Last weekend I attended UX Hong Kong, one of my favourite UX events on the planet, for the firth time. UXHK is not the biggest UX conference on the international circuit, but over the years it has become the de-facto gathering place for the UX community in Asia Pacific (off the top of my head, beside a small contingent hailing from Australia, US, UK and Canada, most participants flew in from China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Korea, India, Indonesia etc). This year though, the conversations at the conference had a different undertone. During previous editions, I was rarely asked by other attendees about what it’s like to work in a ‘country where people know (of) UX’. This year though, many variations of this subject seemed to dominate the rhetoric.
“It must be nice to work in the West where UX is mature”. “Do you even have to sell UX to your clients?”. “Must be nice not to be looked at as just a pixel pusher”. “How cool is it to have colleagues listen and implement your design with minimal push back”. “One day we’ll move past digital UX into Service Design like you’ve done in your country”.
You get the idea.
For a while, during the second day of the conference, the lyrics to “The End” (my favourite Doors song) were firmly stuck in my head…
“The west is the best. The west… is the best,
Get here, and we’ll do the rest…”
I stepped out of the conference briefly (introvert alert), thinking to myself, what do these folks know that I don’t? Was Jim Morrison really a UX prophet?
That’s not at all my reality, and “the struggle” is just as real in my geography. UX professionals in Canada are facing exactly the same type of challenges. Sell UX to companies? Check. Work extra to convince clients to invest in research? Check. Lose projects because decision makers still don’t care about design? Check. Teach clients about the ROI of UX? Check. Design thinking and Service Design becoming mainstream? I wish.
Maybe in Asia Pacific there are only a few companies that are design founded, or have true mature UX practices. Guess what, it’s the exactly the same out here, “in the West”. Maybe you have a few local companies here have heard of UX, and many that didn’t. It’s the same everywhere else. And just because companies in the West heard of UX, it doesn’t mean they get it or that we don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining to them what UX really is. Small design consultancies still have an uphill battle to do in regards to selling UX to potential clients, making compelling arguments related to ROI and trying to justify what are perceived as loose estimates. Our government’s UX and service design record is abysmal, regardless of the incessant chest pounding happening on social media these days.
So I’ve got news for you… we’re all in the same boat. Well, maybe with the exception of the likes of IDEO and Netflix and Airbnb and Google and a few other companies that have done well in this space from the beginning. But you see, that’s the UX 1%. Which means that 99% of UX designers out here still work under a largely clueless technology team, or a marketing team, or a business team. And they’re all fighting an uphill battle, surrounded by various degrees of what my CanUX colleague Tanya calls “UX Theatre”, just like you are. We also learn by reading the same UX books you read, follow the same online resources you’re following, and if we’re lucky, we even get to attend the same conferences that you go to.
I also know that most of us, “UX westerners” at UXHK, were there to learn from you as much as you were there to learn from the fantastic speaker lineup. Stop selling the work you’re doing short. Maybe UX has not achieved the same level of mainstream rhetoric in the East, but that’s a huge opportunity to make a name for yourselves. Maybe your typical designer salaries are smaller compared to what they are in the West, but this is the case with most other disciplines, and it doesn’t make your work any less valuable or important than the work it’s done out here.
So hold your head high. Some of the very best and brightest designers and researchers I know are based in Asia. And just because the very best from the East don’t have the same number of followers, or the same social media savvy as our western design ‘celebrities’, they are still changing the world in more profound ways than most of us, your equally struggling western counterparts.