Long-Term Changes in UX and in Adaptation of Innovations

In a Q&A session during our New York Virtual News Conference, Jakim Nielsen was asked to reflect on how he’s seeing the field of U.S. change, as well as give his thoughts on whether the amount of time needed for users to adopt new technologies has shortened over the years.

I think changing the biggest change is probably just scale size or whatever you want to call it, like just number of people doing doing UX, right. It’s probably worldwide, about two million people now, something like that. And when I started, there was maybe about a thousand or so in my my career. So maybe two thousand, two thousand times, not two thousand percent, but two thousand times more people. Many, many more companies, many more countries. I mean, even at this conference here, we already see people connecting from so many different places around the world connecting to our event here. So worldwide, more more spam. Industry wise, it’s not just only the computer industry or the telecommunications industry or even like finance companies or e-commerce or some of the first industries to get on board with us. But now it’s it’s all industries. So that, I think, is a really major, major change, which I also think will continue because we are nowhere near kind of peak up at all, I really predict will go up to many, many more times than we have now. So I think I think we’ll go to about one hundred million people around the world. So from two to one hundred million is 50 times more. So that’s not nearly the same relative growth as a thousand times growth in two thousand times growth in my career. But, you know, in terms of numbers, by just going from one thousand to two million, that’s essentially two million extra. But from two million. Two hundred million, that’s ninety eight million more extra. So in linear terms, that’s a lot more people. And I mean all you guys who are on the session here today, you’re the ones who have to go and mentor and train and see to all these new people over the next two or three decades. So I think that sets in the longer term view. That’s the biggest change. Just more it’s also more in other ways, not just us people, but it’s also more users. You know, it it used to be that users were a very well defined small subset of the population. Now it’s really everybody. What was it being used for? It used to be it was very specialized, like some one of the sort of early kind of almost stereotypical ones where airlines, you know, had these big mainframes and you could connect them from everywhere around the world and the people could sell tickets and stuff. Or I used to work in the telephone companies. So we had something called the rectory assistance, which doesn’t even exist anymore, I believe. But you could call up and talk to an operator and say, I want to talk to, you know, such and such in this town and what’s the phone number? And they would still look it up on the computer because a normal person didn’t have a computer at home. They had to call a person who would then look it up in the computer for them and then tell them the answer. And nowadays people do it themselves. So you broaden it from being a small set of highly trained telephone company operators who would do directory assistance to. Now, everybody is a directory assistance operator because everybody can go search for the person they want to talk to and find out how to connect to them. So I know the number of tasks have evolved to be so much broader. The impact on our lives has expanded. It’s not just only work anymore, it’s also a lot of leisure activities and entertainment. And these are just many different dimensions in which US has just become brought on board on broader and broader. And then I don’t even think there’s so much as truly for the worst, except maybe which is what has not changed. And that is we still have a bit of a problem with this, kind of like convincing people that they should pay attention to these findings, which is should do user research and so on. We actually have a few questions about things like that. Right. And and that has been the same. You could have asked me thirty years ago to talk about some of these things and sad to say, at least for another ten or maybe twenty years, who have those as well, 30, 40, 50 years from now is very hard to predict. Right. But I think eventually we should get to this point where UCS is like any other discipline and it’s established. But that’s the problem, I guess, and being this enormous growth, because when you can’t in the new spheres. It’s not enough that we use we have convinced all the people in the city commerce that if they do, if they pay attention to use of research, they’re going to have a higher conversion rate. They’re going to sell more. Yes, a lot of e-commerce companies have very elaborate use of research now, but now we have taken 50 other new industries and they’ve got to convince all those guys as well. So that’s the downside, I think, of being in a costly expanding field is that we are we are gaining new ground. But that ground is sort of like it’s held in a tenuous way, so to speak. And before it’s like fully, fully ours, that’s going to take even more time.

So I guess on that note, while we’re thinking about the past, maybe from the user’s perspective so than from Bulgaria had asked in design of everyday things, Don had mentioned that radical innovations take between 10 to 30 years to be adopted. Do you believe that this period has been shortened by recent technology advancements and changes in the market attitudes? And if you do think that it has been shortened, and to what extent do you feel the period can be shorter on average?

In many ways. I think this is still true. I mean, so what Don was saying is really kind of 20 years plus minus 10. So it’s kind of a broad interval. And I still think that’s to a great extent true as a simple example, is that we’re just now having this kind of video conference. And I had I had a video system in my office 30 years ago when I worked at Bell Communications Research. So Bell Communications Research was the world’s leading telecommunications research lab at the time, and it was also the world’s leading user of user interface research group as well. And so we had our I did and some other guys in another group and in the lab had developed this video conference system. And we all got in our office, you know, installed the camera and the video monitor and we could click on the screen and see what comes on the on the on the video, some other person in the company. And that was very nice to have that. And so we did experiments with that 30 years ago. And one of the other interesting findings was that people had more video conference with other colleagues who were on the same floor as themselves, as the people who were on the floor above them and below them, even though it was, of course, easier to if you’re going to walk to someone’s office to talk to somebody on the same floor than somebody who was on a different floor. But still, because you have more tight connections with people that you bump into all the time, and we also had more video calls with them as well. So there was a lot of this research done 30 years ago and on video calls and now it’s becoming popular. Right. Finally now, I mean, in the normal group, we’ve had video meetings and stuff, I would say, for probably five years or maybe even a little more than that. But but for the general public to to this widely as it’s being used now, particularly with the work from home scenario, obviously. But so that’s about 30 years from from from from research onto truly widespread use. And I think we see things like that again and again that it’s the first really major change as they take a very, very long time. Now, smaller changes. You can sometimes get through faster, like if if there is like a a nicer way to to show a product on an e-commerce site. Maybe a few years later, most e-commerce e-commerce site will have adopted that because they know their sales go up right away. When they do it so small, it’s small of localized changes, they can definitely permeate faster. That’s a benefit of the Internet that we see these things and that’s about parallel experimentation going on. In the old days, there was just a small number of companies inventing new user interface ideas. And nowadays, you know, millions of companies doing it. So small changes we can I think we can see have faster technology uptake, but bigger things are particularly things that require social changes, organizational changes.

Those are extraordinarily conservative changes, very, very, very slowly. And so that’s probably more the 30 year end of things. And it’s on the 20 year end of things. For most things, I think like 20 years is a good kind of medium from kind of something is invented until it gets to be really wide scale. If it’s if it’s a big thing, it’s a small thing faster.

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