UX: Design Discipline or Tech Job?

You wouldn’t argue with me if I told you UX is a design discipline. Sure, the way we talk about UX, it’s process and value, is within a tradition of design. But in practice, it’s a tech job.

Let me try to articulate.

Before working in UX, I held romantic views about the role that I would soon play and how, by my very nature, I was made for this. I understood the role of a UX designer in any company to occupy a certain head space — a cerebral problem-solver with empathetic sensitivities and aesthetic awareness. A UXer is a different breed of designer who can sacrifice their own judgement at the service of higher goals; user success and happiness.

Not to say this all isn’t true, but we’re not there yet. Not even close. Maybe some don’t think we should be there, but I do.

One problem is that we sit in the technology field first, and design second. We are technologists before we’re designers, and being technologically oriented is assumed of us by our company’s and clients. The questions of feasibility and limitations we wrestle with are technological. We work with front and back-end developers, UI and visual designers, on applications, websites, and the screens or anti-screens of the now and near future.

Personally, I want more.

I love working with technology — it’s what got me hooked on UX to begin with. Developers, strategists, and designers we sit with are inspiring, and they are all key factors in creating the game-changing digital products of the future. It’s exciting and important work to be a part of.

But limiting ourselves to tech feels wrong. It feels like we’re chaining up the concept of experience design to fit what people are currently willing to pay for. 

Practical? Yes.
Meaningful? No.

To me, an interior designer, an architect, or an automobile designer are far better positioned to call themselves UX designers than any of us limiting ourselves to tech products. A shoe designer can craft an experience that will impact a life far more than the UXer who created a superior navigation structure on a website with 5,000 hits a day. An industrial designer who designs toilet seats impacts an important experience of many more users than any of the apps we’re working on. If this is true, then why do UXers all seem to just work in tech?

We talk about evangelizing user experience as a concept and a discipline — let’s do so as designers, in a design language. Let’s seek out work that is not merely tech-based, but experience based, because until we start doing the work, no one is going to hire us to do it. For user experience design to really spread its wings and fly, we all need to do our part to bust out of any chains limiting our profession’s potential.