Technology has been moving much faster than our imaginations can keep up with. Just when we thought we had mastered some skillset, it soon became a thing of the past. As we are entering Web 3.0, another phase of the internet revolution alogn with other innovations in AR, trasportation etc, it means the whole adaptation of new skills and expertise to be relevant to the users. How about the future of UX design and designers? Will Web 3 concepts like Metaverse and NFTs bring new opportunities for them? What do they have to do to stay relevant?
UX Design has established itself as one of the fields which is quite critical for the success or failure of any app or product in the digital space. In fact, with a regular diminishing in attention spans of human beings, the product’s user experience decides if it will be the next big thing. Human interaction with digital media has become more frequent resulting in UX Design having a bigger role. The rise of concepts, such as the Metaverse will make it even more critical.
As a designer with an experience of more than a decade, I have been closely witnessing the space evolving faster. Back in the early 90s, when the internet was still taking off, nobody knew what to do with it, for the most part. There were more problems than solutions. Sooner or later, as solutions started showing up in the form of products and the market started getting crowded, the users began to move towards those products that gave them the best experience, which ultimately led to the growth of UX as a profession.
In the mid-2000s, the designers primarily focused on building websites; there used to be web designers who were like a one-man-band who would come up with the prototype and write code to get you a finished website either on WordPress or any other platform. That was all! This obviously changed with the launch of the iPhone and Android. Just a few years later, it became essential for UX designers to understand mobile platforms and user interactions, which clearly were unknown or unheard of just a few years ago. Think about designing for gestures on smartphone screens!
Now UX professionals do so many things as part of their jobs, including researching, ideating, brainstorming, prototyping and wireframing, and usability testing. Concepts such as design thinking have made it possible to develop productivity systematically.
This is why there has been an enormous rise in UX designers, even though some may argue the actual number of good ones is not that high. NNG highlights the number of UX professionals has risen from 1000 in the 1980s to 1 million in 2017. They further predict that this number is estimated to reach 100 million by 2050.
The crucial question is — what about the future of UX design and designers?
Will the machines/ AI be capable enough to replace UX designers entirely, or is everything just going to be templatized so much that the actual role of UX designers is going to be minimal? These questions and concerns seem to be quite valid for anybody working in the field.
Brian Pagan on Toptal mentions that the future of UX lies in the ability of UX professionals to work at the intersection of technology while also mastering the craft of important human-centered design techniques. If you think about this deeper, this is what UX has always been about. Human-centered design was the idea & the real priority irrespective of what medium or technology for which you are designing. This is what differentiates good apps from the over complicated ones. This is why Instagram stood the test of time while several, photo apps that had arguably better technology failed.
However, to understand this further, we need to look at how tech is evolving and where it is heading.
Web 3 + UX
We see the rise of concepts such as the Metaverse — a digital virtual world and other ideas like NFTs — tokens that are owned digitally and are Metaverse ready to be used within this virtual world. If you’re puzzled like most, have a look at the beginner’s guide to NFTs & Metaverse to get a basic picture. Several experts have called Metaverse the next version of social media. What this means is that there will be completely digital virtual worlds, and there will be content within it like products & services, which will be bought, sold, and used within the Metaverse. How crazy is that?
A screenshot of an NFT page on Open Sea
If you still don’t believe me, have a look at these virtual sneakers that Nike just released as NFTs.
Not just this, there will be memberships of clubs that will exist solely inside the Metaverse.
Imagine all these virtual interactions that the users will have in the Metaverse, from buying their first house to getting the membership of a highly sought-after club or playing a soccer game while wearing Nike sneakers.
As Metaverse remains a virtual world with interactions taking place in real-time within it, the user interaction will have a more of a gamified-like experience. Hence, many believe the UX designers will perhaps approach these users more like players than ordinary users or consumers as they do presently.
All these user experiences, which used to happen in the real physical world, and will potentially occur in the Metaverse.
And who else is better suited to do this job than UX designers?
AR / VR + UX
It is quite true that the Metaverse will be an essential part of the future of tech, but does this mean the physical world we live in is a thing of the past now? Not really, things are still interesting here, and if anything, there is a lot planned to happen. Indeed the pandemic has made us interact less with people, but hopefully, that will be over eventually, and concepts like AR are waiting to become mainstream. Sure, it has been a fad for a while, but now major companies like Microsoft and Apple see this as a major investment area. Several games have already started to make it to AR, which brings us to another area where users will definitely want a smooth and flawless user experience. It goes without saying, this will be another area that needs to be explored by UX designers.
Smart transportation + UX
Let’s also explore the areas of EVs and other smart transportation systems where the users have smart systems integrated into their cars. These systems work using voice commands or other touch-based interactions; however, unlike mobile devices, these experiences need to be designed while keeping safety in mind as a fraction of mistake while driving may result in a catastrophe. Clearly, smart transportation is another area where the role of UX designers will contribute to a great experience for the users.
And with all these innovations making their way into the mainstream, believe it or not, this is what the future holds for UX designers and other tech roles.
The Next Steps …
That being said, what does all of this mean for the skillset of UX designers? Does this mean UX designers need to learn the basics of concepts such as NFT, AR, and the Metaverse?
I think these are areas that may not have been fully explored yet, but as these gain more traction over a period of time, not just UX designers but other tech-related professionals will also be needed in these areas. Clearly, going further, screen experiences won’t be the only thing that the UX designers need to focus on to evolve and grow to get the best out of all these opportunities. This may also mean that UX designers may need to upskill themselves with some new software & tools like Blender or other 3d modeling software to understand how these products may be prototyped. Just remember, software and tools are a part of the job, not the job itself. The job will always be designing for a great experience.
Even though technologies continue to change & evolve, as long as UX designers empathize with the users, understand their needs, especially their mental model, and give them the solution that makes the experience a good experience, nothing can stop them from growing and succeeding.
The imaginations may be endless; however, it is clear that the future comes packed with so many opportunities that it looks like UX design as a field is just getting started. And if anything, it’s far from being over.