Product Design is overtaking UX, and it’s because we’re in a weak economy

Understanding why UX is not enough and three ways to augment your skills

A woman with her elbows on the table and hands under her head, looking pensively at another person holding a piece of paper that says Resume
Photo by Anna Shvets:

My job title recently changed to Senior Product Designer instead of Senior UX Designer, and it’s part of a trend I’ve been seeing everywhere.

There’s a rallying cry that’s occurring right now, which is that “UX is Dying, and Product Design is going to replace it.”

My reaction to that is a “Well, kind of.” Unfortunately, the harsh truth is that UX Design alone is no longer enough to guarantee a good (and high-paying) job.

However, people are missing the point of why. It’s not a fundamental shift in business culture: we’re in a weak economy.

In this sort of environment, more than UX is needed. We need to offer additional value for companies to pay our salary.

Here are three paths UX Designers can take to augment their skills in this environment.

UX doesn’t do well in weak economies, especially with tech layoffs

UX design (and research) are fields that suffer from recessions and weak economies.

This is because the one primary reason: UX is future-looking most of the time. So whether it’s developing a new feature or redesigning an existing one, UX design promises happier users once the time is invested, along with effort and money, to change something existing.

However, when businesses struggle to keep their lights on, that thinking seems like a luxury. Don’t get me wrong: UX has a high Return on Investment (ROI) in the long run. However, when the business has two options to keep the lights on:

  1. Design and develop some innovative and crucial new products that might bring in a ton of new customers
  2. Cut costs, and fire anyone that doesn’t directly increase sales now

It’s no surprise that many businesses choose to go with the second option. Despite how many businesses preach long-term thinking, UX jobs (which guarantee results in the long run) are often the first to go as a result.

So it’s no surprise that many UX folks are looking for jobs. However, with ample UX job-seekers and weak demand from businesses, the question becomes: how do you separate yourself from the crowd and show businesses you have additional value?

So here are the three most common paths UX professionals can take to make themselves stronger job candidates.

Product designer: Augmenting UX with Business knowledge

Product Design has become famous for UX professionals because it’s a natural extension of what UX does and gives us more responsibility around the Product.

One of the innovations from startups has been the creation of the “Product Trio.” In her book Continuous Discovery Habits, Teresa Torres talks about the three members core to any Product Team:

  • Product Owners/Managers who make decisions based on the business needs
  • Product Designers, who are making decisions about usability and the user experience
  • Engineers who are making decisions based on technical workload and feasibility

Product Designers, like UX Designers, must be aware of user needs and the experience the product offers. However, they must go one step further and include the context for Engineering and Managers. For example, how the Product is successfully used in real life, what specific interaction models are used, and how the user fits into the business context.

Product Designers conduct User research and design to understand user needs, translate business needs, understand the overall journey, and more.

Businesses recognize that UX is often their competitive advantage. However, it’s often tough to justify the paycheck of a UX Designer who does nothing but UX. This is why UX adopting the business side of things is a natural extension of our skills.

Some examples of skills that you might learn to be a more effective product designer include:

There is a lot of overlap with some UX activities we already do, but an emphasis on others we might have yet to consider. However, this is not the only path available to UX professionals: there is also an exciting up-and-coming field called Data-Informed UX Design.

Data-informed UX Designer: Improving UX with existing data

I’ve written a book about this path, similar to being a Product Designer in many ways. However, one key difference is that while Product Designers are often involved in understanding more of the business, Data-Informed UX Designers are about improving your UX process through data that often already exists.

Whether it’s looking at Google Analytics data that your company already generates, examining the annual customer survey it publishes, or incorporating more data collection into your user testing, Data-Informed UX Designers use data to ask better questions, prioritize decisions, and persuade your team.

While this trend started with things like Mixed Method UX Researchers Data-Informed (or Data-Driven), UX Design is becoming increasingly popular. From Data-driven Design courses, articles, and more, learning this will distinguish you from the crowd.

One of the reasons it often addresses a “weakness” that many businesses mistakenly have about user research: it doesn’t scale, and it’s hard to calculate the impact. If 3 out of the five users made this error, it’s hard for them to tell what that means.

However, suppose you can link bad analytics (like a 70% abandonment rate on a page) to user research (users often close out of the page once they make this error). In that case, everything becomes much more evident to your team.

Some examples of skills you may want to learn include:

  • Understanding how to read and work with analytics
  • Understanding KPIs and their purposes
  • Learning to collect relevant user data (Average time on task, etc.)
  • Data Visualization and its uses
  • Understanding how to present Data to stakeholders
  • Etc

While this is an emerging field, it helps make UX more effective and teaches you skills to augment your visual design (like Data Visualization). If you like to learn more, check out my book.

Lastly, if you want to stay purely in UX, there is still a demand for it. Moreover, it might exist in fields you might need to learn about.

Complex UX: Doing UX with a willingness to learn

The age of simple products (like Ubereats) requiring drastic UX changes is mostly over. Not only do businesses know that they need UX Design: it’s often their competitive advantage.

However, more complex products desperately need good UX, and often, they only need good UX Design. These fields might include:

  • FinTech (Financial Technology)
  • HealthTech (Healthcare Technology)
  • Federal UX
  • Enterprise UX
  • B2B UX
  • etc.

These fields often have complex problems and contexts around them (including legal and organizational hurdles), or they operate on a massive scale, so small UX changes can often yield incredible results.

For example, saving a user two clicks might not seem like a big deal, but it’s essential when the user goes through that process 10,000 times a month.

However, I’ve learned from environments like this that you will not know everything: you can’t. So you will always be lacking some context, and that’s fine. For example, you don’t need to understand the difference between SNMP trap, Syslog, and Flow Data on your first meeting to be able to tell that there’s a pain point toggling between different types of data.

Part of entering these fields is getting used to not knowing everything about the subject but still being able to spot UX problems. The most important thing is always to listen for use cases, opportunities for improvement or pain points, and more, even if you need help understanding all the technical details.

In any case, the fundamentals of UX haven’t (and won’t change).

UX is still necessary, but there should be other things you offer.

UX is important, and that will never change.

However, the best analogy for this is that UX is like a slice of lasagna. That slice of lasagna on the plate used to be good enough. For some, it still might be.

In this economy, though, a plain slice of lasagna becomes less and less appealing. So whether you add side dishes to it, change the recipe, or figure out a way to deliver lasagna to underserved communities, you’ll need to find a new way to offer value to make yourself a more attractive job candidate.

Businesses will always need the skills of a great UX/Product/etc. Designers will bring, but augmenting it with additional skills helps you make yourself a strong job candidate: it helps to advance your UX career.

So if you’re a UX job seeker, consider the impact that going beyond UX can offer you. You might be surprised at how extra work can make you stand out immediately.

Kai Wong is a Senior Product Designer, Data-Informed Design Author, and Data and Design newsletter author. His new free book, The Resilient UX Professional, provides real-world advice to get your first UX job and advance your UX career.

Read the full article here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Resolve Product Launch Uncertainty with User Research

Resolve Product Launch Uncertainty with User Research

Your startup has achieved product/market fit through your core business, and now

Become an Expert on Land-book

Become an Expert on Land-book


You May Also Like