The Shift from User Experience to a Broader Scope
The debates and so-called ‘insights’ from UX thought leaders on LinkedIn are often disappointingly superficial. While some may deny it, there’s an undeniable shift in the industry. To insist that UX design should remain the central focus is to show a lack of awareness of the current trends.
I don’t claim to have all the answers about the industry. However, I stay informed enough to be a successful professional and to write articles that offer valuable insights to help others achieve their success.
Nevertheless, my argument stands: UX isn’t obsolete, but the tide is turning towards product design.
- UX is dead, Long live the UX
- UX is Dead, Long Live UX: How Tenten embrace the LeanUX method – Design Academy – Indie Hackers – 創業駭客 (NoCode, Webflow)
- Tenten is not a UX agency, We are CX and Product agency!
The Outdated UX vs. UI Debate
Why Separating UX and UI Misses the Point
The persistent squabble over the distinction between UX and UI has seen many UX professionals express disdain for UI tasks, claiming that their true value lies solely in UX work. I’ve called out this misguided sense of entitlement before and I’ll say it again: UX professionals who insist on a divide between UX and UI are making a career misstep.
It’s hardly shocking that these individuals are the ones facing difficulties in the job market.
Design, in any form, is most valuable when it’s approached comprehensively. UX and UI are integral to the creation of a well-rounded product, and neither should be discounted.
In my piece “The Million-dollar UX Career Question: Generalise or Specialize?”, the core message was the importance of a strategic approach to career development. A forward-thinking professional is proactive about acquiring a broad skill set to remain versatile and employable. More is more in this case.
I’ve encountered countless flawed arguments from those struggling in their careers, nostalgically preaching about the heyday of UX, claiming they could replicate past successes if only they weren’t bogged down by UI responsibilities.
Let’s be real: If fulfilling all aspects of your role feels like a ‘distraction,’ then perhaps it’s time to reconsider your career choice.
The Shift Towards Product Designers Over UX Specialists
The Evolution of Digital Design Demands
We’re witnessing a transformative phase in digital design, one that brings with it a fresh set of expectations for each new wave of innovation.
It’s become increasingly clear: UX is seen as a rudimentary form of design innovation. It falls short of the cutting-edge work happening in MAANGs and other high-performing companies. Executives and leaders, grappling with today’s unpredictable market, are recognizing the need for more.
Design holds value only when it addresses business challenges. UX, as it turns out, has been a bit of a one-hit wonder, adept at addressing a narrow range of issues but lacking the flexibility to tackle broader, more pressing business concerns.
In essence, UX alone doesn’t cut it.
Enter the era of product design. Companies are on the hunt for versatile designers capable of handling a spectrum of responsibilities: Research, UX architecture, interaction design, visual design, and more. They’re in need of individuals who can offer a breadth of solutions, bring seasoned perspectives to the table, and devise varied strategies to bolster the business.
To step up as a product designer, experience is non-negotiable. There are no shortcuts to acquiring the breadth of expertise required.
Those who tried to bypass the rigors of comprehensive design training are now facing the consequences.
It’s not that companies are seeking a jack-of-all-trades. Rather, the bar for specialists has been raised.
The expectation now is to seamlessly integrate a broader skill set into our daily work routines.
*A better term might be “apply-all”: Companies are looking for designers who can “apply-all”. This concept might have been murky before reaching this point in the discussion, hence this explanatory note to ensure clarity on the matter.
Being a specialist no longer means wearing the label of a UX designer who exclusively works on UX tasks. Today, it signifies acquiring deeper knowledge within your field and applying a versatile set of design skills to meet the evolving demands of businesses.
The Evolution from UX to Product Design
The Inevitable Progression to Product Design
Let’s be candid—the leap from a proficient UX designer to a product designer isn’t monumental. For many, it’s essentially a change in title, yet it’s a shift that shouldn’t be overlooked by those in UX.
Embracing a holistic approach is a common trait among the design industry’s elite. If you’re resistant to this change, you might find yourself sidelined.
Now, let’s touch on UX for a moment: Has UX design become a bit monotonous for you?
It’s okay to acknowledge it. UX design can feel repetitive because despite the variety of methods at our disposal, the end results don’t vary significantly. As designers, we’re often confined to our lane, with limited influence over business strategy, technology choices, and areas beyond our immediate purview.
Many of us yearn to stretch beyond these boundaries, to have a stake in the business side of things.
With experience comes a refined ability to spot trends and leverage them within your industry. This insight allows you to offer business-centric ideas and strategies that can have a broader impact than design alone. The success of your initiatives could be what distinguishes you in a competitive field.
If you find yourself disenchanted with UX, don’t hesitate to explore the realm of Product design. The industry is gravitating in this direction, and who knows—UX, as we know it, might just become a thing of the past.
Reflections on the Current State of UX
Assessing the Direction of UX Amidst Tech Layoffs and Market Shifts
I’ve been fielding questions about the trajectory of the UX industry given the recent tech layoffs and other economic headwinds.
"Is it a cause for concern?"
No, it’s not—in fact, I might even argue it’s beneficial. This period is filtering out those who perhaps shouldn’t have been here to begin with. I could suggest that those who are worried might not be up to par, but I’ll refrain to avoid falling prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect*. I’m not in the business of talent evaluation, and I recognize that imposter syndrome is a real phenomenon.
*The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which individuals with limited knowledge or competence in a given intellectual or social domain greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence relative to others.
That said, I’m not blind to the potential repercussions for the industry. I have some forecasts for the coming years.
Salary Adjustments on the Horizon
I anticipate a recalibration of salaries within the industry, as job seekers facing limited options may be more inclined to accept lower compensation. The layoffs suggest two things to me: Firstly, there’s heightened competition in the job market. Secondly, some of us were likely earning more than what was justifiable.
And if you understand the basics of supply and demand, an increase in supply within a constrained market typically leads to a decrease in the value of services offered.
For those eyeing UX as a lucrative career path, I might dampen your spirits: UX hasn’t warranted the high salaries to begin with. While you might see an initial salary bump when transitioning into UX, don’t expect such increases to be a regular occurrence in the future.
Our earnings will align more closely with the tangible impact we have on businesses, which will also affect entry-level positions. Ultimately, it boils down to an economic decision: the value that businesses attribute to design roles within their operations.
Companies that previously overestimated the value of design are likely to emerge from these periods of layoffs with a newfound perspective.
Championing Start-ups and Genuine Innovation
The Real Winners: Designers at the Forefront of Innovation
*While I use the term start-ups, a more accurate description would be entities engaged in genuine innovation practices.
Designers immersed in the start-up culture, where true innovation is the norm, are in an enviable position. They possess unique insights into cutting-edge technologies, their practical applications, and their potential for growth.
I’ve pointed out in a previous piece that having exclusive, innovative projects in your portfolio can be a tremendous career asset.
There’s a common misconception about what constitutes technology and innovation. Numerous small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) label themselves as ‘innovative start-ups’ to attract funding and enhance their image, yet they fall short of embodying the innovation they claim to champion.
Consequently, designers at these companies miss out on the thrill of groundbreaking work, often ending up with predictable design solutions. This might not be an issue if you’re part of a well-known, established company, but for the majority who aren’t, it’s a disservice to their potential.
Start-ups hold a dear place in my heart. They represent one of the rare settings where designers can truly influence outcomes and have tangible achievements to showcase. It’s not a path suited for everyone—certainly not the faint-hearted—but for those willing to take the plunge, it offers substantial personal and professional development.
I’ve penned a new article on the experience of designing within start-ups. Feel free to delve into it [here].
The Indispensability of Visual Design
The notion of UX and UI as distinct entities has never sat well with me, and I believe the recent tech layoffs will make it crystal clear to many—some of whom are in denial—that a blend of analytical and visual skills is essential for sustained success in the industry.
In the past few years, visual design skills have been somewhat negotiable, but I foresee a shift where they will become increasingly critical. UX is an integral part of the design industry, and lacking visual design skills as a designer is, frankly, quite absurd.
This shift might be tough for those transitioning from non-design fields and for junior designers, but it’s an unavoidable truth. You need to either upskill or risk being sidelined.
Career Insights for Designers
I often hear regrets like, “If only I had known, I would have approached my career differently.”
The first proactive step is to shed ignorance.
A common pitfall I’ve observed is a lack of awareness about the broader industry, with many remaining cocooned in a bubble of past successes or comfort zones.
Observing Industry Veterans
Lately, I’ve been scrutinizing the career trajectories of industry ‘veterans,’ pondering their reasons for not retiring and their current employment challenges.
Reflecting on their experiences reveals the missteps they’ve taken—missteps I’m keen to avoid in my own career.
Career planning often focuses on "What should I do to improve my position?" when it might be wiser to ask, "What should I not do to ensure a better position?" It turns out that steering clear of others’ errors can be more advantageous than trying to emulate their successes.
Success can be elusive and difficult to replicate, but avoiding others’ mistakes is a more straightforward path to follow.
Reflecting on the Layoff Landscape
I’ve been analyzing the profiles of those affected by layoffs and the broader tech industry’s trends. To be frank, my empathy has its limits, especially when it comes to those let go from Big Tech.
It’s not that I lack compassion, but those from major tech firms generally land on their feet.
These individuals typically enjoyed substantial financial rewards (think top-tier salaries, comprehensive benefits, and severance packages), boasted prestigious corporate names on their CVs, and could count on a robust network of community support.
For them, securing a new position is often far less daunting than it is for others in similar predicaments but without the same advantages. Research indicates that 79% of those laid off secure a new position within three months.
Unless they’ve made some seriously questionable life choices, most of these individuals aren’t facing dire straits post-layoff. My own experiences with obscure start-ups that fizzled out have taught me that things tend to work out in the end.
The real fallout from layoffs is the additional hurdles it creates for job seekers who don’t have the luxury of Big Tech credentials, exacerbating their already challenging employment search. It’s these individuals who truly merit our concern and empathy.
Navigating Salary Discussions with a Critical Eye
I’m wary of salary comparisons that lack context, so I approach discussions about designer salary bands with a healthy dose of skepticism.
The push for "salary transparency" aims to minimize wage disparities, but it often overlooks the fact that individual contributions and impacts can vary widely.
This is particularly true in design roles. Designers shouldn’t automatically expect to earn as much as their peers in other fields if their contributions don’t measure up. Despite sharing job titles, the roles and scope of our work can differ significantly.
It’s a bit naive, even verging on utopian, to assume everyone deserves equal pay regardless of differing circumstances.
Rather than treating salary bands as the definitive measure of what you should earn, I advocate for more in-depth conversations with known designers and talent acquisition experts whose opinions you value, especially on the topic of compensation.
Relying on self-reported online figures for salary benchmarks is flawed. Those on the lower end of the pay scale aren’t likely to broadcast their earnings on platforms promoting ‘transparency.’ In reality, the median salary for designers is often much lower than such reports suggest.
Embracing Market Fluidity
Many designers are scrambling to keep up with market trends, striving to meet a standard that they may not reach in time to benefit from it.
Even if I tout product design as the next big thing (and it is, in certain aspects and regions), that doesn’t mean it’s prudent to hastily pivot into this field. As I’ve pointed out before, product design demands expertise and industry-specific knowledge, paths that are more suited for mid- to senior-level designers, not those just starting out.
Does this leave UX juniors at a disadvantage? Not at all!
It simply means that junior designers have the luxury to ponder their career trajectory more thoughtfully, as they are still far from reaching professional maturity. By the time they advance to where their seniors are now, market expectations will have evolved once again.
We’re all somewhat insulated within our professional bubbles, making it crucial to remain adaptable and learn to ‘go with the flow.’
Reflecting on My Shift from UX to Product Design
There was no grand epiphany where we consciously shifted Tenten focus to business and processes—none of that highfalutin narrative. An opportunity arose, and the industry trended towards product design, We seized the moment, and that was that.
Did our day-to-day work change from the switch of UX Agency to Digital Product Agency? Not really. Our responsibilities remained consistent with previous UX designer roles, encompassing research, UX, UI, design strategy, and even delving into business considerations.
The variation in our daily tasks has always been dictated by the client’s or market’s needs, not the agency’s tagline.
So, here’s the takeaway: if we’re aiming to become a product agency, we must first excel in UX design*, which we were the top UX agency in Taiwan already.
*And yes, we also need to master visual, interaction design, and brand design.
The Underlying Motive Behind the Industry’s Rebranding
Our design community has a penchant for the superficial—our work’s value is often measured by its aesthetic and the sense of accomplishment it brings.
We thrive on prestige, and any tarnish on our reputation prompts us to distance ourselves from it.
UX Design has garnered a reputation as a diluted, standardless field overrun with pretenders. The industry’s response? A rebranding strategy aimed at distinguishing the true professionals through a title transformation.
As design professionals, we recognize that change is the only constant, and to stay relevant, we must sprint ahead in an industry where others may leisurely follow. This reality often comes with the harsh truth that design isn’t considered a core function in many sectors, despite the potential we have to drive business forward.
Here’s a thought that might not sit well with everyone: designers must actively avoid becoming obsolete. I find it baffling when I see a sense of entitlement within the UX community, with demands to focus solely on one facet of their role, ignoring the need for a more integrated approach.
The verdict from the market is clear: UX’s influence is waning, and product design is taking the lead. We’re on the cusp of a new era in digital design, marked by this shift. Thank you for taking the time to read this.