Episode 121 | June 10, 2024

Embracing change in UX: insights from Jakob Nielsen

In this Insights Unlocked episode, Andy MacMillan and Jakob Nielsen discuss AI’s role in UX, the commoditization of UX, and career advice for UX professionals.

Embracing change in UX: insights from Jakob Nielsen

In the fast-evolving world of user experience (UX), staying ahead of the curve is not just beneficial—it’s essential, says Dr. Jakob Nielsen. 

In this Insights Unlocked episode, Jakob talked with UserTesting’s CEO Andy MacMillan about the future of UX, AI’s growing role in UX research (and vice versa), the commoditization and pancaking of UX, and the opportunities that may bring for UX professionals.

Jakob is a renowned usability pioneer with over four decades of experience in user experience. As the innovator behind heuristic evaluation and Jakob’s Law of the Internet User Experience, Jakob has profoundly influenced the field of UX research and design. Author of eight influential books and holder of 79 U.S. patents, Jakob continues to lead discussions on integrating AI into UX design via his new website, UX Tigers.

AI as the integration glue

One of the most exciting discussions in this episode is the potential of AI to serve as an integration tool for fragmented digital experiences. Jakob believes that AI can unify various applications and platforms, enhancing the overall user experience through natural language processing and image recognition.

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"The hope is that AI can actually become the integration glue that will put this fragmentation together again, like a jigsaw puzzle," Jakob said.

Jakob draws parallels to WeChat in China, a super app that integrates multiple mini-apps, providing a seamless user experience. He envisions AI playing a similar role in the Western world, making digital interactions more cohesive and user-friendly.

"The hope is that AI can actually become the integration glue that will put this fragmentation together again, like a jigsaw puzzle." — Jakob Nielsen

AI in UX research and design

AI's potential to revolutionize UX research and design is immense. From enhancing ideation to converting qualitative data into quantitative insights, AI offers numerous benefits that can streamline and improve UX processes.

"Ideation is free with AI, so just ask for as many ideas as you feel like having time to read," Jakob said.

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Jakob highlights how AI can rapidly generate a plethora of ideas, allowing human professionals to sift through and prioritize the best ones. This synergy between human creativity and AI efficiency can lead to groundbreaking innovations in UX.

The commoditization of UX

The commoditization of UX has been a hot topic in the industry, and Jakob addresses this head-on. Commoditization refers to the process by which UX becomes more accessible, reducing the skill gaps and allowing a broader range of professionals to contribute to UX tasks. This democratization of UX can be both empowering and challenging.

Jakob emphasizes that this shift helps to level the playing field, making UX practices more accessible to those who might not have been traditionally trained in the field. This accessibility is crucial as the demand for UX continues to grow across various industries.

Graphic for the UserTesting guide to Proving the ROI of UX research

Democratization vs. Amateurization of UX

Jakob prefers the term "amateurization" over "democratization," highlighting that more people can now engage in UX without necessarily being experts. This broader participation is beneficial, but it also requires a shift in perspective for seasoned UX professionals.

"I don't care what people's job title is. I care that they use these methods of user research and iterative design," Jakob said.

Jakob’s emphasis is on the methodology and effectiveness of UX practices rather than the traditional credentials of those performing them. This approach ensures that UX remains dynamic and inclusive.

The future of UX teams

Jakob predicts a future where UX teams are smaller but more powerful, thanks to the capabilities afforded by AI. This shift will reduce the need for extensive management hierarchies and increase overall efficiency.

"We will start having very, very efficient product teams, quite likely very small product teams that can accelerate immensely how fast they ship," he said.

He envisions a "flattening" of UX teams, where the focus is on maximizing the output and impact of each team member, rather than adhering to traditional corporate hierarchies.

"We will start having very, very efficient product teams, quite likely very small product teams that can accelerate immensely how fast they ship." — Jakob Nielsen

Career advice for UX professionals

Navigating a career in the evolving UX landscape requires adaptability and a focus on specialization. Jakob advises UX professionals to embrace the changes in the industry and seek to join small, agile teams that can move quickly and efficiently.

"Try to get on some of those fast-moving, very high efficient, very empowered, augmented, accelerated product teams," Jakob said. 

Jakob compares these teams to superhero squads, where each member brings unique strengths and capabilities, leading to highly efficient and impactful work.

"Try to get on some of those fast-moving, very high efficient, very empowered, augmented, accelerated product teams" — Jakob Nielsen

Conclusion

The conversation between Andy MacMillan and Jakob Nielsen in Episode 121 of Insights Unlocked offers a wealth of knowledge for UX professionals. By embracing commoditization, leveraging AI, and focusing on specialization, UX practitioners can navigate and thrive in an ever-changing industry. Jakob’s insights are not only timely but transformative, encouraging a shift towards a more inclusive, efficient, and innovative UX landscape.

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