UX is Dead.
Congratulations! We did it. UX has finally gone mainstream.
Congratulations! We did it. After years of trying to advocate the importance of UX and bring high-quality experiences to the digital world, we achieved our dream: UX has gone mainstream. Now a certain norm of digital experience is assumed. Today, we largely notice solely the absence of good UX design, and that with a kind of visceral simmer of rage borne from suffering long hours on zoom at our COVID-induced temporary offices at our kitchen tables. Blame COVID if you like, but in the last 3 years, good UX has become the norm, a baseline, the assumed de-facto standard, like hot water, electricity, and good Wi-Fi signal.
The final nail in the UX coffin is being hammered in with the arrival of functional, capable AIs that are becoming deeply incorporated into our builder tools, daily processes, and digital education. It was inevitable: much of good UX is, after all, design patterns — and AI is spectacularly good at pattern recognition, machine learning, and mimicry. And now, with ChatGPT and AI-art tools, design patterns can be effectively leveraged to design, user-test, and build simple applications with standard, well-known design approaches.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at this fantastic example from AirBnB of what can already be achieved with AI in UX design: https://airbnb.design/sketching-interfaces/
https://www.youtube.com/live/outcGtbnMuQ?feature=share (Start at 16:00 min)
So while we cheerfully celebrate the arrival of our new robot overlords, I want to take a moment just to notice how profoundly the UX industry will be affected by this change. I’ve been a designer for almost 30 years. I do not exaggerate when I say that the new advances in AI will likely be the biggest disruption to our industry since its founding in the cradle of Information Architecture.
The Gods are not without humor: at least we can say that AI is killing what IA has started.
Here is a preview of the near-future attractions coming soon to a workplace near you:
It should be obvious by now that we will need far fewer designers. Today’s designers are like barefoot peasants cutting a meager harvest of wheat stalks with a sickle and threshing it by hand, sweating over producing and maintaining every single pixel for table after table, left-aligning all those lovely user registration forms on our 8px grids. And our feudal lords are about to get modern AI-powered combines virtually overnight. Not only will those combines be able to produce simple pattern-driven wireframes on demand, but they will also produce and maintain the matching React code. This brings us DesignOps.
DesignOps, especially Design Systems work, will be radically altered. New AI tools will inevitably emerge for the end-to-end Design Systems workflows: from picture to code, the UI layer will be vastly simplified and streamlined. This will happen quite fast: whereas in the past, our design tools’ APIs were firmly locked down by Adobe, Figma is much more open (it's browser-based, for crying out loud… How much closer to the code can you get?) This means that practical solutions for deep alignment and interdependence of design and code will arrive in literally a matter of months (if not weeks). We will finally realize the dream of direct component pipelines, with Design Systems designers putting together AI requests and producing actual custom working code components.
This means that Designers who succeed in the new normal will have to become “AI Whisperers:” technical builders intimately familiar with how to use AI to produce the desired outcomes. Tuning and maintaining the AI that, in turn, maintains the design system. Think about that for a second – DesignOps will be in charge of maintaining the AIs that will, in turn, maintain the design and documentation systems. OK, you can keep reading.
UX elitism, or “White-tower-ism,” will absolutely not be tolerated. Designers who continue to cheerfully ignore real-world time and LOE project constraints and insist on producing bullshit designs that do not match existing design patterns, producing designs that would take years to build while adding zero customer value, will be unable to find employment. On the other hand, those who embrace Project Management, the art of delivering as expected, on time, and on budget (which has always been the greatest partnership for UX Designers wanting to get something out the door) will gain increased prominence. UX is a job. And designers will have to become part of the team (pigs, not chickens in agile parlance), fully aware of and actually driving deadlines through “deadline-aware design,” e.g., design blueprints 100% aligned with, accurately describing and even, in fact, comprising the front end of the actual deliverables. As a result, more and more UX designers will be asked to help manage projects and timelines using our AI-generated detailed mockups and working front-end code components.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, intensely practical, visionary design skills are likewise going to be a requirement. The designers who manage to keep their jobs will be the ones who can combine a practical understanding of Technology, Sales, Marketing, and a broad array of Product Management skills like evaluating product-market fit, with the ability to design, i.e., imagine novel, impactful ways of interacting with and deriving value and pleasure from technological advancements.
In a way, designers will become Solution Architects; only the solutions they sell will be things that organizations have not built yet. Another way to look at the role would be that of “Ambassadors of Innovation,” finding novel ways to introduce technological advancements into the daily lives of ordinary digital citizens.
This, in turn, means focusing on the Ethics of technology in general and AI in particular. Deeply reflecting on and looking into the future, these brave UX souls will help their companies navigate the unstable and turbulent waters of AI, battle with yet unseen hydra monsters of misinformation and deep fakes, and help enterprises large and small steer clear of the dangerous shallows of morally ambiguous AI biases.
UX Research: AI will also irretrievably alter the practice of UX Research. (This is a huge topic that we will cover in our next Newsletter.)
The future is here, but it is not, in the words of William Gibson, “evenly distributed.” What can you do to prepare for this incredible disruption? Glad you asked! With this installment, Daria Kempka and I are kicking off our Newsletter: “Doom & Gloom: The Impending Demise of IA by AI”... ahem, just kidding… Scratch that and reverse it—
Our Newsletter is titled “UX for AI: UX Leadership in the Age of Singularity.” and I hope you join us at our next event:
UX for AI: A Framework for Product Design Workshop
3-day virtual workshop
December 6-8 2023, 9:30am-11:30am PT
Discover the path to AI project success in this practical workshop. Drawing insights from 32 UX for AI projects, Greg will equip you with advanced UX Design skills to lead your next AI project:
Identify the right AI use case
Deploy effective research techniques for AI applications
Create use-case storyboards
Leverage the “Value Matrix” to train AI models with human values
Harness established UX for AI design patterns like Digital Twin and Chat
Deploy advanced Data Visualizations to communicate AI predictions and insights
Structure your team for optimal project success.
Get the practical tools you need to succeed in leading your next UX for AI project.
Greg & Daria