How to keep UX design from becoming a commodity exercise

'The UX designer of the future is going to have to transform and grow into something different if they want to continue to have a say in product decisions.'

A couple of interesting perspectives on user experience (UX) design recently emerged across the industry blogosphere, coming to different conclusions. One UX design advocate suggests UX design capabilities make the difference in the competitive marketplace. At the same time, another advocate suggests the time has passed when design was embraced for design's sake, and that it needs to start showing its value to the business.

Photo: Joe McKendrick

In a recent post, Kolby McElvain suggests that a "designer needs to be your first hire." Her remarks are directed at startups, but her points make sense across organizations of all sizes and ages. "Having a designer by your side as soon as possible will increase your business's chances for success and make a profound impact across your brand and culture, presentation of ideas, and product experience."

At the same time, Jonathan Courtney penned an article suggesting the "golden age of UX is over." He says this golden age lasted between 2010 and 2017 -- "we were the UX designers and we alone understood the user," he says. Now, he adds, "high-quality UX and UI design are commodities. An easy-to-use, delightful product experience isn't just something users want, it's what they expect."

For her part, McElvain suggests superior UX design still makes for competitive differentiation for enterprises, based on the following points:

UX design affects brand and culture. "Design thinking and research can help you craft your company's story by using methods that take a 30,000-foot view of everything and allow you to align project work with the company mission and drive company culture," says McElvain. "A designer can play a critical role in the planning of your strategic decisions and culture building while also helping to execute on the higher-level work."

UX design shapes the presentation of ideas."You may not be the only company out there doing what you do, so allow design to elevate your company ideas and catch your potential client's attention. Design can help by taking a holistic, human-centered approach to understanding to the customer journey and how the information is presented to them."

UX design affects the product experience. "People want user-devoted, frictionless experiences in their interactions with technology, and design plays a huge role in making sure your users are satisfied," McElvain says. "Processes like design sprints and user testing allow designers to get into the mind of the end user and reflect a solution in a clean, easy-to-understand manner. A designer can understand patterns, know what has been done before, and understand how to evolve that into a new solution that will make your product more valuable than its competitor."

Courtney offers the following words of advice for keeping UX design on the cutting edge of what businesses need:

UX designers need to understand the business as much as the user. "Beautiful UI and lovely, delightful animations are a given, it's easy for UX designers, once considered an integral part of the product strategy, to fall into pure production roles," says Courtney. "Production roles, even those requiring high levels of skill, are always easier to replace and automate than strategic ones, so the UX designer of the future is going to have to transform and grow into something different if they want to continue to have a say in product decisions."

UX designers need to understand the product strategy. UX designers need to grasp how the product they're working on "connect to the other products and services within the company."

UX designers understand what fuels growth. "When you understand the growth metrics and strategies for the product you work on, you're going to be able to create solutions that not only delight your users, but help push the business in the right direction."

UX designers understand marketing and awareness. "It is crucial to have a basic grasp of the concept and the current state of marketing as a topic if you want to be a useful member of a product team," says Courtney.

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