Is UX here to stay?

4 min read David Renwick

Nielsen Norman Group defines user experience (UX) as “[encompassing] all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

It can often seem like this is the end game, that, after decades of growth and iteration, we finally have a term that encompasses and explains the work that we do – accurately. The Ancient Greeks developed ergonomic principles in 500BC, Toyota pioneered their renowned Toyota Production System focused on human needs in the 1940s and the dawn of the computer age saw the first real beginnings of user experience. Finally, Don Norman outright named UX design.

But then, customer experience (CX) arrives and begins making waves in organizations and research and design circles across the globe.

So that poses some interesting questions: Is UX really here to stay? And what’s next?

CX: The new kid on the block

UX has been around for decades. It was first formally named in the 1990s by Don Norman when he was a vice president on the product design team at Apple and has since grown to encompass entirely new ways of thinking about how to build experiences for people that actually meet their needs.

CX, then, can seem like just another term to use interchangeably with UX – but that’s not actually quite right. Tony Hillson from Service Design NZ notes in a Usability Geek article that the discipline is only around 12 years old, and has just started to get recognition in the past 6 to 8 years. Harley Manning, vice president and research director at Forrester, defines CX as: “How customers perceive their interactions with your company”. Quite broad, then.

Interestingly, this definition (and there will be others, of course) raises an interesting point. CX is actually broader than UX, focusing on the customer experiences as opposed to just the user experience.

Think about this in the context of a business. A UX mindset would dictate that we focus on the people using the product or service that we’re developing (the user), whereas a CX mindset would mean that we should consider a larger group of people. For example, who is the person in charge of procuring the product or service? Who is in charge of security and privacy? Who is in charge of integrations?

This manifests in the types of work that CXers carry out. Typically, you’ll find that CXers survey larger numbers of people to get an idea of what they think of a particular topic, while UXers will hone in on smaller groups to build up a more intimate understanding.

To be clear: Both of these disciplines have a place within organizations. If anything becomes clear from these definitions, it’s that the organization focusing on more than just the end-users is in a much better position to succeed over the long term.

Over time, CX and UX will likely become more and more intertwined and eventually even consolidate – but that’s not really the point. Whatever label you decide to give yourself as a professional in this space, what matters is that you’re paying attention to the entire ecosystem, lifecycle and experience of an individual. Drop the C and the U and keep the X, in other words.

The next frontier

As we’ve seen, UX and CX are just the latest terms in what is a very long and storied history of human-centered design. They’re useful descriptors and guides for individuals looking for clarity on their journeys, and organizations can use them to gauge their own human-centered design progress.

So what comes next? Will we see another variation of UX and CX? Undoubtedly so, but what’s going to be more interesting is what content these terms contain.

As just one example, trust, privacy and security have grown exponentially in the public consciousness in recent years. This is undoubtedly directly attributable to a large number of data breaches and security events across the globe. The products and services that we use every day are also increasingly using AI to analyze huge quantities of personally identifiable data in order to guide product development and influence user behavior.

There’s no denying that much of what these products offer has a net benefit for end-users, but there are undeniably security concerns. Building future products that appropriately deal with user data, privacy, and security concerns certainly falls into the realm of the user experience.

It’s not entirely clear yet where we’re headed, but this is the age of the experience. We still have a long way to go, and with people like you paving the way forward, the future is bright.