Closing Plenary

The IA Summit closing plenary tradition started in 2005 as a way to bring the Summit to an end withan inquisitive session looking to the future of our practice and practitioners. The selection criteria for the closing plenary speaker is simple but important: an interesting voice from within our community with something meaningful to say about the direction of the practice.

About Cennyd

Cennydd Bowles is a user experience designer and writer based in Brighton, UK.

A leading figure in the British user experience community, Cennydd co-founded the UX London and UXCampLondon conferences and is an active mentor of British user experience talent. He speaks at design and UX conferences across the globe, and his thoughts on design have been quoted in publications as diverse as Design Week and the Abu Dhabi National. Recently, Cennydd has turned his attention to what lies beyond the horizons of the desktop computer, and the intersection of the physical and digital worlds.

His book Undercover User Experience Design, written with colleague James Box, has been acclaimed as “a must have for your bookshelf”. He writes a popular blog and contributes regularly to influential publications including A List Apart, Johnny Holland and .net magazine.

At Clearleft (Design Agency of the Year 2009), Cennydd advises clients including Samsung, The Open University, JustGiving, Gumtree and WWF International on the benefits of putting users first. He also shapes the design and strategy of Clearleft’s famous Silverback usability testing suite and pioneering web fonts application, Fontdeck.

PS: If you are wondering, Cennydd is a Welsh name and it’s pronounced KEN-ith.

Brought to you by

The 2011 IA Summit podcasts were recorded and produced by the fantastic team at UIE. UIE is a research and training company that brings you the latest thinking from the top experts in the world of User Experience Design. UIE's virtual seminars allow you to get your hands on that information, to absorb as much as you can, on your schedule. Of course, you can keep up with all the shenanigans by signing up for UIE's free newsletter, UIEtips.

Intro music provided by BumperTunes!

Transcript

Jess McMullin: For those of you who are new to the summit, you may not know what our closing plenary is really about. And here, what we've done for the last, oh, five, six years has been to invite somebody who is one of our own and who is not only able to show us where we've been, also to show us where we're going, and to use the summit itself and the things that they see and participate in over the course of the time, to help us to see new things, and new possibilities, and new opportunities.

And Cennydd is somebody who I was so pleased when I saw that he would be taking on that role. He is at Clearleft in the U.K. and does some phenomenal work there, and also is the author of "Underground UX," a fine book on being able to do UX work without maybe all the support that you wish you had, and most of all, I think, has a veracious, ferocious, curiosity and passion for making practice better; both on the, on the ground day-to-day kinds of things and also looking out to the future where things talk to each other and we have to find our way in new and different ways. And I think he's going to help us find our way as a community and as a discipline.

So with that, I'll turn the time over to Cennydd. Thank you.

Cennydd Bowles: Thanks. So, my user experience career began in around about 2002, when my government employer asked me to update and to organize its hefty information stocks and look for ways to publish them on its lousy website. I started hunting for inspiration, and I think like many other people at that time, I found it in the polar bear book. And that for me was a hallelujah moment because I had finally found people who thought the way I did, whose ambitions stretched beyond my peers' limited vision of what the Web could be.

As the only IA-curious person in my company and possibly even my entire city, I led a lonely professional life. Denied the comforts of like-minded souls, I had to live vicariously through blogs and books, Boxes and Arrows articles, and write-ups of events like the IA Summit. It meant that I knew many of you before you came to know me.

I would like to thank you, of course, for helping me survive and flourish as a rookie. Your advice paid off handsomely and now people have been paying me to do what I love for around about a decade. So, I feel a tremendous warmth to this community for helping me so much during my formative years. That said, I still think of myself as a relative newcomer to the global UX community.

This is just my third IA Summit. I've been an outside observer to a lot of the history of IA and to the Summit itself. The politics, the folksonomic uprisings, the definitions debate, these things are all read-only experiences for me. I had my hands full forging a path of my own.

Today, I work as a consultant, advising start-ups, and corporations, and non-profits, how to thrive and flourish by putting people at the heart of what they do. I think my fellow consultants in the audience will recognize that one of our strongest advantages is willful naivety. We can ask those fairly dumb questions and comment on how things look to the untrained eye before we become too embedded in the mindset and the language of the clients. And this is the angle that I take today.

Hailing from a different country and being part of a different community, I face similar but different challenges to perhaps many of you in this room. So, hopefully, I can offer a bit of fresh perspective, the view if you like, from my neighboring hill. I'd like to talk about the fall and rise of user experience.

User experience design has reached the mainstream. We got there. Senior executives used to view design with suspicion, something practiced by tall Italians with thick glasses, they now hear about UCD in publications like Businessweek and the Harvard Business Review, or at events like TED and Davos. And now, the economic clouds are slowly starting to thin, companies are looking to design a competitive advantage. They see the success of design-led products and the failure of those that neglect it, and executives naturally want a piece of that action.

Apple, of course, is the poster child. They've been voted Fortune readers' Most Admired Company for the fourth year running, and many thousands of businesses want their products to be the next iPhone. Although there's still a substantial gap between these aspirations and execution, business leaders are at least now saying the right things - experience, prototyping, design strategy, innovation.

The public understanding of our cause is also growing. Customers see and enjoy using the same desirable products and they can now use the power of their network to find out about the quality, the true quality, behind a product before they part with their cash. This means that the public increasingly understands the value of usability and of user experience, although they wouldn't use those terms.

Ten years ago, a struggling usability test participant might give up and claim, "Well, I don't understand this system." Now, she'll give up and lay the blame firmly at the feet of the designers. Many people now choose technology based on the user experience that it provides and they pick their long-term service provider relationships based on their reputation for customer service.

In a bid to take advantage of this growing design literacy, companies are promoting user experience as an important selling point. On British television, we've had banks, price comparison sites, and tech companies, all creating adverts that feature UX above all. I think that's a welcome change from boasting about feature overloads or relying on glamorous brand associations.

The world also is now increasingly familiar with the idea that information and technology can be catalysts of change and they're making a global impact on business, law, privacy, and government. The costs of mass action had plummeted. Today's connected youth are adept at using technology and the instant propagation of information to address what they see as flaws in the world. And as we've seen in the first few months of 2011, networks are beginning to uproot hierarchies.

These are boom times for people who work at the intersection of information, technology and experience. The job markets for people well-versed in user experience and IA is bullish. Even the world's top tech companies can't find the right people and recruiters are becoming desperate with their flattery. It's a candidates' market, and if you aren't already in the job of your dreams then perhaps it's time to consider leaving.

But I think there's trouble ahead and I think the next couple of years will be tough for the user experience community. Partly, I think this will be a natural correction to our success. Partly, I think it will be a result of our expansionist tendencies. Whatever the cause, I think we're heading toward the trough of disillusionment.

Our most pressing problem is that of pollution. The user experience discipline has grown so broad that anyone can legitimately now claim to practice it. Literally every designable object or service engenders an experience. However, the phrase is now usually interpreted much more narrowly.

UX is fast becoming the latest synonym for web design. The explosion in our industry's influence, and pay and respect has caused the devaluation of our chosen term and looming quality problems for our industry. Since demand has so far outstripped supply, Web agencies and freelancers alike have created a land rush to the user experience title. The skills that underpin it have often been left aside in the melee.

Some truly ill-informed companies and people now practice some truly mediocre services under the label of user experience design. I'm personally embarrassed by some of the nonsense that these UX cargo culters spew out. And I struggle daily to decide whether to bear my teeth to it or whether simply to accept it as the way things are going to be from now on.

Now, don't misunderstand me. Of course, I welcome genuine newcomers to this industry and I've mentored smart, dedicated people over several years. But even among the brightest newcomers, I see a worrying trend. User experience converts now seem typically to be drawn to the glamour of interaction design on shiny technology and the amateur psychology that helps them sound authoritative about their approaches. Most lack basic IA skills, design theory knowledge, and coding skills.

The pollution of our field I think was an entirely foreseeable issue, and user experience design is definitely not the first discipline to encounter it. After all, the mainstream transforms any idea that it seizes upon, much to the chagrin of the pioneers, who elect to grumble on the sidelines that they've been misquoted. There really aren't any easy solutions to this.

Chartership crops up every now and then. I'm afraid here I disagree with Jared. I think chartership is a nonstarter in our field. I think there's no organization that's suitably placed to offer it. It would add a vast overhead to an industry founded on accessibility and simplicity. And it could mark an unfortunate swing to the ivory towerism that plagues our more elitist moments.

So, the backlash is coming. Some of our colleagues and prominent members of the tech community now decry and deride the user experience label, claiming that we simultaneously promised the earth yet over-promote novice staff into roles that they can't handle. I think our abstract vocabulary makes for a particularly soft target. Let's be candid for a minute here. User Experience Architect is as conceited a job title as the century can boast.

To our detractors then, user experience design is nothing more than the latest fad. It's a trivial exercise of asking users what they want and then giving it to them. We refute these claims, but like hydra, a new head soon grows in its place. Even some of the people that we should be closest to, content strategists, business analysts, visual designers, are feeling squashed by the UX juggernaut. They're forced to defend their territory. "No, we aren't part of UX."

A natural reaction to overexpansion and to external threat is to retreat into subgroups. And this can be helpful to the group. It allows for the gestation and discussion of deep concepts. It can also be abused for personal gain. Simply plant a new flag and proclaim yourself king of the territory.

I won't dwell on the factions within user experience too long because it's a well-trodden path. But suffice to say, the factions have created more harm than good. It created politics and power struggles, not to mention the ludicrous situation where three professional organizations compete for virtually the same people. And this territorialism doesn't reflect the way real design plays out. Such a slippy, amorphous thing can never be neatly subdivided.

IA challenges, for instance, are almost always bundled up within larger design challenges that include interaction design, visual design and technical execution. Swearing allegiance to just one camp limits your ability to see a problem through to its conclusion. Instead of driving specialization, fragmentation actually promotes stagnation.

If the IAs dig into the IA trenches and the interaction designers retreat to the interaction design bunkers, then both become weaker, because interbreeding magnifies flaws as well as strengths. And that's an accusation. In fact, I can level at the entire user experience field.

In my early teens, I started listening to music and was particularly interested in guitar bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, and they'd formed a strong alternative music scene. And this was tight-knit community. They stuck together. They played on each others' EPs. They went to each others' gigs. The British press gave them the droll label of "shoegazers," for their habits of staring at the floor when they played and not acknowledging the crowd. But later, a more unkind label emerged, "the scene that celebrates itself."

There's a risk that user experience design becomes the scene that celebrates itself. It's true that every burgeoning movement needs cheerleaders, but in our eagerness to revere our comrades, we can overlook what really matters. Do we matter? Have we released that world-changing album? Are we as important and effective as we think? And I'm not so sure.

Forrester's number one-rated firm for customer experience, Borders, just filed for bankruptcy. Now admittedly, it's wise not to take Forrester's word as gospel, but there are dozens of factors that affect business success. User experience is an important one. But a crisis in cash flow, pricing, or hiring, will overwhelm it. More and more, I'm of the opinion that the UX community has had the best and modest impact on its most common platform, the Web.

The world's most successful sites are typically those with great marketing, or good business models, or critical mass of users. Sure, some are well designed. But plenty aren't. Instead of UCD creating pockets of innovation spring forth across the entire Web, I see commoditized and patternized sites dominating specific verticals like e-commerce or news. We've even reached the point where research now suggests that the general public expects a mobile app to be easier to use than the desktop Web. For me, that's an astonishing revelation since the inherent constraints of mobile devices and their immaturity presents substantial impediments to good user experiences.

Finally, I think not only are we maybe a little too inwardly facing, we're also a bit locally facing. The UX community is still sadly a bit U.S.-centric. I'm told I'm the first non-U.S. citizen to close or keynote the IA Summit. It's a tremendous honor, of course, but it isn't one that should have taken 12 years.

Now, the global community may not have thrown up the big names that can rival those the U.S. can boast, but the work is very strong. Some European nations in particular are doing great things. And as is her custom, Europe is doing things kind of her own way. Professional organizations, for instance, have had little real impact in Europe. In the U.K., all new community activity has been down to private organizations and passionate individual activists; London IA, UX Brighton, UX London, UXCampLondon, UX Bristol, Northern UX.

Remember that just 90 years ago, my nation was the dominant force in the world. Can you believe that? Power changes with time and we can't really afford any more just to look at our closest neighbors. A truly global practice is going to teach us a huge amount about the ways that we see the world and our discipline. So clearly, we face problems. Fortunately, we're all natural problem solvers by nature so let's have a look at how we can negotiate this territory.

First, it's time to abandon one of our most harmful addictions, labelism. As if our definitions weren't complex enough, usability, IA, interaction design, content strategy, now user experience is joined by service design and customer experience, which I believe are identical on all but the most pedantic levels.

In Memphis, Jesse James Garrett gave his adaptive pathology of the IA disease and proclaimed the end of the information architect label. I'll go one further. I'm going to predict that the user experience designer label will also cease to be useful within a couple of years. It's been a decent epithet to rail against user-hostile practice, but I think its shortcomings are becoming all too apparent.

That said, I don't advocate any specific replacements. I think a label is really just a personal choice about one's horizons of interests and comfort zones. So, I'm not saying we ought to choose sides, I'm saying we should just stop playing the game.

We needn't feel threatened or sentimental by our labels. The disciplines within user experience design are here to stay and they've gained enough maturity to become a competency for all forms of design not just with the main one group of practitioners. So, our skills will always matter and we will always design good experiences. So, I don't care what you call yourself. The work is what matters. The label, well that's just metadata.

Rather than explain our expertise through terminology and process, we should point instead at our outputs. If we are indeed worthy of our praise then our outputs had better be demonstrably better than others'. Otherwise, perhaps our detractors are right. Now, putting this kind of faith in our work takes some dedication. It means that we need to stop fetishizing trivialities of finding the ideal iPad stylus or gamifying our interfaces, and replace it within the unwavering focus on the end product.

Now clearly, intellectual curiosity is healthy. It helps us refine our philosophies and add tools to our armory. I also appreciate that there's a certain irony in using a keynote speech to denounce pontification.

But there are glaring problems that are right underneath our noses that still need our attention. Managing digital identity, helping people control privacy in the connected world, finding ways for people to take their digital lives with them between devices. Address those and I think we'll truly deserve our praise.

So, a focus on delivery has to underpin everything that we do. It is understandable that designers want more strategic roles as we reach our tactical limits. But as we head towards the territory of design thinking, we can never forget the design we're doing because that's where craft and talent turns thinking into results.

If we focus on our work, we also have to focus on the value of our work to society. As the user experience field has matured, it saddened me that our discussion of ethics has been a little bit flimsy. We've had a lot of success as a discipline of late by framing our workers a way of influencing users to do things that companies like; buy more things, sign up for things, come back more often and so on.

The idea of using psychology to persuade isn't new. Advertisers have been doing this for years and it's a hot topic within the public sector. Some of the cases for persuasive design are convincing, particularly where the desires of the user and of the persuader overlap to create clear mutual gain; so, financial prudence, weight loss, energy use.

But there are more questionable applications. And some so-called UX designers may use some persuasive design solely for the benefit of the companies they work for. I think that's a terrible waste of our potential. Of course, we need to please the people who hire us but we also have to examine our impact on the world.

Maybe 50 years ago, a group of graphic designers led by Ken Garland produced a manifesto entitled First Things First. And in this piece, they bemoaned the graphic design industry's focus on advertising trivial goods and its neglect of other fields, including education, book design, and wayfinding. I think it's time for a similar reappraisal within the digital design community.

But I'm not just talking about advertising. I'm talking about questioning the value of everything we create. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, manufactures unveiled 20,000 new products to the market, including some 80 tablets. In the words of Helen Walters, who reported on the event, "That's not innovation, that's vandalism."

Let's be clear. The world does not need another Groupon clone. It doesn't need to sell more Snickers bars. These are things that add no value to the market or the people that make up the market. What the world does need is fewer better things. Things that work beautifully, things that are humane and reliable, and they help people do things that they never thought were possible. That's our natural territory.

Now, you may argue, and I'm sure many will, that a user experience designer can still have a meaningful career creating more marginal services or advertising commonplace goods. That's fine. That's your call. But I will ask which eulogy do you prefer, "They shifted more units," or, "They made a difference?" So, let's talk about making a difference.

The first step is clearly just to design the best products and services that we can. But mostly, that's going to have a local effect and grand ambitions require influence. This is a fairly familiar topic to both the community and to the IA Summit. JJG predicts that a UX designer who rises to the level of CEO will be unstoppable. Last year, Whitney Hess urged us to look outside our community and engage with the business world. And to date, we've mostly tried to gain business influence by adopting or at least simulating a business mindset.

We talk about design as a way to improve customer loyalty, garner referrals, and to reduce risk. The idea being, learn more about the customer here and you're more likely to get things right. So, we present designers something that can be analyzed, and controlled, and adjusted through iteration, A/B and multivariate testing, usability testing and so on. We try to quantify our efforts so that businesses can see that we're not just these hand-waving creatives.

Now, I trained as a scientist. I've studied a great deal of mathematics and statistics and I recognized their extraordinary power and beauty. But I also know their limitations. Numbers are valuable advisers but tyrannical masters. Design is an active visual prediction. By its nature, it demands investment with unknown returns so there's no way we can disguise the leap of faith that that involves because design is not a science.

Repeat an experiment, a design approach, a strategy in different circumstances, different country, different user base, different domain and you'll get different results. So, numerical targets, to my mind, should never be the primary goal of design. We aim to create things that I believe are inherently unmeasurable - experience, utility and pleasure.

There's been lots of talk this weekend on how we measure these things. Personally, I think it's largely a wasted effort. The best we can do is to scratch a chalk outline around their shadows but do we really need to measure these things? The idea that if something cannot be measured then it doesn't count is one of most damaging delusions of our time. It gives us a world that rewards quantity and not quality. So, I think if we make metrics the core goal of your design you'll end up with design that optimizes those numbers at the expense of other qualities.

The U.K. public sector knows this all too well. Over the last few years, it's been paralyzed by excessive goal setting that our coalition government now is using that as an excuse to gut the entire sector saying, "Well, it's not functioning properly." Well, of course, it's not functioning properly. The numbers of capitalism are almost all short term, profit, year-on-year growth, yield, rather than long term.

No wonder then that the tantric joy of user-centered quality often loses out to the instant thrill of promotion, and discounting, and resource depletion. The metrics make it so. So, I think there's a serious risk in trying so hard to please businesses that we lose what makes us different and valuable. Our understanding of intangibles, abductive reasoning, and our long-term vision are different but complementary skills to the analytical deductive skills prized by the MBA professors and the economists.

So, I think the problem of getting business to understand design is one that's better revised than solved. Systems thinkers will tell you that repeated patterns of behavior in a system are the result of the structure and rules of that system. So, economies, for instance, expand and contract quite naturally because of their structure and their rules.

Bad companies produce shoddy products and services because of their structure and rules. So, if we want to change the way these companies work and the things they make, then we need to change their structure and rules. Adding another UX designer to the org charts or switching to a more efficient wireframing tool is a weak point of leverage.

I think we need to change business not become it. Rather than fit design into old corporate models, I think we should be building businesses in which the customers are the focus, not costs, in which creativity beats control, in which we understand the risk, not excise it, in which good questions are as important to good answers, in which we make things that matter, not things that clutter.

The economist John Kay claims that the world's most successful people and organizations achieve their complex aims through what's known as obliquity; that is they pursue something else. So, the most profitable companies don't just aim for profit. The most powerful people don't just pursue power. They all pursue a greater purpose. Be that serving a country or advancing a field.

Now, we designers know obliquity well. It's our watchword. We know that to get the girl you don't follow her around everywhere she goes. You get the girl by being an attractive person.

The shortsighted pursuit of profit has given us an economy of fraudulent fiction, in which some companies would rather forge their balance sheet using creative accounting than make useful things. The governor of the Bank of England confesses that the banks imploded because of their short term focus on profit that was put above the long term needs of our customers. Many mobile operators now seem more interested in restricting their users' bandwidth than in building capacity.

Given the disastrous consequences of those approaches, let's hope that 21st century sees obliquity triumph. Let's hope we see a return to the notion of companies trying to profit by creating valuable things rather than just protecting their targets or the complex rules that they've set themselves. And this is where they can have true influence.

Today, I propose a Golden Rule for our industry. The purpose of the user experience design is to create personal value. We're not here to reduce risk. We're not here to massage our conversion rates. We're here to make things that make people's lives better. If we succeed, then our companies profit in both senses of the word. So, I'd say that it's insufficient to judge our success by the ROI we generate or our contribution to GDP. We should judge our industry by the happiness that we create.

Now, call me an idealist if you like. It's easy to dismiss idealism as a flaw of youth, something that you grow out of. But idealism is obliquity, and without it I think the world will be a pretty wretched place.

I don't think this is such a far-fetched vision. I think we're seeing similar shifts in many domains of design and society. Modernism, with its focus on speed, and technology, and growth, was the driving force behind the 20th century. But now, I think we're seeing the green shoots of another movement - one that puts humanity back into commerce, one that thrives on locality, diversity and service, one that favors meaning and value to mere functionality and that prefers well-paced long term investment to a fleeting return.

Michael Schwartz and Joost Elffers have put forward a name "sustainism" for this movement. It's an awkward label and unsurprisingly, I'm not terribly interested in that label, but perhaps a new approach does need new language. Because modernism isn't going to help us navigate the next three or four decades, it's clear that our midterm future is going to be dramatically different to what went before.

The millennials across the world are rebelling against the inequality left behind by the baby boomers. This new generation is notorious for wanting the world and its responsibilities today. The older generations tell them, "Well, wait your turn," but that defense isn't going to hold for long. The world is going to become bottom-up, not top-down.

Power, capital and influence are going to shift from Europe and North America, to the BRIC economies - Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Shortages of energy and resources are going to mean that technology is crucial for our survival, let alone for our commerce and for our leisure. So, I think a great deal of the world is going to have to be re-engineered around the needs of communities and citizens. I think we can be central to this movement. In fact, I'd say it's our moral obligation.

It's tempting to view the theme of this year's IA Summit, "Better," as a plea for incrementalism. But I think we need to be bolder. Challenging accepted ideology takes courage. But to quote Marty Neumeier, "Quality is an act of rebellion." And I think we need a new band of rebels.

We already meet the job description of the next generation of innovative business leaders. We're versatile. We're happy working with the minutiae of pixels and interactions just as much as the grand scope of visions and systems. We can connect dots that other people can't, examining details across an entire experience. We can discriminate weak signals. We can hear unvoiced demands.

And we already have one foot in this multidisciplinary door. After all, we have years of experience acting as an arbiter and translator between tech departments, users, marketers, product teams, and so on. So, we should know how to play the corporate game, but we should also know when to subvert it. Sometimes, yes, we ought to make a rational case for why designing for users is good for business. But sometimes, the correct answer is simply, "Are you fucking kidding?"

Now, because we ask difficult questions, some businesses will label us "difficult to work with" and they'll resist our efforts. To be blunt, some companies aren't really worth saving. Their structure and their rules are so antithetical to creating good user experiences. But plenty of their competitors will welcome intelligent insight about the world and its people. And that's something that we can offer in abundance.

So, influence and leadership are within our grasp if we can be that little bit bolder. The path of least resistance would be to sit back and wait to be rewarded with new executive roles - chief experience officer, chief customer officer. But the truth is that every discipline thinks it's entitled to a C-level slot. And despite what the Forrester reports might tell you, this isn't going to happen at any kind of scale anytime soon.

So, if we want to rise to have that kind of influence then we need to be open to alternative routes, product manager, marketing, even technology, in which we can use design as a lens to innovate and then spread the infectious nature user-centricity from department to department.

Now, advocating a higher purpose is, of course, it's rousing keynote stuff. None of us needs to be told really to do good and to make a difference. I think we're already wired that way. Our values and our attitudes are probably largely what drawn us in this field in the first place. But we must know our limits with this as well.

The humility and the pragmatism of today's crop of practitioners is I think an important reason for our increasing influence. And I think it will be a disaster for the user experience community to believe its own hype and succumb to arrogance. So, as we step into this new territory, we need to retain some humility. We do need to know when to disrupt the world and we also need to know when simply to listen. We need to acknowledge that great minds have tackled some of these issues before us and respect the professionals and the thinkers who paved the way before us.

Today, I've urged the community to transcend trivial commercialism but also cautioned about the danger of hubris. So, I suppose I'm advocating the middle ground - rational radicalism, ambition with humility. It's terribly British of me.

For me, I think the future of user experience design is multi-disciplinary and it's pluralist. User experience can co-exist with other disciplines. There's no need for it to subsume them, although it should definitely subvert them. Rather than build walls around our domains, we should instead chase problems and solutions wherever they lead, defying the disciplines. And along the way, we'll meet people who think the same way and who share our oblique mindset.

It's these partners, whatever their backgrounds, I think, will prove just as valuable allies as our friends in this room. And when we hit problems that design can't solve - and believe me, I think there are quite a few of them - we'll have allies who can help us navigate around them.

Now, I have painted a picture of the UX leader, but I recognize that's not a role that will appeal to everyone. Practitioners must stay at the heart of the discipline. So, allow me to close with some speculative fiction, a view of all levels of our industry in a few years' time.

The phrase "user experience" still has some currency, but it has become a frame of common reference rather than a job title. The principles behind what we do have seeped into the bloodstream of every competent designer. Some of us ply our trade outside the digital domain, designing entire services in eclectic domains. Others prefer to scope their work to specific products or media - digital, Web, and so on.

In truth, any difference between the two products and services is probably diminishing. The gap is closing. The most non-trivial products are likely to have some service component, on a digital service component, to them. Very little exists purely offline.

I think it's likely that we'll look back with a wistful eye at this, the heyday of the user experience community, before its scope and its scale became too big for cohesion. I think we'll also look back fondly at the free and open Web created by those visionary geeks to encourage free information flow. Instead of that, I think we'll see a landscape in which the walled garden has returned, in which the Web browser has failed in its quest to be the one true platform, in which regulation and privacy abuses by governments and corporations are more dangerous than ever.

However, I think we will see that the tech industry and digital technology has finally come of age as its own medium, straddling devices and channels, and seeping into people's lives in hundreds of different ways. The most interesting and complex of problems of this era are IA problems. The promises and the theory of ubicomp had finally starts to become real, in their own nascent, clunky kind of way. And as devices, people, and data become ever more intertwined, there's a huge amount of IA work being practiced. And it's possible that people aren't calling it IA but it doesn't matter because the work matters.

Is there an IA Summit? Yeah, I don't know. But I do know there is a thriving community of people working hard to address these challenges. And amid the frustration and the head-scratching, there will be genuine breakthroughs that help people to construct, understand, and inhabit information spaces in exciting new ways.

As these practitioners explore the frontiers of our industry, somewhere, a passionate user experience designer in this room today or perhaps in another nation, oblivious to my words, has reason to be the CEO of a company other than a design firm. And, yes, they are systematically kicking their competitor's asses. They've taken overlapping fragments of customer understanding and they brought them together to create holistic detailed knowledge of what people need just as Lou explained yesterday. They're trying to create personal value instead of profit and are now being rewarded with both.

Now, it's possible that few people outside that specific domain are paying much attention to what these guys are up to. But soon, I think, they'll be swamped by people wanting to know their secrets. And I think a global swing to the mindset of human-centered sustainable business is underway.

Despite what I see as the difficult territory ahead, this community makes me feel optimistic for the future of our industry, of technology, and even the world. It's a real thrill to be among such deeply intelligent, passionate people, and to share my thoughts with you about the future of our trade. So, I thank you all for the opportunity.

I won't be taking on-stage questions here. This URL will explain more about that decision. But the entire text of this talk should hopefully now already be on my blog, cennydd.co.uk. Please, if you find this talk interesting, or challenging, or whatever, please do share that URL around. And I look forward to hearing your thoughts there and particularly in the bar this evening. So, thanks for your time.

[applause]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>