The product person

I always considered myself a UX Designer and after almost 10 years in the industry, a good one really, but I’ve noticed a couple of years ago that my role started changing. I was doing less and less screen work, Jira and Confluence became my best friends, and the days I most enjoyed were filled with connecting all parts of product development – from conception to deployment.

Naturally, I’ve started observing the industry and questioned my own role and stability of UX as a profession.

And I wasn’t the only one!

What is happening with UX?

Last year when I was at UX Scotland I’ve listened to an interesting keynote by Cennydd Bowles titled Post UX.

His hypothesis was that UX in its essence is changing and that it has to change in order to prevent its stagnation.

Back in the days when I studied Human computer interaction (yes, I am that old) UX consisted of:

  • user research (qualitative and quantitative)
  • content strategy
  • usability
  • interaction design and prototyping
  • information architecture

Over the years this list got a few more bullet points. And then a few more.

  • user research (qualitative and quantitative)
  • content strategy
  • usability
  • interaction design and prototyping
  • information architecture
  • final UI
  • icons
  • graphic design
  • programming
  • gathering, organizing, and presenting statistics
  • copywriting
  • motion design
  • design systems
  • personas, user journeys, ideation sessions
  • post deployment activities
  • understanding business strategy
  • field research
  • presentation and speaking
  • bridge building cross-function and cross-team

Obviously the description of the role depends a bit on a company you work for, but it’s not unusual to see majority of these skills in a UX job ad description.

UX has become bloated

UX is simply becoming something that consist of too many things with too much overlap with Visual design and Product management. That has an unfortunate consequence for the product development – UX started to stagnate.

How can one drive innovation if one is only focused on reacting to problems.

That’s where the keynote became really interesting for me. Cennydd predicted that UX will actually split in two parts:

So where are we going with UX?

No one knows for certain. One thing that is obvious though is that UX is changing yet again.

If you’d put Product management on left side of the axis and Visual design on the right side, UX used to be somewhere in the middle.

That seemed to change in the last 2 or so years and I’ve seen it daily when working with PMs. Even though they supposedly had zero UX knowledge, they used many of the same methods we did. Where we had more qualitative insights they had quantitative.

No surprise that we’d spend most of time working together and many times even mixed the roles.

UX Designers that I know see their own progression in either Product design or Product management. Both is good and the beauty is that both of these two roles with a strong UX background are user-centric. What is better than that? 🙂

My perspective on this

If I hadn’t experience this “split” myself, I would have laughed out loud. But truth is this is exactly what happened and is still happening to me.

I haven’t even noticed how I’ve become this “product person” until someone asked me to write down a description of my own dream job and I started thinking of how much I love what I do on a day to day basis.

But this work was and wasn’t UX. I had all of these questions about – what is this that I’m doing? How is it called? And the more I thought about it, the more lost I was.

This same person told me to chose one or the other. At our company PMs also manage projects and adding UX to this it did sound overwhelming. The hypothesis of this person was that I won’t be able to do it all. Well, how about that for a challenge?

Truth is for about 6 months that was exactly what I did and am still doing it. Obviously I am working like crazy and there are many challenges, but I have the passion and dedication. I cannot go deep in UX anymore, but I can use transferable skills and grow deeper in PM role to support my team where they needed and to drive the product forward.

Like Melissa Perri said:

My knowledge of UX Design makes me a better Product Manager and my knowledge of Product Management makes me a better UX Designer. It makes me better at creating products that delight users and solve their problems. 

There’s a lot of people like me out there. Find them. Hire them. Don’t make them choose.

Changing the Conversation about Product Management vs. UX

What do you think about it?

An opinion of three people is obviously not making it official and I’d love to know what the other UXers, PMs, POs… think about this topic.

Until next time,

Pia

2 Comments

  • Saman Shadab

    The part where UX has become bloated is unnerving.. because that’s when no one really knows what does not fall under UX. I do look forward to be able to move up the ladder from the generalized UXer to a specialized Product/ Design person. I also agree with the overlapping roles. Moving from Graphic Design that at one time covered signage, wayfinding, department store customer journeys to now UX, which studies the latter, almost like a history of UXD. There are 2 ways to go about it, either wait and follow where this path takes us… or effect another path. I am quite sure we may live to see the time when UXD may be studied as history to something else:)

    • pia

      Haha, I love this: I am quite sure we may live to see the time when UXD may be studied as history to something else:) and I think I completely agree with it!

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