UX design is the shaping of digital experiences so that they work for people – but those digital experiences have changed incredibly since the discipline’s origins.
Dating back to the advent of the personal computer, in particular the 1984 launch of the Macintosh, UX design (short for ‘user experience design’) today represents a diverse and complex world.
With the huge variety of digital products available, from cameras to TVs, UX designers are now often responsible for interaction, visual, sound and motion design, along with coding, testing and prototyping.
“UX designers really try to do two things,” says Steve ‘Buzz’ Pearce, Design Director at Skype. “One is to look at the entire holistic solution but at the same time find the absolute core and essence. We call that the soul of the product.”
Skype is software for videochatting that you can install on a range of devices, from smartphones and tablets to computers and digital whiteboards. “But it’s so much more than that,” says Pearce. “It’s not about human–computer interaction so much as it’s human-to-human interaction.”
Skype offers a gamut of formerly inconceivable user experiences that aim at bringing people together. One of those is Skype Translator, which automatically translates users’ voices in real-time. You can speak in English, for instance, and the person you’re talking to can choose to hear what you’re saying in Mandarin, Arabic or more than 40 other languages.
Another mind-boggling user experience is Hololens, Microsoft’s augmented reality goggles. By using Skype on Hololens, you can conjure three-dimensional holograms that blend with the real world – so a plumber can show you exactly how to fix your leaky sink without actually visiting your home.
“UX design is an exciting industry to be involved in because even though it’s more than 30 years old, it still feels like we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible,” says Mat Hunter, former Chief Design Officer of Design Council. User experience design has led to convergence – we use the same device to order groceries one minute, and online date the next – as well as integration: “If I’m moving into the car, I want my music now to play in my car. If I’m driving towards my home, I want the smart thermostat in my home to switch on the heating.”
The issue that we have today is that everything is hyperconnected, so it’s like playing multidimensional chess with multiple players.
Steve ‘Buzz’ Pearce, Design Director at Skype
Pearce says he knows his team is crafting a strong product when he sees it in the hands of users: “They comment back to you of how much it’s delighted their life, how much it’s made it easier, made them more empowered.” From telecommunication to automotive, education and healthcare, UX design has transformed a vast range of sectors – and it will continue to grow in importance as more people recognise its power to improve lives.
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