Krissy Scoufis / Culture / March 28th, 2014

The State of UX Professionals – The Industry is Growing Up

You may not know this, but we’re living in an incredible time to be a UX professional. User experience is no longer a secondary concern for businesses; instead, it’s on the minds of CEOs and marketers around the world. UX is no longer a perplexing acronym, but an essential component of business strategy. It’s exciting to see something grow from a buzzword to an essential part of any new consumer product.

But even though CEOs and product owners are joining the conversation and making UX a top priority in product development, our industry still has a long way to go. In order to understand where we are headed, we need to understand where we have come from. For UX, we have years of historical relevance, not decades.

In Tampa alone, there was no one talking about UX a year ago. To evangelize UX in my community, I started the Tampa Bay UX Meetup Group. A year later, there are three additional UX Meetup groups, and I’m hosting our first Day of UX in Tampa workshop tomorrow. The conversation is growing.

Why UX?

The web is constantly changing, and the last monumental shift has come in our approach to design and interaction. The web has become a very different place in the last 5 years. Mobile began to change the game, and websites have become so feature-rich and complex that you can’t compete with a site that merely looks nice. People focus on what they see, but what really matters is the complete experience of a website.

So, an in-depth understanding of the user and their needs is the foundational piece of building a successful product. This is why it is more important than ever before to get UX right, and it’s why more people are flocking to the industry.

Last week The Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) released a comprehensive study on the state of UX careers after surveying 963 UX professionals. The report offers an honest look at what UX professionals are currently doing and how you can find a place in the world of UX, but here are the 3 big takeaways about working in the UX field.

UX Professionals are Diverse

Like most people working in the UX industry, I entered the field through a side door. With a background in the legal field, I worked for many years in a research and development environment. Eager to learn design and programming, I transitioned to web design and eventually to UX strategy.

This wayward career path is not unusual for UX professionals. According to the NN/g report, 90 percent of UX professionals have a college degree but the actual degree type is varied. As UX work is performed in virtually every industry, this seems to make sense. There is some commonality however. More than 38 percent of UX professionals reported having a background in design, technology and communication. Although UX professionals work in every industry, most (94 percent) of the work we do is web related. But even here we see diversity in the platforms and projects we work on.

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This image by envis precisely and based on the Disciplines of User Experience by Dan Saffer shows the complexity of the User Experience discipline. So having a multi-layered background is beneficial to working in this varied environment.

UX Professionals Are Darn Happy

The UX field is a great place to be right now. On a scale of 1 – 7, UX professionals rated job satisfaction at average of 5.4, and it’s easy to see why. UX Professionals are doing things that help humanity, our work is challenging but usually appreciated and valued. Currently there is a greater demand for UX specialists than there is supply. NN/g estimates there are about 50,000 UX professionals worldwide. Based on worldwide product development projections, the need for qualified UX specialists exceeds 7 million. Unlike some jobs, the increase in robotics and technology will not undercut the need for UX work. The future of UX is bright.

Successful UX Professionals Have a Lot in Common

UX professionals are unique. Passionately curious and intense problem solvers, they are life-long learners. We share the desire to make an impact through perpetual improvement, the ability to empathize, versatile communication skills and a drive to simplify and understand how things work. UX professionals try to make things work better for the people who use them by identifying and solving problems between humans and machines.

UX is built around empathy and understanding how humans behave. To master UX you need to have an understanding of how people think, remember and what motivates them to do the things they do.

How to Get Started

According to the NN/g report, the best way to get started in UX is to attend workshops and training, participate in conferences and professional groups and to find and follow a mentor.

Of the study participants who expressed dissatisfaction with the industry, many cited frustration not with the job itself, but with the lack of support and time to dedicate to it. They simply want more UX. Whether you are a seasoned veteran or just starting out in the field, UX is a great place to be and a job that is easy love.