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Why ‘UX’ may be living on borrowed time

Why ‘UX’ may be living on borrowed time

In his 2002 book ‘The Living Company’, business theorist Arie de Geus compiled the common traits of the world’s oldest and longest surviving businesses; in doing so, he also identified why companies decline and perish. “Companies die,” he said, “because their managers focus on the economic activity of producing goods and services, and forget that their organisations’ true nature is that of a community of humans.”

I won’t suggest it as Geus’ point, but I’m willing to bet that those defunct companies also forgot that their customers and clients were humans too. After all, the world’s most successful brands are in that position to a large extent because of their ability to create ‘communities of humans’ around their product or service.

The best way to predict the future might indeed be ‘to create it’, but based on findings like those of de Geus, we can have a fair guess at the future by looking at the past. 

A recent conversation with an industry colleague touched on the future of UX, and where the practice might be in a few years time. Although meant as a throwaway line I suggested that, within a few short years, we won’t be talking about UX any more. So indulge us if you will as we gaze into our crystal ball to make a few heady predictions that (spoilers!) aren’t quite as daring as they might appear.

The rise of UX represents a growing awareness that while the important answers don’t necessarily come easily, a robust user–centred design process can deliver many of them. 

However, we will eventually stop talking about user experience. ‘UX’, like so many modish acronyms before it, will drop out of the lexicon of meetings and water cooler chat. We’ll be over it.

What will remain however are the challenges that user–centred thinking seeks to address. Indeed, these will increase exponentially as the Internet of Things gains traction, in the form of interactions that are increasingly part of the daily lives of consumers of products and services. The more our lives revolve around interactions with screens, software and systems, the need for human–centred thinking will only increase.

Over four decades ago, Peter Drucker put it this way: the only valid purpose of a firm is to create a customer. And the best way to increase shareholder value is by delivering value to customers.

He was right then, and he’s right now.

Businesses with a head start in this new world will be those that have already begun to instil design thinking into the culture of their organisation and systematically start with the user or customer in mind. Similarly, organisations that don’t integrate this into their thinking and plans will go into decline, as inevitably happens with the advent of any new thinking or new technology.

The phrase ‘UX’ may become something we used to talk about in the noughties and teenies, and may even sound a little quaint – because what we refer to now as UX will have become so embedded in the way that we arrive at solutions, it will barely warrant its own title.

And whatever moniker we attach to it in future, human–centred thinking will continue to deliver commercial longevity. And you don’t need a crystal ball to see that.


 Photo by Matthew Ragan. Reproduced under CC BY 4.0

By Rick Monro

Rick was UX Director at Fathom from 2014 to 2017, when he left to take up a role as Principal UX Architect at Puppet.

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