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The Evolution of User Experience

When I started my career in user experience, my purpose was to make digital products easier and more pleasurable to use. Interfaces were poorly organized, poorly labeled, and took forever to learn—and I wanted to fix them all. I applied my knowledge of best practices and emerging trends. I used design patterns and standard elements to make things findable, learnable, and consistent. I drew storyboards to figure out flow and detailed wireframes for every screen.

But I always knew there was no one-size-fits-all solution to every design problem; different types of people benefit from different solutions. So my new purpose became to make digital products that meet customers’ needs. I conducted user research to understand people’s motivations, attitudes, behaviors and frustrations. I crafted personas and scenarios to communicate my findings to the team. I developed prototypes and conducted usability tests to iterate on my designs.

But decision makers were still dictating features regardless of our research findings. They had their reasons, but I didn’t understand them. So my new purpose became to make digital products that meet customers’ needs and business goals. I honed my process. Now I conducted stakeholder interviews at the start of every project. I meshed my findings from stakeholder research and user research to define the product’s feature set. I prioritized features with design and development teams and created a product roadmap.

But I eventually realized that doing the work for my clients wasn’t really teaching them anything. They were outsourcing their empathy. So my new purpose became to help product teams establish a user experience practice. I led workshops for stakeholders to understand the value of the process. I trained team members on how to conduct every method. I worked across projects, across products and across the entire organization to create a culture shift.

But while they’d worked to build empathy for their customers, they had no empathy for one another. There were still turf wars, interpersonal conflicts and unilateral decision making. So my new purpose became to coach senior leaders and product teams on cultivating compassion for customers and colleagues.

This is where I am now. I’m learning how to be a coach. I’m learning how to measure and develop empathy in others. I’m learning how empathy and compassion fit into the greater scheme of emotional intelligence. I’m learning how emotional intelligence plays such a crucial role in the success of organizations.

At first glance being an empathy coach seems like a far cry from being an interface designer, but they’re deeply related. It has been the natural progression of my career, and I see other people going through the same. It’s the evolution of user experience. And it’s only just begun.

I wonder what my purpose will become next.

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