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The Future of UX – How to Prepare

We can predict technology changes in the next year, but what about 10 years or 40 years? As designers of experiences cross-platforms, the unknowns can be intimidating. What will the career of a UX designer look like in 40 years?

Almost everyday, it seems like a new gadget or feature is brought into our world. As designers, we need to quickly adapt to both new tools we use (ex: Adobe Creative Cloud) and to new technologies we are designing for such as flexible displays. I haven’t heard a lot of hype around designing apps for Windows 8 yet, but it will come when a company purchases 80,000 Surface tablets for their employees.

So how do we prepare for what is coming in user experience design? I’ve been thinking about the future and have arrived at a few solid principles.

Work on Soft Skills

Mastering skills in wireframing and card sorting are just as essential as soft skills such as time management or selling ideas to clients. People skills, relationship building, presentation skills, time management, meeting organization, and so on – we are continually learning these skills. While our medium of presenting may change (from a projector screen to something new), the skills of selling a concept will not. Learn to tell stories beautifully. Learn to write well. Learn to build great relationships with both your team members and your clients.

Learn Solid Principles

When touch gestures went mainstream, user experience designers had to quickly adapt what we were doing. Learning to code HTML, or about responsive web design, is focusing on learning tools. More than perfecting Photoshop skills, learn the the psychological principles behind your photo manipulations.

Being a master “wireframer” will not prepare you for the future of UX. New technology may appear that cannot be expressed in wireframes or prototypes. (I don’t know what would cause that; I’m just throwing the idea out there.) Nor will being an amazing Google Analytics user or being great at setting of user studies with UserZoom or YouEye. Learn how to interpret user behavior through analytics or understand what user’s mean during user testing.

Technology Changes, Research Does Not

You are not the user. As long as that statement is true, user research will be needed to understand who the user is, what they want, and how they’ll use what you’re building. Over the past few months, I’ve been building a spreadsheet expanding on 80 different research methods. And this is just the start for me in fully understanding what methods are available outside of standard UX research techniques like usability testing, interviews, personas, and A/B testing.

Learn to listen to your users and how to empathize with what they are experiencing. I watch my mom using her Android phone or iPad and cringe as she does something that seems so obvious to me. The other day I was teaching my grandma how to use an iPad; she is 82. It was eye-opening watching as she struggled around Dropbox’s interface with what seems like an “intuitive” experience. The most interesting thing about watching her was that when she wanted to swipe between photos she licked her fingers as if swiping between pages of a book. She understood the similarity of the swipe gesture and changing pages of a book, but didn’t understand she didn’t need to lick her fingers for the touch screen. And I’m sure that my grandma is not the only 82-year-old trying to learn the iPad and making the same “silly” mistakes.

Stay Connected

I wanted to write something here like “never stop learning”, but that is overstated and I hope you know that by now. One of the best ways to prepare for the future is to stay connected to what’s going on. Go to meetups (UX, development, and technology), connect on Twitter, and follow popular technology blogs. My Twitter stream keeps me up-to-date on the world and technology. I’ve received answers when I’m stumped on a problem. Get involved with the community and you’ll find yourself ahead of the curve.

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