Is UX Really Dead?

Is UX Really Dead?

this blog explores UX design's challenges, label misuse, and advocates for a "Human Powered" approach to prioritise people.

Cherokee Mahoney
0 min read
September 20, 2023

There’s whispers, and feeling that UX design, akin to many past trends, has seen its golden days and is now on the decline. It once stood as a beacon of innovation, but now its true essence seems to have been overshadowed by its trendiness.

In today’s world, trends come and go at an astonishing rate and this rapid evolution often turns labels into a double-edged sword. While they can highlight innovative concepts and movements, they can also dilute the very essence they represent. An example of this was evident at a commercial vehicle show I attended. Two representatives from a London-based music equipment company were there, not primarily driven by environmental concerns, but to purchase green vehicles. Their motivation? The rising trend of having a “green fleet.” Companies now select suppliers based on this label so they themselves could tick a box that says they were green without making the changes themselves, often overlooking whether these suppliers genuinely uphold eco-friendly values. To remain competitive, many feel compelled to adopt such trends, even if only superficially.

This scenario mirrors the current state of UX design. The genuine essence of user experience is being overshadowed by the allure of the “UX” label.

Racing to Relevance

With the surge in popularity of UX design, companies are in a scramble to align themselves with this trend. In their eagerness to appear modern and updated, many hastily adopt the UX label. Yet, in this rush, the depth and nuances of genuine UX often get overlooked.

Surface-Level Adoption vs. Deep Integration

Authentic UX design is a comprehensive process, rooted in deep user research, iterative design, and continuous testing. But as companies race to embrace the UX label, many opt for superficial practices. A brief workshop or a quickly drafted user persona, and they believe they’ve achieved UX. This shallow approach fails to capture the true essence of user-centric design, resulting in products that may appear polished but lack a genuine user-friendly experience.

The Power of User Research

User research stands as the cornerstone of genuine UX design. It’s the process of understanding the behaviours, needs, and motivations of users through observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies. But its potential extends far beyond just designing digital interfaces — see our User Research Toolkit here.

The true power of user research lies in its ability to unearth genuine insights about people. It’s about empathy, understanding, and the ability to see the world from another’s perspective. These insights can inform not just product design but also a myriad of other areas:

  • Policy Making: Governments and institutions can use user research to understand the needs and challenges of their citizens, leading to more effective and user-centric policies. Read more on our thoughts on this in our People-Powered Policy article.
  • Urban Planning: By understanding the behaviours and needs of city dwellers, urban planners can design more efficient and user-friendly public spaces.
  • Healthcare: Hospitals and clinics can refine patient care by understanding the patient journey, leading to better outcomes and experiences.
  • Education: Schools and educational institutions can tailor curriculums and teaching methods to better suit the learning styles and needs of students.

The methodologies of user research — observation, interviews, surveys, and more — are universally applicable. Any field or industry that caters to people (and most do) can benefit from understanding those people better.

In essence, user research is a tool for problem-solving, one that’s grounded in real-world insights and human experiences. It’s a way to ensure that solutions, whether they’re digital products, urban infrastructures or processes, are not just well-designed but also deeply resonant with the people they’re intended for.

The Erosion of Trust

Misusing the UX label has repercussions. When products don’t meet the expectations associated with the UX label, it erodes user trust. Over time, “UX design” risks becoming a mere buzzword, devoid of its original significance.

The Domino Effect: From Innovation to Disillusionment

The market is now awash with products claiming to uphold the gold standard of UX, yet falling short. This not only confuses consumers but also disheartens those of us dedicated to genuine UX principles. The diluted interpretation becomes so widespread that it risks becoming the new norm, turning a once-revolutionary concept into a mere trend.

The challenges faced by the UX label aren’t unique. Take the “organic” food movement as an example. Originally, it symbolised a return to natural farming methods. Yet, as its popularity soared, “organic” became a sought-after label, leading to diluted standards and consumer scepticism.

UX Design Done Right

When executed with precision, UX design can transform businesses. It’s not merely about aesthetics; it’s about crafting experiences that users find intuitive and delightful. You can read more of our insights on this in our blog UX Design Magic — The Invisible Art Behind Memorable Experiences.

When businesses truly embrace UX design and research, the results can be transformative. It’s not just about creating a product that looks good or functions well; it’s about crafting an experience that resonates deeply with users. Here are some of the profound impacts that genuine UX practices can have on businesses:

  • Operational Efficiency: Proper UX design streamlines processes, both for users and for the backend operations of a business. This can lead to reduced operational costs, faster turnaround times, and increased productivity. Read our article on how mobile apps can streamline your business.
  • Increased Customer Loyalty: When users feel that a product or service has been tailored to their needs and provides consistent value, they’re more likely to stick around. This loyalty can translate to repeat business and a steady revenue stream. We demonstrate how this applies to the insurance industry in our focused post on establishing customer loyalty.
  • Higher Conversion Rates: A well-researched and designed user journey can guide potential customers smoothly from the point of interest to making a purchase, increasing conversion rates.
  • Reduced Customer Support Costs: A user-centric design is intuitive and user-friendly, leading to fewer user errors and reduced demands on customer support.
  • Positive Brand Perception: Delivering a stellar user experience can significantly enhance a brand’s image, making it synonymous with quality, reliability, and user-centricity.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: User research provides valuable data that can inform business strategies, ensuring decisions are grounded in real user needs and preferences.
  • Employee Satisfaction: When a company’s tools and internal software are designed with UX principles, it can lead to increased employee satisfaction and productivity. After all, employees are users too.

In the competitive business landscape of today, where differentiation is key, genuine UX design and research can be the edge that sets a company apart. It’s an investment that pays dividends not just in immediate revenue but in long-term growth and brand value.

So what are the main benefits of UX design?

  • Increased User Engagement: Tailored products lead to higher engagement and potentially increased revenue.
  • Reduced Development Costs: Addressing design issues early can prevent costly post-launch revisions.
  • Enhanced Brand Image: Stellar user experiences can elevate a company’s market reputation.
  • Higher Customer Retention: A satisfied user is more likely to remain loyal.

Where competitors are merely a click away, genuine UX design ensures not only user retention but also advocacy. Online ratings can significantly influence a product’s success, and word-of-mouth remains a potent marketing tool. Companies that prioritise UX are better poised to adapt to market shifts, ensuring sustainable growth and fostering a culture of excellence.

Empowering People Through Design

Designing with people at the forefront isn’t just a methodology; it’s a philosophy. When we design for people, we inherently empower them, giving them tools and experiences that resonate with their needs, desires, and challenges. This empowerment has profound implications, both for businesses and society at large — we talk about this more in our Unlocking the Power of Conversations in UX Design post.

  • Boosting Confidence and Autonomy: When users interact with a product or service tailored to their needs, it boosts their confidence. They feel understood and catered to, leading to a sense of autonomy. This empowerment can translate to users taking more initiative, exploring more features, and deriving more value from the product.
  • Facilitating Inclusivity: Properly executed user-centric design considers all users, including those with disabilities or those from diverse backgrounds. This inclusivity ensures that everyone feels seen and catered to, promoting a more inclusive society.
  • Stimulating Growth and Innovation: Empowered users often become advocates and contributors. They provide feedback, suggest improvements, and even champion the product within their communities. This feedback loop can drive innovation and growth for businesses.
  • Building Trust and Loyalty: When users feel empowered by a product or service, they develop a deeper trust in the brand behind it. This trust can lead to long-term loyalty, ensuring a stable and engaged user base.
  • Wider Societal Benefits: Empowered individuals are more likely to participate actively in their communities. They share their positive experiences, educate others, and even drive societal change. In the long run, designing for people can lead to more informed, engaged, and proactive societies.

For businesses, the benefits are clear: increased user engagement, loyalty, and advocacy. But beyond the immediate business metrics, there’s a broader impact. By empowering individuals, we’re fostering communities that are more inclusive, engaged, and proactive. It’s a testament to the ripple effect that genuine user-centric design can have, extending far beyond the confines of a product or service.

Identifying Problems through User Research

Often, the focus of user research is on refining solutions. However, it can also be utilised in its ability to unearth problems, gaps, and unmet needs. By deeply understanding people, we can identify the challenges they face, leading to insights that can drive innovation.

Spotting Gaps in Provision: Through user research, we can identify areas where current solutions fall short. These gaps in provision represent opportunities for businesses to step in with innovative solutions that cater to real, unmet needs.

A Ready-Built Audience: When a product, process, or service addresses a genuine problem that people face, it already has a built-in audience. These are individuals who have been searching for a solution, and when presented with one that truly meets their needs, they’re more likely to engage with and advocate for it.

Greater Impact through Problem-Centric Design: By shifting the focus from existing or outdated solutions to identifying and addressing problems, the solutions we create are inherently more impactful. They don’t just enhance; they revolutionise.

Rethinking Innovation: Instead of reinventing the wheel, what if we channelled our energies into solving more problems? This approach would lead to a paradigm shift in how businesses operate, with a focus on impact and genuine value addition.

Imagine a funnel, with the wide end representing the vast pool of users. As we delve deeper into the funnel, user research helps us identify the various challenges these users face. These challenges become more specific as we move further down the funnel. At the narrow end, we have specific, well-defined problems that need addressing. Surrounding this funnel are iterative loops of design, testing, and refinement, ensuring that the solutions developed are both innovative and deeply resonant with user needs.

By adopting this problem-centric approach, businesses can ensure that their products and services are not just “nice-to-haves” but essential tools that address genuine user challenges.

The Misuse of “UX Design” and the Path Forward

The misuse of the “UX Design” label has cast a shadow over the industry. This is Elixel’s move to say “hell no” to putting the concept to bed, but rather grabbing it and making it what it was intended to be.

Human Powered

At its heart, UX design has always been about people. So, why not return to its roots? “Human Powered” captures this essence perfectly, emphasising that every step, from research to policies, should be driven by and for the people.

  • Human Powered Processes: This emphasises the importance of integrating user insights into every step of the design and development process.
  • Human Powered Research: A reminder that at the heart of any successful design endeavour is deep, genuine research centred on real users and their needs.
  • Human Powered Policies: Beyond just products, this highlights the importance of user-centric thinking in organisational policies and strategies.
  • Human Powered Indeed: A rallying cry for the industry, emphasising that everything we do should be driven by and for the people

Setting Expectations and Standards

A rebrand offers a chance to redefine expectations. Establishing certification programmes, crafting industry guidelines, and fostering a community of like-minded professionals can ensure that “Human Powered” remains true to its essence.

Elixel’s Journey with UX

Throughout our journey, we’ve been excited by the rise of the UX movement. We’ve always been advocates for the power of people in design. However, the dilution of the UX essence in the industry has been a cause for concern. We’ve observed businesses often overlooking the importance of user research, reluctant to invest in it. This not only hinders true innovation but also prevents the delivery of excellence.

At Elixel, rather than merely following the trend, we decided to double down on genuine UX practices. Recognising the immense value of user research, we brought on board a dedicated User Researcher — you can meet her here! This decision underscored our belief that a designer, no matter how talented, can’t wear all hats. Our User Researcher works hand-in-hand with our designers, ensuring that our products are not just aesthetically pleasing but also deeply resonant with users.

While the term “UX Design” may have been clouded, its core principles remain invaluable. By transitioning to “Human Powered,” we can re-embrace the foundational principles that made the discipline revolutionary. It’s more than a label; it’s a commitment to always prioritising people in our designs, our processes, our decisions and beyond.

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