The Field of UX Design by 2030

Imagine ringing in the year 2030 and the world as we know it has not yet ended. How might we look back upon the role of UX design in the 2020s?

A river shaped like a U and roads shaped like an X, symbolizing UX
The future of UX as a the human component in environmental and hi-tech spaces. Composite image using photos by by Yiran Ding and Zachary Kyra-Derksen on Unsplash

How is User Experience Design going to change as a profession by 2030? Of course, no one can say – and civilization could come end in 🔥, 💣 or 🌊 by then.

But imagine ringing in the year 2030. How might we look back upon the 2020s?

“UX” Got Rebranded

Back in the 2010s…

I started the 2010s as an Information Architect and ended the decade as a User Experience Manager with stopovers as a Concept Developer and UX Designer.

On LinkedIn and Xing I saw designers switch their focus from User Experience to Interaction Design to Product Design.

Those who have designed visual interfaces have had to adapt their tooling and build prototypes for additional form factors: a plethora of phone sizes and wearables.

Other designers have specialized in new types of interfaces such as voice, augmented reality and virtual reality.

And other designers still have moved away from designing user interfaces to designing automated systems (e.g. “No Interface” by Golden Krishna) or services.

Design Thinking has swapped over to other domains as well: human resources, people development and management.

…and then in the 2020s

I bet the profession will get rebranded many times in the 2020s, perhaps mixing and matching a design-related job with a particular focus.

FocusJob
User, Interface, Product, Experience, Interaction, Communication, Technology, Voice, AR/VR, Ethno-Designer, Manager, Enabler, Professional, Consulant, Evangelist, Guru, Strategist, Ethnographer, Ethicist, Philosopher, Historian, Lobbyist, Certifier

Maybe we’ll see the first “User Experience Historian” or “Technology Ethicist” roles pop up in universities or in governmental agencies – if they don’t already exist.

UX Spread to Other Domains

Doing taxes is a pain
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Back in the 2010s…

Areas of business such as Human Resources and Administration already started to use Design Thinking and agile tools to better harness each person’s creative potential.

But other domains – civics, health care, taxes – were apparently not designed around the user. Just think of what a pain it is to cut through the crap and pick the best candidate for a public office. Or why you need hard copies of your birth certificate when you wanna get married, declare residency, get an additional license, enroll in a school, etc. Or how long you have to wait at the doctor’s office before they see you for a few minutes and rush you out the door with a prescription for some med. Or what a godforsaken pain it is to do tax returns on your own – not to mention doing so in multiple countries every year.

…and then in the 2020s

In the 2020s, designers helped revamp other domains.

Choosing a political candidate got much easier – like getting suggestions for matches in online dating.

Registering, enrolling, getting permits and all that civic stuff got more frictionless once citizens’ documents were digitalized and secure platforms were created.

Doctors offices and hospitals no longer had waiting rooms because patients got treatment in their own homes. Misdiagnoses were minimized by uploading health data, creating statistical models and using AI to determine the best treatments.

Following a “No UI” methodology, designers found a way to eliminate the need for citizens to fill stupid forms to get their taxes done. There was no need, because all the data was already there. Aggregating and processing it just needed to be automated.

In the domain of public health, designers helped make the spread of diseases such as Coronavirus more understandable and actionable.

The Ethics of Design Work Got Called Out

Designers' moral compass is continually called into question
Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

Back in the 2010s…

The design community is just starting to recognize the gatekeeper role we play when it comes to human/computer interaction.

Mike Monteiro compared the design profession to other fields such as medicine or law, calling for design licensing in Ruined by Design.

In the 2010s we saw:

…and then in the 2020s

The first internationally recognized design licensing and regulation organizations arose.

Facebook got called out again for data misuse. Zuck had to step down after another embarrassing scolding by AOC. Several designers got their license withdrawn for making unethical design choices.

Privacy, Data Protection and Marketing

The private sphere must be redefined when all eyes are on you
Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Back in the 2010s…

Privacy laws just started to enter the digital age. The GDPR and ePrivacy in Europe and CCPA in California got tried and tested – both in UI and in courtrooms. Studies showed a blatant disregard for data privacy regulations in Europe with dark patterns being used in most cookie banners.

Brick-and-mortar stores started to post notices near the entrances about how they track customers.

Browsers such as Safari, Firefox and Samsung Browser started touting privacy protection features. Cookie blocking, “Do not track” and private browsing features were just the start.

2020 marked the start of MASSIVE changes to digital marketing and analytics. To be compliant with data privacy laws, companies and organizations used cookie banners to inform users about what data they collected or wanted to collect.

…and then in the 2020s

Recognizing the potential of walled gardens, Chrome phased out support for third-party cookies. Privacy features became the core of the Android operating system. And while Google Ads became the go-to place for online marketing, users at least had the feeling of more control over their data.

Apple strengthened its position as Privacy Leader. It has rejected further FBI requests for back doors and baked more privacy controls into its platforms. Apple’s business shifted away from physical devices towards non-physical interfaces and services.

Companies were forced to re-invent or phase out business models and product development strategies. Re-targeting and affiliate marketing pretty much died off.

To better understand how users use a digital tool or product, teams had to rely more on hybrid tracking, such as server-side log file analytics or good ol’ qualitative studies.

Climate Change

A NASA photo showing a metropolis lit up by night
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Back in the 2010s…

Fridays for Future brought climate change to center stage. 11,000 scientists declared a climate emergency. The Trumpet Administration pulled the US back from the Paris climate accord.

Sustainable UX or “Green UX” practitioners such as Tim Frick pointed to the fact that the internet’s carbon footprint outsized that of the aviation industry. They suggested ways to consider the environment as a key stakeholder, make the front-end more performant and switch to green hosting.

…and then in the 2020s

Headlines such as “The Hottest Year on Record”, “Flood of the Century” and “Mass Migration Due to Severe Drought” increased in frequency.

Early in the 2020s, the Fridays-for-Future generation entered the workforce. And by the mid-2020s, they grabbed influential positions in tech, law and government. They not only questioned the status quo – they fought to rein in the “free” market and protect the environment and therefore society.

Instead of focussing just on the UX/UI of some platform, designers started thinking about the environment and society in which a platform is situated. They helped reduce mankind’s environmental impact by:

And while society grappeled with a changing climate and civil disruption, designers helped build things that:

Digital Detox

A peaceful fisherman's cabin on a remote Norwegian coast
Photo by Guillaume Briard on Unsplash

Back in the 2010s…

The idea of “digital wellbeing” took early forms in Apple’s and Google’s attempts at making smartphones less addictive.

Some pubs, restaurants and retreats jumped on the digital-detox bandwagon, providing tech-free spaces for people to be more mindful about social interaction or relaxation.

…and then in the 2020s

As digital interfaces became ever more omnipresent, the detox movement grew in strength and numbers.

Some governments even enacted legislation to ban tech under certain circumstances. Like when smokers had to leave pubs and restaurants and smoke in outdoor shacks back in the 2000s, tech users started having to limit their use to permitted spaces only.

Designers had to consider online/offline customer journeys and help design automated processes that worked without user input.

IOT

Back in the 2010s…

Everything from baby diapers to the kitchen sink came online – albeit via one of a few different connectivity protocols.

…and then in the 2020s

Once Amazon, Apple and Google built their SDKs around a common connectivity standard, internet-ready devices started to talk to each other.

Tools, Tools, Tools

Wireframes drawn by hand
Photo by Danae Paparis on Unsplash

Back in the 2010s…

In the early 2010s I did most of my wireframes and prototypes in Axure. And by the mid-2010s, I was using Sketch and Marvel for click dummies and Framer for complex interactions. By the end of the decade, I preferred using good ol’ pencil and paper for wireframes, and Pug (HTML meta language), SASS and vanilla JavaScript for web prototypes.

But throughout the decade, I felt like there was a new visual UI tool coming out every month:

I tried out all of those tools and more and eventually realized:

Online coding courses such as Ming To’s Design+Code popped up to cater to the designer community.

Airbnb demonstrated that hi-fi prototypes could be generated from lo-fi wireframes.

…and then in the 2020s

Even more tools joined the list. Some of the most popular ones expanded their functionality, making other tools obsolete.

AI-boosted layout tools assisted designers to mock up visual or voice interfaces from simple sketches or voice commands. That made it much easier to explore ideas and rapidly prototype.

Even more “designers” learned to code for themselves, strengthening the bridge between idea and realization.

Anything is a Screen

A girl touching a wall projection
Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

Back in the 2010s…

Everyone stared down at their hand-held screens, changing the way much of humanity interacted.

Touch interfaces were so intuitive, even a baby could use it.

My three-year-old daughter tried to tap and swipe my MacBook screen and was puzzled when I showed her how to move the cursor using the trackpad.

Towards the end of the decade, foldable screens started to appear.

…and then in the 2020s

Touchscreens became omnipresent: on clothing, mirrors, windows, tabletops, countertops, floors, skin…

Apple finally released a pro-level MacBook with a removable touchscreen.

Voice

Back in the 2010s…

Voice recognition improved by leaps and bounds. I was able to dictate short messages instead of type them out. But alas, the simple task of deleting words or sentences was impossible.

Alexa and Google Home – and to a lesser extent, the HomePod – moved into homes. Voice interfaces enabled people to interact with their digital lives in a new way.

But living in a bilingual household, simply asking Alexa in German to play an English song title was like playing roulette with a jukebox.

Designers adapted methods of conceptualization and prototyping to the medium.

I was blown away by Spike Jonze’s Her in 2013. It showed me that voice UI could become so much more than “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that”. It could be your personal companion – or even lover.

…and then in the 2020s

You could dictate entire emails or “write” a book by voice – even delete words edit entire passages.

VUI started to replace information attendants at airports and train stations.

In office meeting rooms, you could quickly fact-check or draw up charts after saying, “Computer, show us how conversion rates changed in the last 6 months.”

AR, VR, HR

A person with a raised arm that has some sort of visual interface on it
Photo by Justin Peralta on Unsplash

Back in the 2010s…

Augmented reality was used for not much more than maps or marketing gags.

Virtual reality expanded within the comfort of boxy goggles. Designers struggled with finding interaction patterns that brought 2D into 3D.

Holographic interfaces were little more than parlor tricks.

…and then in the 2020s

Augmented and virtual reality spread to compact wearables, including contact lenses. And while it first kind of looked stupid (like when people started wearing Pods), it gradually became the norm.

For most of the 2020s, bodiless voice interfaces became more commonplace in public places. But towards the end of the decade, deepfake holographic avatars gave those computer voices an aura. Designers adjusted their methods and built tools to design for “holographic reality” (HR).

Designing interfaces that blend the body and computers meant designing experiences for multiple senses: voice/sound, vision, touch/temperature, movement.

Mobile Networks

Silhouettes of telecommunications towers by dusk
Photo by Mario Caruso on Unsplash

Back in the 2010s…

Our family farm is just a 45-minute drive from Silicon Valley. But we didn’t even get broadband internet there.

At the start of the 2010s, web performance was just a niche passion by some incredibly sensible developers who realized that loading 1 MB of data over a slow 3G connection was akin to torture.

Towards the middle of the decade, companies such as Wallmart recognized that making their web pages load faster made good business sense.

And while the percentage of smartphone users on 4G grew steadily, the amount of data (especially JavaScript) grew almost exponentially.

And by the end of the decade, Google had built up platforms to educate people about optimizing web performance. They used performance as one factor in search ranking.

Communities of web performance enthusiasts started to grow, with meetups and conferences bringing people together.

…and then in the 2020s

5G first appeared in metropoles, then started to spread.

My family finally got high speed internet.

Autonomous cars used the mobile technology to communicate amongst themselves, making real-world scenarios easier to navigate.

The Internet of Things became more tightly woven. And with more smaller devices adding their computational power to the web, “The Cloud” became a hazy fog. Hackers exploited one system after another – for good and for bad.

And while latency and bandwidth were no longer constraints, companies started shipping way more spaghetti code over the web. CPUs and battery life became limiting factors.

Performance experts continued the fight to reduce and optimize code to improve the experience for everyone and limit the amount of energy needed to store and transmit eWaste.

The Technological Gap

A pile of phones old and new
Photo by Eirik Solheim on Unsplash

Back in the 2010s…

By 2019, there was an estimated 3.2 billion smartphone users.

South Korea, Norway and Canada had the fastest mobile speeds. But India, one of the world’s most populous nations had average speeds around 8 times slower.

But not everyone had a sexy, speedy Samsung or a top-shelf iPhone. The average smartphone by the end of the decade was a a ~$200 Android device on a 3G connection.

…and then in the 2020s

The Haves willingly shelled out $3000 for the latest iPhone and a cell plan with unlimited 5G data.

The Have-Nots held on to bottom-of-the-barrel phones to stay connected – albeit at a much slower speed. Around the middle of the decade, only about 15% of the population had access to 5G.

Designers continued to ask questions like “who is the user?” and “why are we building this?” They fought for lightweight solutions that were accessible for the roughly one billion people who came online in developing countries.


Published: Feb 10, 2020

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