .net magazine the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

When Andy Budd, Jeremy Keith and Richard Rutter decided to found a British company devoted specifically to user experience in 2005, they were taking a big gamble. “It was a relatively new term then,” reveals Budd. “It was something that was really being pioneered in the States. We hadn’t met any other UX people in the UK. There were lots of usability testing companies, but no user experience companies.”

The early years for Clearleft were an uphill struggle, Budd recalls. “For the first four years, we were pitching against agencies who’d be charging half as much as we did, because we’d be doing all this research and discovery whereas they’d just be jumping straight into design. And clients didn’t really get why we couldn’t just open up Photoshop and start designing things.”

But they were persistent. “We kept on pushing on it, getting better clients and increasing the engagement we had with them. And after three or four years, they stopped asking what this UX thing was and started requesting it.”

In the last couple of years, the tables have turned: there’s been a sea of change in attitudes to user experience across the industry, and consultancies like Clearleft have become massively in demand. “Now every client’s coming to us looking for UX expertise,” Budd smiles. “Companies have suddenly realised they need this higher level skill if they’re going to push their site forward, if they’re going to be converting more visitors.”

But while in general that’s a happy situation, it’s causing problems of its own.

“At the moment we’re in a position where we can’t fill the demand,” Budd reveals. “There aren’t enough good UX practitioners around to hire.” And he worries that this is leading to a dilution in the quality of practitioners across the industry, damaging the profession as a whole.

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