Current state of IA and UX in South Africa
What is the current state of IA and UX design practice in South Africa?
It’s strange, I was working as an information architect in Cape Town in 1997. I went overseas, the dot com bubble burst and when I returned in 2004 the role had disappeared from the face of SA. Over the past 8 years there’s been a slow resurgence mainly aided by Steve Jobs providing a tangible argument for the role of design in business.
The local design industry (and I’m generalising here) still views UX and digital work in particular, as a somewhat techie and analytical thing – which it’s not. Last I checked, graphic, print, industrial and architectural design still held the lion’s share of presence at the Design Indaba (it may have been different this year, I didn’t attend) which is kind of crazy when you consider that the world has been in the grip of an information and technology revolution for the past 15 years.
There remain only a handful of senior UX people and true UX agencies in South Africa and we need more. A lot of people are coming back, having gained experienced abroad, and hopefully more will come back.
The fields of IA and UX locally are desperate for skilled new entrants and some of the schools and universities are responding (in particular the University of Johannesburg’s Fine art, design and Architecture faculty) but more need to come on board.
Client’s are getting smart on the topic and are often ahead of agencies claiming to do UX (where many of the agencies are just offering sitemaps and wireframes). To help clients, we need standards and better industry organisation – a professional body of some kind would help.
IA and UX are heavily bound up in innovation driven by user-centered methods (true customer experience design). The commitment to this path by clients is often more than they realise. Designing a corporate website, for instance, using user-centered methods, usually has far reaching implications that influence organisational culture, processes, marketing, other channels… so it’s important for both service providers and clients not to pay lip-service to design and innovation.
That said, it’s a very positive sign that corporates are starting to embed UX into their organisations. Two standout examples are Discovery and Standard Bank.
And lastly, we seem to have only just woken up to the importance of UX design and the next train is already leaving the station; that being Cross-Channel IA, Service Design, Design Thinking, etc. We need to catch-up. There are many common threads between these fields (in the main user-centered research methods and design synthesis techniques) so we need to stop focusing on deliverables and start understanding (and selling) process and principles. This will make the fields more interoperable and push design in the area forward more quickly.
Overseas, these fields are having a huge impact in social spaces (both in the developed and developing world). We have a desperate need for more designers to place value in having an impact on our society and a move away from design for sales, marketing, big brands and awards.