Chad Vavra says his greatest accomplishment as a user experience director will be the death of his department and claims demand for UX specialists will lessen
I recently interviewed a candidate from the Stanford d.school for a position in my young, but growing user experience department within RFI Studios. As we worked our way through her experience and my expectations, we found ourselves on the subject of the history of UX as a department and how ours works with the rest of the organisation. As I tried to explain my opinion of UX, agencies, and the current lack of experienced UX candidates in the job market I found myself, instead, talking about web developers.
My point was that 15 years ago when I was pursuing a creative technologist degree, and then entering the job market, curriculums didn't really teach creative coding as a practice. I had to pursue a BFA with computer science and animation art electives. That lack of curriculum resulted in a shortage of developers who were prepared to visualise the fledgling game and World Wide Web job markets. Those rare few with a natural talent for visual design and user interfaces were fought over with high salaries and silly perks. As curriculums evolved, more developers entered the job market with the necessary skills the world [wide web] was demanding. Over time, with the influx of developers who had learned or taught themselves those skills, salaries were reflected more accurately.
I think it’s very fair to say that UX is in a very similar state of high demand, low supply. My fear is that if I overpay junior candidates because of what seems to be a shortage of contenders, how will I be able to promote and reward them later when they have gained experience and more candidates enter the market?
It has always been my belief that user experience is the job of an organisation, not a department. But the last few years have seen UX departments being formed within organisations as specific principles and process coalesced for the constantly evolving web. Educational curriculums such as those in the d.school with its hands-on training of user centred design, programming and visual design, are only now correcting themselves to include new UX practices. This reflects in the candidates coming from them still not fully prepared to enter the market with the needed experience. The natural result is a salary bubble for the few new candidates who have the necessary skills or experience. I believe this is the example of what is to come from other institutions.
The supply of people with UX skills will increase across all disciplines, and demand for specialists will lessen. With that change UX leadership will have to evolve. In many ways the culture of startups is already experiencing this as the limited staff must cover many roles. Decisions will have to be made regarding who in a company is responsible for the discovery and design aspects of UX. I believe visual designers and developers will ultimately be fully capable of the design tasks. As a hiring manager looking for those tasks I'm more interested in a UX person's abilities with Creative Suite, Xcode or TextMate than I am with Visio or OmniGraffle. I can't help but think it's time to pass the UX reigns in the respect of most design.
This leaves the question of who should do discovery. One obvious option is the strategist, but strategists usually carry an MBA, the key letter being 'B' [for business] and a lack of experience for discovering and defining user behaviours. UX discovery and strategy naturally overlap in how businesses can take advantage of users’ needs and desires. In order for strategy to properly do discovery, strategists are going to have to learn to be anthropologists – a pretty tall order for the 'BA' educational systems in place.
So where does that leave me in my goal to kill the UX department? It leaves me looking for designers with liberal art degrees and capabilities in psychology, behavioural neurology, and anthropology who can learn to weave business requirements into their work as goals and outcomes. These people aren't easy to find and even harder to hire, but it's the evolution that we have to make as UX leaders if we're going to continue to improve our work as a practice.