The State of UX in ID

UX 2019

Last week, I read a report on the State of UX in 2019 by two editors at UX Collective, Fabricio Teixera and Caio Braga, looking at user experience as a discipline.  Some fascinating insights…and interesting to look at the corporate view as one considers how educational instructional designers view (or do not view) the user learning experience as part of the design process.

Back in April, I had blogged about LXD – learning experience design, and in three weeks, I will be attending our annual conference for faculty development at Northeastern University to present with Elizabeth Mahler and Shannon Alpert on course design.  So this is a timely post!

Fabricio and Caio start with the provocative insight that everyone in UX is now a “lead.”  The industry saw thousands of new designers join in the early 2010’s…such that now many have titles with the term “lead” in it…but the only person they are leading are in many cases themselves!

In both K12 and higher education, there have been a number of certificate, Masters and doctoral programs on instructional design.  Some have conflated instructional technology in with this.  One point the report makes that resonated with me:

In 2019 we should start looking at seniority through new lenses. You can be proud of your “lead” title, as it is an integral part of your growth story. But if you consider seniority from the perspective of how much impact you are able to make (or not) within your organization, you’ll have a better sense of where you are along your career trajectory and of how your particular skills and experience are influencing others around you and our industry as a whole.

Their second point was that designers are too busy to design.  We get so busy doing the routine that we forget to devote time to the new.  One quote from Jason Fried that I found fascinating:

When prototyping, always try wackier/quirkier stuff first. The deeper you get into a project, the more conservative it tends to get. Stranger ideas are more at home earlier in the process.

— Jason Fried (@jasonfried) August 1, 2018

Fabricio and Caio noted that their industry (and I would also say the same about our industry in education) is changing, so doing business as usual is a recipe for disaster.  AI is automating many tasks already, so they suggest that if we keep our heads down, we will miss multiple opportunities for doing something more meaningful.

Great advice!

Their third point is that design is not saving the world.  They stated:

Tech companies have often been on the wrong side of the conversation for the past few years, by creating tools and systems that support unhealthy business practices in the pursuit of growth. For decades, we have been solving problems and running businesses that took advantage of laws that were not quite ready for digital services and social media. That worked well for some time, but we have now reached a point where we can’t consider these once new digital services to be outsiders.

They quoted Erika Hall – “Pleasant to use doesn’t equal healthful any more than pleasant to eat does.”

They suggest that companies need to continue the shift from business-centric to user-centric to now society-centric.

Osguthorpe and his colleagues suggested years ago that instructional designers need to incorporate a moral element to instruction…and in an era of Fake News, this seems more important than ever!

I see interesting parallels in our teaching shifts from teacher-centric to student-centric to learning-centric.

I found their fourth point really interesting – design for less.  They pointed out that for too long engagement was the mantra, and that designers actually looked for ways to design for addiction, so that clicks would continue to occur.  Now they feel the engagement pendulum is beginning to swing back the other way.

Companies are getting a lot of pushback and being questioned about their responsibility in this behavior shift. Society is awakening to the need of establishing a more mindful relationship with technology. It is a potent public health topic now.

In education, we have discussed mindset and mindfulness often…but Fabricio and Caio suggested that designing not only for the times people are on but also the times they are not on – adding aspects of peace of mind – will become increasingly important.  Do we in education think through the holistic experience our students are having with our courses…and as Fabricio and Caio noted, design for relevance and comfort?  A provocative viewpoint!

Fabricio and Caio’s fifth point is to rethink our design methods.  Thanks to both the ability to Google anything and the strong examples big companies provide, it has become a sea of sameness out there.  They state that we should be thinking more about methodologies than methods, critically analyzing our approaches.  As I prepare to head to Boston for our faculty development conference, it is good to question how my presentation might add value.  One aspect I am trying to suggest to my colleagues is to pay attention to what cognitive researchers are continuing to find about how we learn…and factor that into our design, designing in the words of Michelle Miller for “Cognitive Optimization.”  Our presentation focuses on alignment of our teaching approach and our learning outcomes, which Michelle noted as keeping the focus on the big picture.  Other techniques Michelle noted are focusing on transfer, building automaticity, minimizing extraneous cognitive load, spacing the learning, and using emotions in positive ways.

Fabricio and Caio’s sixth point tackles the question of whether designers need to know how to code…interesting given the number of coding bootcamps we have seen in the past few years!  They shift the conversation by stating that this is the wrong question now.  While being familiar with coding so that one can talk to those that do, today there are increasingly new tools that do the coding for you…and they note that the tools shape the way one thinks.

While knowing how to code certainly helps designers ensure they are coming up with technically feasible interfaces, there is a new wave of tools that are gradually taking on the responsibility of making designers think in terms of components and design systems.

Very few of us take full advantage of the tools we currently have, be that our LMS’s or Adobe Suite or other add-ons for our courses.  Thinking systematically rather than incrementally makes a lot of sense!

In a similar vein, their next point was on  thinking outside the artboard (or whiteboard).  They suggest that we need to move beyond the linear thinking that static displays have.  It would be an interesting thought experiment to think about how students might complete one of my assignments if I viewed them working from their phone during the commute home on a train as opposed to sitting at a desktop or laptop.  Does this make a difference in the ability of complete the assignment (and should it?)?

In 2019, designers need to be focusing on journeys and mindsets more than a series of static screens that will never be how the user actually experiences their product. What if we questioned why we are doing what we’re doing more times throughout our day?

Fabricio and Caio move next to suggesting that design be more open – that sharing will become more the norm.  In my classes, I have pushed students to consider building their Personal Learning Networks – so this idea of open sharing certainly resonates with me.

Their final point is that in previous years, there were always shiny new tech buzzwords to consider – AI in 2018, chatbots in 2017, the Internet of Things in 2016…and so forth.  Their view this year in 2019 is that nothing new is disrupting the field…and that is a good thing!  They suggest we should focus on “…educating ourselves about how to leverage existing technology in a way that feels relevant to people’s everyday lives.”

They close with an interesting quote:

The three questions we must ask when we are building things
“To what end
At what cost
At whose expense”
Srinija Srinivasan

— Be kind to all, for they are fighting a battle too (@cwodtke) November 2, 2018

As I said at the beginning, a lot to digest in this report…and yet it seems very relevant for instructional designers.  I would be interested in your take as well.

{Graphics: Camila Rosa, Harvard University Press, Osguthorpe}

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