In the next few weeks a new batch of first year students start their tertiary education. The lucky ones will have a clear vision of what they want to do as a first career. I say “first career” because the “one career for life” concept is as outdated and obsolete as a fax machine, so any parents reading this, please ease off putting pressure on your child to “get a degree that you can always fall back on”: the standard parental career guidance mantra. Your child is probably going to go through a minimum of 5 career changes in their lifetimes, and most probably those careers will not require degrees.
Parents who have children in primary school would have been told many times over that the job your child will probably land up in, has not yet been invented. Such is the nature of the digital era. As technology disrupts, business templates change, and with that come myriad of new jobs and careers that never existed previously. Take Shoutcasting, an unusual career I wrote about last year when I delved into the parallel universe that is the gaming realm. Shoutcasters are like sports commentators, except they comment on live video games played in cyberspace, an industry now known as eSports: bizarre but true. Not everyone can become a shoutcaster, but on my radar is another industry that I would encourage students to explore – the UX industry.
UX is a rather sexy abbreviation for “user experience” and I have a niece in New York City who is honing her skills in this industry, a trajectory I support wholeheartedly.
UX is not new, but the future of UX in an increasingly digital world is bright indeed.
Design Thinking or User-centred Design are other variations of UX but they all have a common goal: to create successful human/computer, or human/machine interaction that takes into account product design, psychology and software engineering.
For example: If you have trouble navigating a company’s website, or download an app that is not immediately intuitive, that points to bad UX. You probably won’t even notice good UX because the whole point of UX is that your customer experience and interaction should be seamless and painless.
I asked my niece why she felt so passionate about UX, and this was her response:
“What speaks to me most about UX is its ability to empower – and disempower. After all, UX is about making dozens or even thousands of tiny, conscious decisions that benefit the end user. Bad UX happens when those decisions are overlooked. But I think there’s a known-unknown hiding in that summary. Bad UX can disenfranchise people (quite literally, if you consider some voting and voter registration processes). Bad UX can obfuscate, conceal, and deceive. Bad UX can widen the gap between the people who have the time, energy, and knowledge to overcome the bad UX, and the people who don’t. UX reveals power dynamics; UX is political.”
The reason I feel so strongly about UX as a growth industry is that, while the epicenter of UX was traditionally about software engineering, the relationship we have with technology, our devices and other machines is becoming inseparable and therefore crucial. It’s no longer just about navigating a website, it is now ensuring that the entire customer experience is fast, intuitive and flawless. Part of the admission process for a UX design course that my niece took was to redesign three key elements of either an airline ticket purchase or grocery store experience, and if you think of your own experience in either of those two industries, you get an idea of how important UX is, and how essential it is going to be in the future.
In South Africa UX is still a relatively new and niche industry, and some might say that it shows. At the start of the year one of the main topics on talk radio was the atrocious service that people had to put up with at the various home affairs offices trying to renew their driver’s license or applying for the new credit card ID.
The horror stories are plentiful but one wonders why no one questions why the system can’t work more efficiently.
The average home affairs ordeal ranges between 4 to 6 hours, and the experience is as shambolic as the process is illogical. The lack of signage and communication in these offices is legendary but the simple fact that there is only one photo booth to service the hundreds of people who have to be processed daily (you can no longer provide your own ID photographs for the new ID card– another non communication), is mindboggling. Adding a few more camera booths would ease the bottlenecks in the process. This is not rocket science.
The most basic UX design would improve the home affairs ordeal instantly. So if any student is still unsure of his/her first career trajectory, consider UX: you’re practically guaranteed a job, and besides, your country needs you – desperately.
By Dion Chang
Image credit: Intel Free Press