Are We in a UX Job Bubble? [Mar 2015]


People are concerned that we’re in the midst of a UX job bubble. And they have a right to be. “UX” is now corporate jargon used as a filler word anytime there’s a discussion regarding design or digital strategy. Anyone could throw up “UX” in their LinkedIn profile and probably get messaged from a recruiter somewhere.

Now that we see UX used everywhere, we naturally ask questions like How long will good UX jobs last? Are we in a UX job bubble that’s about to burst? 

As with most big questions, the answer is not a simple yes or no.

It’s About Problem Solving 

I recently met some people at a hackathon who transitioned into UX Design at an impressive speed. But they weren’t your average joes. They didn’t just wake up one day, decided they wanted to switch careers, and got a UX job a week later.

Instead, these people are good problem solvers; one was a talented product manager, another was on his way to a PhD in ethnographic research, and another was a skilled web designers who’ve been (subconsciously) doing UX for the past 5 years.

These are people who are smart and can solve problems, regardless of their job title.

So we ask a better question: who will do well regardless of a UX job bubble? 

Businesses hire employees to solve problems. Businesses hire talent – in our case UX Designers – to help make them more money or reduce costs.

As long as user experience practitioners can solve problems, they’ll be fine. The demand for smart people who can solve problems doesn’t change.

Labels Matter

In a way, UX is a label that many businesses associate with solving their digital problems.

That makes perfect sense at the time of this writing; products with poor user experiences will get trumped by those with an amazing experience.

But what if another practice arises that’s sexier than UX (gasp, blasphemy!), and businesses start associating problem solving with another label?

Solving other people’s problems is where value comes from, but how you solve problems may change. 

To profit, we must be aware of the waves in the ocean – and hopefully ride them. Even if we can fundamentally solve problems the same way, it behooves us to poke under the hood of new labels, job titles, and industries to see if there are new ways of solving problems.

Don’t be loyal to your title. Be loyal to your ability to solve problems. 

As it stands, UX (and design at large) is a quickly changing field. There are tons of methodologies from product design is really hot, thanks to the massive influence of startup culture. Service design and its practitioners are also gaining lots of traction. And despite that, graphic design and visual design will remain vital practices.

The common thread between all these labels? Design. And what is design?

Good design is problem solving. – Jeffrey Veen

Problem solving = the fundamental, UX = set of tactics to solve problems.

I love UX, but it’s really just a label for how I like to solve problems.

The UX trend and perceptions about UX may or may not last. But the user experience skills we use to solve problems – user research, interface design, usability testing – will last for a long, long time. No bubble can take those skills away from you.

Design is on the upswing

Apple and dozens of the most successful companies have shown us how design is an incredible competitive advantage. Design as a culture, as a respected staple of good business, is here to stay. What are some signs of this?

  1. Some of the best UX jobs are moving in-house. CapitalOne’s acquisition of legendary UX firm Adaptive Path is a signal that UX design is getting buy-in from Fortune 500 companies. (reference uxmag article on 2014 ux trends).
  2. User experience is in everyone’s hands now – literally. Almost the entire planet has a smartphone. Design lives on more devices, touches more lives, and gets complicated every day. There’s a lot of work to and that’s good for us.
  3. Industry output: there are more design books, courses, and tools coming out than ever before, signaling that people value and are are thirsty for design education

There are probably more points than these, but consider these as beacons for where the design industry is heading.

A rising tide lifts all boats. – Jeffrey Veen

So to finally answer the question Are we in a UX job bubble?  I’d say no, we aren’t.

And even if we are in a UX job bubble, the design industry as a whole will only get larger and more significant. And my favorite saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. So if design in general goes up, it will most likely take UX design along with it.

Part of this upswing is greater adoption, and with greater adoption there’s a trickle down effect in understanding. And with greater understanding there will be smarter hirely, better expectations, and a normalization to the norm – meaning that leftover excesses in job postings simply due to a desire for a vague “UX” person will dissipate.

If UX gets excessively popular (and it’s quickly normalizing – check out this Nielsen report), that may be a non-issue since the fundamental problem solving skills of solid UX designers will transfer to other areas, negating the popping of such a theoretical bubble.

The summary:

  • Problem solving is more important than labels
  • But be attuned to labels, for they indicate trends / new opportunities to solve problems
  • Design is on the upswing, most design related disciplines are changing, but not going away anytime soon
  • Oz doesn’t think we’re in a UX bubble, and even if we are, it doesn’t matter too much because of the first 3 bullet points.

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