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  • Writer's pictureJakob Nielsen

Directions for the UX Profession

Summary: A thematic analysis of social media posts identified several key themes, offering a unique, audience-centered perspective on the future of design: optimism about UX’s future, AI’s role in design innovation, changing UX practices, the need for professional growth & adaptation, and emphasizing UX’s core role of driving problem-solving and creativity. Includes 6 comic strips illustrating these themes.


I did a fireside chat with ADPList together with design luminary Sarah Gibbons. Almost 4,000 ADPList members from around the world participated in the live session, and the full recording is now available to watch on YouTube (68 min. video).

(You should also watch my solo fireside chat with ADPList — 78 min. video — for my take on a different set of questions.)

Many attendees posted on social media after the live event. Most said that it was a great session, for which I am deeply grateful. Many also said that they appreciated that Sarah and I took the optimistic and proactive view of what UX professionals can do to evolve with AI, both to use AI in our own work, and to shape the new AI-driven world economy.

A bright future awaits UX, as we embrace AI and drive new directions for design. Most participants in my recent live session appreciated this optimistic perspective on the future. (Ideogram)

Many people also posted their main takeaways from the session. Here, I present an analysis of 78 such postings. Normally, when I announce the recording of a podcast or webinar, I’ll report what I personally felt was my main message. But this time, I’m telling you what the audience thought was most important in the session. This is only feasible because there were so many analyses posted online after the live event. I thank everybody who took the time to write up their conclusions from the session. For once, I can take a user-centered approach to my report and tell you what the audience thought.

I ran all the comments through ChatGPT and asked it to perform a thematic analysis. The ability to quickly analyze a large body of qualitative data is an excellent use of current AI. Even if it misclassifies one or two of the verbatims, no harm is done.

There were 6 themes of main audience takeaways from the discussion between Sarah and me. I’m listing them sorted by the number of people making comments within each theme, but of course, you should not make too much of the rank ordering given the small sample size. The one significant conclusion is that AI was the topic of most interest to the audience.

Each theme is exemplified by a short comic strip. Click each image to make it larger.

Theme 1: AI’s Role in UX and Design Innovation (26 Comments)

This theme encompasses comments focusing on how artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the landscape of user experience (UX) and design. Many comments highlight the optimistic views of Jakob Nielsen and Sarah Gibbons on AI's potential to enhance the field of UX. We see AI as a tool that augments the capabilities of designers, enabling them to tackle broader challenges and innovate more effectively. The conversation often touched upon the concept of AI as a “forklift for the mind,” implying that AI can significantly uplift the creative and analytical prowess of UX professionals. These comments reflect a consensus that, while AI introduces new tools and possibilities, the core principles of UX design remain vital. The emphasis is on the balanced integration of AI into design practices, ensuring that it serves to enhance rather than replace human creativity and insight.

Sarah and I discussed how AI could augment the skills of UX professionals and allow them to accomplish more while staying true to the user-centered design process and usability principles. Story Illustrator GPT kept crashing while I made this comic strip, so I had to start over several times, losing character cohesion.

Theme 2: The Evolution of UX Design Practice (15 Comments)

Comments within this theme discuss the evolving practices within UX design, including shifts towards decentralization in management, the importance of embracing a generalist approach, and the growing influence of UX across industries. There’s a recognition of the transition from specialized roles to more integrated, holistic approaches to UX design, spurred by AI's ability to bridge skill gaps. Less centralization of UX design will promote a sense of ownership and innovation among UX staff. This theme highlights a broader view of UX as not just a design discipline but as a crucial component of business strategy and innovation. The analyses acknowledge the need for UX professionals to adapt and evolve, embracing new tools and methodologies while staying grounded in the foundational principles of human-centered design.

Time is running out for large-scale centralized UX departments. AI is a seniority booster that upskills UX staff to be able to handle a wider range of tasks, making everybody into the fabled “UX Unicorn” which means that smaller groups of UX specialists (or individual UX specialists) can do everything for the product teams they join. (Story Illustrator GPT)

Theme 3: Professional Growth and Adaptation (12 Comments)

Under this theme, comments focus on the importance of continuous learning, skill development, and the need for UX professionals to adapt to the changing landscape. Insights shared by Jakob Nielsen and Sarah Gibbons stress the value of curiosity, experimentation, and the willingness to embrace failure as part of the learning process. This theme also touches on the importance of understanding one's unique value proposition and leveraging personal strengths to stand out in the field. It’s about the journey of personal and professional growth, fostering a mindset that is open to change and innovation, and how these qualities can lead to meaningful contributions within the UX community.

You don’t need a degree to be a successful UX designer, but you do need to develop expertise in specific product segments. Here, our anachronistic story has the equally anachronistically-dressed Greta become an expert in designing for elderly users. (Story Illustrator GPT)

Theme 4: Problem-Solving and Creativity (12 Comments)

This theme focuses on the core of UX design: problem-solving and creativity. Comments reflected a collective appreciation for UX design’s problem-solving essence, emphasizing the need to maintain a passion for tackling challenges and exploring new ideas. The role of AI in enhancing this aspect of UX design was also mentioned, with AI tools being seen as enablers that allow designers to address more complex problems and push the boundaries of creativity. This theme underscores the fundamental principle that despite technological advancements, the goal of UX design remains centered on solving user problems and improving experiences.

Creative problem solving is core for UX design, especially when based on user research. AI is an ideation beast, but user data sparks even more great UX ideas. (Story Illustrator GPT) Reviewing this comic, I realize that Maria’s hair keeps changing and that her outfit is the wrong color in panel 5. Character cohesiveness is still not perfect with today’s comic strip AI tools. (On the other hand, Akio and Greta are quite consistent in the above two comics, as are Ricardo and Feifei in the next two comics. The AI mostly did well, particularly considering the state of character persistence just a few months ago.)

Theme 5: Ethical Considerations and Human-Centered Design (8 Comments)

Ethical considerations and the importance of maintaining a human-centered approach in UX design, especially in the context of AI integration, were significant concerns. Comments within this theme stressed the need to ensure that design decisions prioritize user needs and values. This theme reflects a collective awareness of the potential challenges posed by AI and the importance of a balanced approach that respects fundamental UX principles while embracing technological advancements.

AI or not, UX must be based on serving user needs. For more on the “basket sneaking” dark design pattern mentioned in this comic, see my catalog of dark design patterns. (Story Illustrator GPT)


Theme 6. Community Engagement and Sharing (8 Comments)

This theme captures comments that emphasize the importance of community, sharing experiences, and the value of collaboration among UX professionals. There's a call to action for more open sharing of failures and successes alike, fostering a culture of transparency and support within the UX community. The idea is that by sharing our stories — both the triumphs and the setbacks — we can learn from each other, inspire growth, and collectively advance the field of UX. This theme highlights the role of community in driving innovation, offering support, and enhancing the collective knowledge of UX practitioners.

Mentorship through ADPList is a great new way to learn UX through just-in-time inspiration. My apologies to the real UX staff at Grab in Singapore who designed the traffic light feature which I have ascribed to my fictional comic book character’s insight from something her mentee said. (Story Illustrator GPT)


Other Comments (5 Comments)

A few comments did not fit neatly into the above themes and have been categorized here. These include specific suggestions for activities like AI hackathons, reflections on Jakob and Sarah’s presentation style, or unique insights that didn’t align with the broader discussions.

Optimism about the future of UX and AI was such an important message in the ADPList fireside chat with Sarah Gibbons and me that I’ll leave you with one more optimistic image: look into our crystal ball, and you’ll see great times ahead, even if some people may think it’s dark and rainy right now. (Midjourney)

You’ve read the audience summaries of the ADPList fireside chat, and you’ve seen the comic strips bringing these issues to life. Now watch the video for our detailed comments on all these issues.


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