freatured Theory

Why UX may kill UX

Those of us in the UX industry have never had it so good. It’s an industry buzzword. Companies are opening new UX departments left-right and centre. Supply is struggling to meet demand – it’s great. Great to be riding the wave of this acceptance and subsequent growth.

This change of focus to user centred design with UX at its core – together with ever improving technologies and development standards – has created an online experience more alive and immersive than ever before.

In the past year alone we’ve seen a massive upheaval in the way we browse the web. Traditional desktop websites have moved to more ubiquitous designs – responsive or otherwise; flat has been the flavour of the past two years and is showing no sign of bowing out; and we have the ever controversial Hamburger menu.

These swift changes are doubtlessly the responsibility of the increased capital being thrown around the web. As more money exchanges hands in the virtual world – from online marketplaces, to magazines – there is more pressure to ensure each site beats their competitor. This is where the user experience buzzword has stepped up. The money has trickled down as these business open up new departments and invite an influx of professionals to the UX field.

The Generic Web

So alls well and good. We’re an industry in growth and the darlings of site managers across the globe. Yet of course we still see downsides – we can always find downsides. As the winds of change have swept through the web, generic patterns are abound – more than I ever remember seeing before. We jump from one responsive, hamburgered, news website to another. From one startup standard large-banner-above-the-fold design, to another. Or from infinite scroll to infinite scroll.


The ever present Hamburger

Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. of these designs perform a job which they doubtlessly excel at. They’ve been user tested to oblivion. Their analytics are studied daily for any hiccups that can be altered and improved. They’re perfected for their task – and that irks me.

Perfection is boring

Is it that we are moving to a point where web design has been so meticulously studied and statistically analysed whereby solutions are set in stone. Where solutions are not the product of creativity, but of numerical analysis. Is web-design discovering its Golden Ratio?

The golden ratio is often used to denote a perfect relationship between numbers and geometry. Items that conform to the ratio are deemed to to be mathematically perfect. Indeed, this ratio has been proved to appear in nature. Other attempts have been made to create a relationship to the human body, and create financial model based on the relationship with varying success – we even see it applied to many popular logos.

If, or when, Web design finds that holy grail, what then? We can question whether these new trends we’re seeing – that show no sign of leaving – are indeed trends at . Are they merely solutions to problems? Solutions only now being discovered with the improved technologies at our disposal, and a rise in professionals in and around the UX field?

Trend vs. Solution

Trends come and go. They act as the flavour of the month, or year, or decade. Such is the reason we no longer wear flared trouser (though I’m sure it won’t be long till we see the ever innovative hipsters returning them to the public eye). Solutions, on the other hand, remain. At least until they’re supplanted by something greater – Iron > Bronze > Stone. Trends and solutions are different beasts entirely.

We see many calling flat design a web design trend. Yet for a trend it solves good many problems: reducing page bandwidth creating a natural friendliness for mobile interfaces, providing a cleaner user environment with its minimalism, and being round simpler to code with a reduced number of assets and details. Is this really a trend or a solution to an old problem?

So this brings me to my main (rhetorical) question. If of these trends are merely solutions to old problems, then what happens once we have discovered possible solutions?

What happens once we have discovered possible solutions?

Where do we go from here? How can we innovate if the numbers are telling us there is no need. If we find that golden ratio, we can’t improve on perfection. The internet is then at risk at becoming a generically formatted hub of design templates (if it isn’t already) – tooled to gain that maximum conversion. Creativity will suffers as we look towards a numeric spreadsheet game. In the end, UX could be its own downfall; Innovating and researching at such a pace that eventually it runs out of room to grow – falling in on itself. (It’s almost representative of the limits of the oxymoronic attempt of infinite growth seen in today’s global economies… but we may be veering a little off topic here…).

UXers are problem solvers and once problems have been solved, who needs problem solvers?

Thankfully things will never be quite as dystopian. We’ll always have trends to incorporate to keep things interesting. Users will inevitably grow bored of these designs and request something new, creating additional problems to solve. Technologies will always improve, creating new solutions to supplant the old. The UX industry won’t quite cave in on itself, though the idea of a golden ratio being discovered is a possibility, and one which could somewhat dull that creative edge. Removing the human factor, and surrounding our lives with spreadsheets of analytics. Food for thought.

6 comments

  1. PJ

    I mean doesn’t this ignore the realities of the situation?
    Everything always moves toward homogeneity and then you’ll have a period of lull (perhaps that is where we are right now?) before new creative ideas start pushing us in new directions.
    From a numeric stand point, we haven’t found the global optimum of UX, just the current local optimum.

  2. Spencer

    This is an interesting idea, but considers only a finite amount of problems and finite amount of solutions. If this applied to any other skill set, or industry it is proven false there too.

    The more accurate philosophy from Actor Network Theory helps us see this in a different angle. The solutions we provide evolve into problems for tomorrow. Or better put as we inform the technology, the technology informs us to think about something else and find new ways to improve.

    I like to think of this as the better way to look at this just to show how important and relevant UX is.

  3. Graham

    Surely new technologies will continue to be developed which will in turn bring new problems in need of solutions.

  4. Sven Loskill

    No one complains that most TV-sets are quite similar to each other, controlled by nearly identical remotes (actually more often than not it’s an annoyance that they try to come up with new but mostly shitty interfaces to control these aparatus’). Why? Because we enjoy the shows and movies shown on them. Thats where creativity (in a just world) is asked for, appreciated and where it yields success.
    Reducing oneself to just the (picture-/movie) frame designer ignores that most user experiences are determined by the content which is to be experienced. And boy, there’s – and always be – a lot to do.
    (And yes, there are still a lot of new TV-sets being designed, so even there’s hope – not counting that every now and then someone comes around and disrupts everything)

  5. Ryan Rogness

    Design is the conduit to the solution. But Oliver is correct… when you remove more and more ‘creative’ approaches in favor of ‘usability-centric,’ innovation begins to suffer. At some point, you begin to simply focus on features and forget the excitement of something completely new.

  6. asaf

    Nice thought,
    A similar concept was once presented when professionals thought the amount of data will exceed its storage capability. in other words, data will be created faster than we can store it.
    this off course, didn’t happen due to technology.
    The same here, once the touch screen will be solved, we will have kinetic interfaces. once that is solved, we will have Brain-Computer interaction. once that solved, we will exist as pure energy without the need to work…

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