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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Comments

  1. says

    It is funny how we start out thinking we are making things that have to do with websites (or other digital what-have-yous) and then we realize, it’s all just about people, and communication between them. Never easy, always messy, and deeply rewarding when you make real progress.

  2. Eva Kaniasty says

    I think this transition makes perfect sense. When I was thinking of going out on my own to do consulting, I was also considering coaching. Lately I’m starting to think about how to help clients follow a strategy that takes into consideration methods, process, as well as the people. As you said, if one is weak or missing, the UX effort ends up being a struggle, or worse yet, slowly dies on the vine. Having worked in healthcare, which tends to be very political, I’m always acutely aware of how much success depends on the stakeholders’ attitudes and willingness to push for organizational change.

  3. Keith Instone says

    Next: Organizational change agent? Trying to move the whole company/organization (not just leaders and product teams) to be more human-centered, to embody the core values of UX in all that they do?

  4. Vera Polyakova says

    This is wonderful, Whitney.I love the progression and evolution of your journey. I enjoy following your blog and your passion for empathy. I, too, am working in my own way to marry my knowledge in psychology with our design and research. In my current position I focus on user and usability research, and always try to bring us back to the problem we are trying to solve and for who. I loved to read this: I conducted user research to understand people’s motivations, attitudes, behaviors and frustrations. Because I am also developing my coaching career, I think where you are now is every exciting! Can’t wait to hear more!

  5. Davide says

    wow, I see lot of my thoughts in it. To be provocative, I wondered if sometimes, the success of a product would be just the perfect “harmony” of the actors that create the product… no matter what product is.

  6. Paola Miani says

    Reading your post was very inspiring for me Whitney, as I am experiencing the same progression in my career.

    I’ve discovered that coaching has a lot of similarities with User experience consultancy and innovation methodologies and it could be a great way to help companies to achieve their goals.

    I noticed during my 15 years of experience as a UX consultant that very often is not enough to deliver a solution that meets user and business needs. The implementation of these ideas become a difficult task when stakeholders are not aligned on their goals. The companies are organised in sylos where nobody cares or knows about each other needs.

    We could help to generate that empathy between them and make them work collaboratively towards the same goal through workshops where the UX coach explains to the audience the facts founded through the the research.

    I have experienced in many workshops how people come thinking about their own problems and goals and at the end of the session they transform completely their attitude and work collaboratively to define a feasible plan to make things happen instead of creating barriers or excuses to avoid extra work.

    Companies need UX coaching to develop empathy but also to align their objetives and generate synergies to empower them to achieve their goals.

    Is good to know that coaching is becoming a natural evolution of more people on the field. Thanks for sharing!

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