UX Scotland: interview with Cennydd Bowles

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Cennydd Bowles is the Endnote speaker for UX Scotland 2018. His book Undercover User Experience Design was one of the first books on usability that I read at the start of my career, so it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to do a short interview with Cennydd ahead of the conference.

You published a book back in 2010 about incorporating basic usability practices in organisations (Undercover User Experience Design), before User Experience became the buzz term it is today. What has changed ever since?

The field has bloomed, in both the flower way and the mould way. Executives have
started to understand the nature and benefit of design, and to see user experience as an important differentiator. As a discipline, UX has become neatly packaged and commoditised, allowing designers to roll out process and roles and other things that businesses like.
However, the field has also become polluted by bandwagon-jumping mediocrity, and designers are being strategically outflanked by product managers, marketers, and data scientists.

As many of us ‘old school uxers’, your are a ‘self-made’ designer. What are your thoughts on the growing offer of ux design courses/degrees?

Some are good, some aren’t. The courses I like teach a variety of design approaches, and that encourage their students to challenge the status quo and to be occasionally critical of mainstream design and technology practices. I’m less keen on the courses whose raison d’etre seems to be pumping out junior practitioners for their first UX role.

You are now focusing your career on the ethics of future technology, which is an increasingly relevant topic in current times as illustrated by the Cambridge
Analytica/Facebook scandal, and the coming GDPR regulations. What prompted that change?

[Gestures wildly at everything happening in the tech world.]

Your session at UX Scotland is based on the premise that user-centred design is starting to stagnate. What do you foresee will be the next ‘big thing’ in the
discipline of usability?

I’d put usability in the same boat as UCD [User-Centred Design]. We’re approaching an era in which we won’t use technologies so much as coexist with them. Emerging tech’s design challenges will be more about communication, agency, morality, and accountability than use. I think speculative and critical design can teach us a lot here, as can science & technology studies academics, artists, science-fiction writers, and philosophers. I hope the next big thing is for designers to shift away from the delivery-first mindset and to listen to these people. After all, they’ll been looking at these broader issues for decades.

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Cennydd’s Post UX endnote will take place on Friday 15 June.

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