We recently invited a number of UX professionals to participate in an online focus group in order to discuss current and near-term trends as well as help us identify emerging skills gaps. For example, as the field matures, what skills are most in-demand? Are more specialists needed or does the rapid pace of technological change call for flexible generalists? What particular capabilities help UX professionals stand out? And so on.
While the participants discussed a number of sought-after technical and methodological skills—and we'll be sharing more of their insights down the road—the thing we found most interesting was a shared belief that designers (UX or otherwise) seem to lack an adequate appreciation for the business context within which they design.
The Biggest Challenge
"My biggest challenge," Beetle Bailey told us (a pseudonym to maintain anonymity), "is finding designers who are comfortable at the intersection of business and design."
"It's true," Beetle continued, "solid design skills, prototyping, complex application design experience, good personality fit are all hard to find, too. However, what I find is that designers struggle most with the idea of designing a product to meet a set of business needs. They also often don't have the experience of facilitating the conversation with business partners around the intersection of product/business requirements and user experience requirements."
Beetle called the "ability to understand how design fits into the larger business" a skill he would like to "clone," adding that "a designer needs to be able to understand and speak the language of the business/product team" if he or she wants to influence the outcome of a project.
Communication with Business Partners is Key
Mighty Mouse agreed with Beetle Bailey saying that "the ability to communicate with business partners is key."
"[UX designers] must be able to translate business requirements, marketing factors, technical requirements and consumer needs into documents for all to view and agree on," Mighty Mouse insisted.
Interestingly, Snidely Whiplash saw this lack of business sense as symptomatic of a broader shortcoming in the design community.
"Few designers I come across," he said, "possess the ability to understand and articulate the strategic business objectives and primary user needs and have the ability to create elegant design solutions that solve both."
What Do You Think?
The need for designers, especially those working on the web or in other digital media, to understand and appreciate the strategic business role their creations are meant to play has long been a focus of the AIGA (of which Aquent is a proud sponsor), the Art Directors Club and others.
And yet, it sometimes seems that designers view business considerations more as constraints than as the purpose of their efforts.
If you are a designer reading this, how do you balance your aesthetic choices against business requirements?
If you are on the business side of things, how do you frame your business objectives so that designers can best use their skills and expertise to realize them?