Dirk Knemeyer

Future of UX, June 23, 2016

The reality is that we’re reaching a point of terminal velocity on software as the media for which user experience primarily exerts itself. UX as a field has aspirationally said, “Well, we’re not just about software. We’re about creating in anything,” and it’s just nonsense. Show me ten people who have jobs that are called user experience, that are considered user experience, that aren’t related to software in some way large or small. It just ain’t out there, and so UX is software and software is UX in a certain way.

Now with all of these emerging technologies, that’s going to start flipping a little bit, and there’s going to need to be design professionals who are digital natives and who are solving digital design problems that are going to need to move into them. UX people are the obvious people to make that move, but the asterisk is it’s going to require meaningful knowledge in science and engineering, and we’ve seen over the last ten to fifteen years how difficult it’s been for UX professionals to evolve from the standpoint of just understanding code, learning to code, and incorporate that into the things that they’re creating, at least from a design perspective within the world of UX.

One thing I think we’ve done very poorly in user experience is understand people. We’ve gotten very good at knowing what a usability test should look like, what an AB test should look like, what some upfront user research random interview should look like, but we know very little, I’ll say almost nothing, as a field. There’s some individuals within it who have much deeper knowledge, but as a field, we have virtually no body of knowledge that gets into the science of the self, whether that be from a more hard biology perspective, a neuroscience perspective, psychology, sociology, endocrinology, whatever vector you want to take.

We’ve got to know ourselves. We’ve got to know this animal really, really well.

UX Without Interfaces, March 5, 2015

Nature is the best technology of all. The more that we can learn from it, the more advanced the things that we’ll be able to build to extend ourselves will be. The other thing, I think, for listeners of this show that might be particularly relevant is having data storage in DNA is part of what’s going to be an increasingly growing trend which is basically interfaceless experiences.

If we assume that those path of data storage storing within our own genes basically is optimal, there’s no place for user experience in there. There will need to be a user interface, of course, but at that level it will be a system level of “here’s the physical interface between the being and the computing stuff that shoves the data in”.

This is a whole category for which there is no need for UX, there is no need for UI, at least in the ways that we think about them and at least in the ways that employ a whole bunch of people currently.

Data storage is just one really good example of something that’s going to be happening across a wide front, namely that we’re heading towards interfaceless experiences. That would be troubling perhaps for the many, many, many, many people who are training up and getting into what is currently a very vibrant user experience job marketplace.

How AI Will Evolve UX, January 14, 2015

More frequent use of explicit design patterns, possibly expressed as open source software and libraries. Engineers often begin by using existing code that solves the problems they want to solve. It is taken for granted as the standard best practice, although once upon a time may have seemed threatening given all the time and jobs devoted to writing custom, one-off code. Remember when websites were all custom and unique? Today, few websites are truly custom, building instead upon templates, content management platforms, and e-commerce infrastructures. This practice will increasingly pervade the world of user experience, where we will agree on the best way to solve some of the easier problems and use those platforms to give us a leg-up in focusing on project-specific challenges.

Computers replacing people for completion of more incremental UX tasks and challenges. Recently a company called The Grid launched AI websites that design themselves. While their solution is unlikely to be the nemesis of the human-designed website, it is a shot across the bow to all digital designers that, yes, we, too can be replaced by machines. Realistically, the technology’s most likely impact on the domain of user experience is in automating the smaller-scale, incremental evolution of existing systems. A/B testing is now an accepted way of trying out small changes and design tweaks. There is no reason in much of that process for there to be any human involvement whatsoever. Sooner than we think, the human will be removed entirely. Perhaps a human designer will introduce an alternate design for the system to consider, but the machine can do the rest. Everything from preparation, to data collection and analysis, to deploying the winning design, to passing along metrics and explanation to stakeholders can and probably should be entirely automated. Soon this will be a reality.

UX skills becoming more core to the general toolbox of knowledge workers. Again, we can look to software engineering for the example here. The far-flung campaigns of “everyone should know how to code!” have led to an interest in computer programming that has become truly mainstream. While much of this is driven by perceptions around what the jobs of the future will look like, some of it relates to the idea that the ability to code is a potentially valuable life skill in the future wacky world of technology. Yet, I suspect both of these initiatives are poorly conceived. Computer programming will be more based in libraries and reusable code in the future, to say nothing of artificial intelligence increasingly generating its own code. There will not be a giant job market for all, and perceived benefits from having some light ability to code is unlikely to serve us any better than conveniences like, say, knowing how to change the oil in our car by ourselves. On the other hand, core UX skills will prove increasingly essential for knowledge workers, as crisp problem solving and creative thinking increasingly define the value-add that human participants contribute to the corporate system. Research skills are an obvious example, empowering anyone, from marketing flack to product manager to software engineer, to determine context with clarity. Then, problem-solving tools like cardsorting are particularly useful for product managers as well as engineers. Indeed, to this point, the need for dedicated UX people is largely the result of the skills required to provide UX not being widely understood, and/or taken care of by people with those titles. In the future, our knowledge and skills will be absorbed into the work of other actors in the system. For us to maintain a role in the process we will need to develop more and different skills. This might manifest as those with a true art and design background being the practitioners with a key ongoing role discrete from other product disciplines, or it might require our gaining much deeper and more scientific insights related to genetics, psychology, sociology, and neuroscience. The one thing that is certain is that being trained in things like contextual inquiry and information architecture won’t be nearly enough for UX to remain relevant in the future.

So, what does this mean for both companies and practitioners?

For companies, not much. These shifts are years if not a decade away. So long as you keep prioritizing and investing in the quality of your user experiences, as the broader environment evolves so will the way UX manifests within your organization.

For practitioners, the path ahead is a little more uncertain. If you are already mid- or late career there likely is not much for you to worry about. Keep on keeping on. For those who are more early-to-mid-career, now is a good time to think about your relevance in the years ahead. If you are a trained designer or artist and can create beautiful things, you will probably be just fine as you are. If you are more of the liberal-arts-trained interaction designer type, or a researcher and strategist, you should think about ways that you can evolve with a changing landscape. This generally boils down to either branching into other job roles related to UX such as product management, or getting educated in advanced sciences and technologies that relate to human behaviour. Given that UX people are generally curious and enjoy learning new things, exploring different ways to evolve your knowledge and skills should prove enjoyable. In any event, proactively exploring new frontiers will keep you relevant and ahead of the changes sure to come in the future.

Voice User Interfaces, December 11, 2014

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

To me, the use cases where voice is appropriate, where voice seamlessly and in a friendly way fits into environments are environments where we’re alone, in our car or in an office that has some noise protection and privacy to it. I just don’t think the use cases are that limited. The intrusiveness of voice on other people is, for me, a real problem. Even though I can see in certain cases voice can be really nice and useful and convenient, I don’t see it as this big game-changing silver bullet. I see it as something that is either a lot more niche, or if it becomes this huge paradigm controlling user interface, boy, I think the world will be a lot worse for it.


If we look at how people use their devices in public spaces or around other people today, it’s generally in unfriendly ways. We will, as we’re going down the street, just like we could tip-tip-tap with our fingers currently, we will be talking to our device and ignoring or not caring about the strangers who are inhabiting spaces around us. Computing devices already, even just in the head-down, tap-tap-tap, are unfriendly. The more that we move into voice, it will be unfriendly as well. People have proven that they’ll treat strangers, they’ll treat people in public spaces and environments with them like flotsam and jetsam and won’t have concern and consideration. I don’t know, we’ll see, but I think it’s going to be yet another hit against civility and community and treating others well.

The future of UX agencies, November 4, 2014

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

[…] To be clear, we are in the early stages of a down cycle for digital agencies. We’ve seen this ourselves at Involution, with a decline in good leads and an overall decrease in realized billable rates compared to 2011–2013. But we’ve been aware for some time that the agency business is punctuated by up and down cycles. Sometimes a decline is related to macroeconomics, such as after the dot-com crash and 9/11 one-two punch in 2000–2001, or during the great recession of 2007–2011. In such cases, agencies are usually the first to get hurt but are also the first to recover. However, since the U.S. economy continues performing well, it is unlikely that macroeconomics is behind the recent slowdown in the digital agency business.

[…] There is a trend toward companies building internal design and UX capabilities in lieu of outsourcing.

[…] There is an abundance of junior, inexperienced talent.

[…] So, given all of this, why shouldn’t these trends cause panic for UX and digital design agencies?

[…] before long, there won’t be enough skilled leaders and, like with offshored engineering, catastrophic failed initiatives that cost years of time and/or millions of dollars will lead to a renewed demand for fast, skilled, and effective external design support.

[…] The best creative people won’t want to be in corporations for very long.

[…] External agencies have inherent functional strengths: we work faster and we’re more tightly tied into bleeding-edge technological developments and creative cultures across all industries.

[…] The total cost of agency engagements can be less, perhaps significantly, than internal resources.

[…] So, fear not, intrepid agency owner or happy-to-be-there staff: while some of us may go away as this trend catches wind and the market changes, the future for digital design and UX agencies remains promising. We may end up calling ourselves something different, or positioning ourselves in a new way. But, at the end of it, external creative organizations are essential to businesses striving to be better. The work will be there.

On Apple’s software design, June 30, 2014

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

The second thing from an Apple perspective is Apple makes crap software, as beautiful as their hardware is, software just isn’t very good. Do we want a company that isn’t making very good software trying to be the one that is making this big health platform? I’d much rather go with some of the smaller companies that have been doing this stuff for a while, that have been collecting and displaying health data. They aren’t all great at it but some of them are very good at it. Apple is not good at software. Whenever they go into software, it’s remarkable how much they resemble Microsoft, it’s kind of a bumble around at this point when it comes to software. They just aren’t good.

On the important of user research, August 23, 2006

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

[…] I want to put a strong mention in for the importance of user research as a first-person skill that everyone related to digital product development (not just design) will need in the future. For all of the problems with the whole user-centered design movement and methodology, what arose from that trend that is dead nuts on the mark is the imperative for everyone involved in both creation and decision making to truly understand – in a very real-world and first person way – how the products we create relate to the behaviors and lifestyles of real people.

Mobile user experience, May 8, 2006

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

The mobile Web is great for communication. Text, voice, and email messaging are all very appropriate activities for a mobile device and have a high degree of usability on such devices. Indeed, mobile devices are actually more optimal for communication than desktop or laptop notebook computers are. In general, the fidelity that voice and text-based communication requires is quite low. Most important are time-based factors such as the immediacy of response and freedom of movement between places, which characterize mobile devices perfectly. The issue I have with the mobile Web is the notion that people would or should transfer their general Web interaction behaviors over to mobile devices. That simply is not a reasonable expectation—or really even possible given the limitations of the user experience within the current paradigm for mobile devices.

[…]The mobile user experience does not fit into the browser-like box within which people are conceiving its potential capabilities today. The sooner we conceive of mobile-computing paradigms along their own continuum—detached from the original evolution of the World Wide Web—the sooner we will enjoy the potential of a mobile-computing world.

Interface design, March 24, 2006

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

I think that really great interface designers […] have their head deep-ass into the engineering part of it. They can’t necessarily back-end code the damn thing, but they are five steps ahead during the design in knowing what is or is not possible, what will or will not work, and what it will cost, how it will affect schedules, etc. Just as great industrial designers are playing in that same space with physical products.

The future of UX as a discipline, April 21, 2005

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

[We at UXnet have] been told that user experience is dead and user experience is a quality, not a discipline, clarifications that are accompanied by fairly consistent and completely unsubstantiated criticisms of UXnet and the things we are doing.

So, it seems now is the time to stop doing the work for a moment and raise our head into the clouds and begin to engage at the semantic level, lest we allow passive observers to set the course for those of us who are trying to physically get things done.

What is user experience? User experience lives somewhere between marketing, engineering, and design. It is a reaction to the complexity of digital design: whereas the successful design of traditional media like brochures could be easily accomplished by strategy from the business/marketing side being handed to the creative conceptualization and design side, the digital paradigm is inherently and significantly more complex. In fact, compare the structure of a typical 1980′s era software design team with the structure of a typical advertising design team during the same period. The two have very little in common. User experience is an outgrowth of the uncomfortable space between the two, when the rise of the web pushed the engineering and technology genius of computer sciences together with advertising executives and creative gurus.

When it was just software, being driven strongly by the engineers, the notion of extending into experience was not such a driver. Don Norman changed that. But it took the web bringing very different people and disciplines messily together to really give it legs, and for a new and awkward participant to emerge. That participant is user experience.

Where is the heart of user experience? Information architecture is a great example. It is a formal profession that was largely created and driven by the web. It was made necessary because of the complexity of digital systems and the dynamic nature of the information. Without the web – without the synthesis between computer science and advertising design – it would essentially not exist. Where would interaction design be without the web? Certainly we would not have an Interaction Designers Group. Content strategy? Usability? Each of these have developed as formal disciplines along with and thanks to the web, and each is a critical part of user experience.

Breaking from the UXnet definition of user experience for a moment, user experience is specifically native to digital interactions. That is what defines it: having to do with the holistic quality of digital interactions. Unlike usability, which is one of myriad design measures for any experience that people have, user experience is the synthesis of all design measures in the specific context of digital interactions. Sure, user experience and the people involved in the space are interested beyond just the digital bits and bytes. But what characterizes user experience, what sets its boundaries as just one component of human experiences, is the fact that it has developed from and is centrally a measure of the digital.

From a semantic perspective, as digital products begin inching toward the point of ubiquity, there will come a time when user experience as a term is redundant and unnecessary. But that time most certainly is not now. We have legions of poorly designed digital products. We have many different, overlapping disciplines that are not coordinated with one another, clumsily trying to navigate through an ill-defined paradigm. We have many, many people who are looking for someplace to call home, a place that nobody can quite put their finger on but falls quietly in the space between marketing, engineering, and design. I’ve met so many of these people, and they tend toward that quirky netherland of generalist that is neither marketer nor engineer nor designer yet suspiciously incorporates pieces of them all.

[…] But before deciding the methods and effort are flawed, try talking to the volunteers. Try going to countries that have had little coordination of or exposure to professional UX disciplines. See how – especially in less mature markets and regions – UXnet is providing a revolutionary service to local practitioners.