Marc O'Riain. Thoughts on UX Design


Marc O’Riain is president of the Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI), an interior architecture professional and lecturer in the Department of Architecture at Cork Institute of Technology. Frontend spoke to Marc to get his insights on the UX sector in Ireland, where it sits in the overall design landscape and where it figures in the IDI’s plans for the future of Irish design.

On the growth of UX in Ireland…

UX design is the fastest growing design sector in Ireland. The IDI now has members from Price Waterhouse Cooper and a number of other big financial firms — this is a big switch. We now have large businesses that are actually creating in-house design teams to start look at innovative ways of packaging products that can be sold online or on a mobile platform. There’s a lot of investment now, but maybe not the resources to match. Intel are offering 200 new positions in UX in Ireland and you wonder where they’re going to get those designers — the colleges are slow in reacting to this. We should be introducing springboard courses to get people into UX. The penny is dropping with industry, in terms of the value and importance of design, and they will respond faster than anyone.

Right now, I’d say the industry is at 5% of its potential. We’re moving from the period of technology into the period of design. And then of course, with the arrival of the internet of things — embedded technology — there’s going to be an increased need for collaboration and UX has a place in that.

But, as I said, there are a lack of graduates in the field. Perhaps there’s a communications issue there – I think people tend to apply to traditional disciplines because they understand them, they understand and comprehend those roles, whereas many people don’t understand what UX is.

On the annual IDI Disrupt Awards in 2015…

This year, we tried to shake up the categories for the awards a little bit, to reflect changes in the design landscape. Up until now, the categories had been quite dated really. The idea of ‘connect and transform’ was something we’d seen in the UX awards in America, something which is a little bit less tied down to an artefact and more about how people were achieving a design product, which mightn’t have been something that was tangible, but more virtual. I’m hoping this is the beginning of moving the awards towards becoming a little bit more ubiquitous. And I think this year we’re going to see a lot more collaboration between disciplines, so that’s where I think the disciplinary boundaries are going to start to break down a bit.

I’m hoping this is the beginning of a transition away from the atria of design disciplines and towards the measurable impacts of design.

I’m hoping this is the beginning of a transition away from the atria of design disciplines and towards the measurable impacts of design. This is very challenging for us as people will complain if their exact discipline is not reflected in the awards.

I’m a great believer in a blended model. I think increasingly we’re going to see people looking for more holistic solutions to problems, which will involve people from different disciplines working together. And I think that needs to be reflected in education and in the awards themselves, as well as in membership of design organisations and then into government policy.

On the IDI’s plans for the UX sector…

In terms of the IDI, we’re trying to establish a plan for UX in the long-term, but we need to increase our numbers internally before that can happen. The more UX people get involved and start realising we need to promote education and awareness within the IDI, the better. Our doors are open — you can come to us, and we will help you create targets and action change, but this doesn’t mean we will do it for you. The IDI is a community — what you get out of it tends to reflect what you put in.

I think it would be really useful to have open-disciplinary workshops so people from different design disciplines, and even clients, got to actually know what UX could do. I think there’s a lack of knowledge in general, even within the industry itself, of how to define what UX is. Taking Frontend as an example, I know that there are seriously savvy tech people working here, as well as serious designers and serious systems people… so is UX all three of these things working together?

On the need for disruption and innovation…

The time is ripe for disruption. The recession pushed people out of their comfort zones and caused unexpected collaborations between designers. There are a lot of things that are broken and I think this is a great opportunity to propose how they can be fixed. Does that mean I think the government are going to propose that designers tender to fix the HSE? No, because the government doesn’t understand the value of design and disruption. But, we can see it being used effectively elsewhere — the New Zealand government is being redesigned at the moment from the ground up, by designers. The UK voting platform has been completely redesigned from a UX point of view and it’s been massively successful. If we’re going to let Irish people abroad vote, why can’t they vote online? Why don’t we trust the internet to do these things? There are so many systems that are ancient in this country — there’s great opportunity for disruption, literally everywhere. It gives you an idea of the potential of UX and service design in Ireland.

Changing the categories for the IDI Disrupt awards this year was the beginning of disruption. You have to do it gradually, to be able to bring people with you. You can’t get radical immediately.

You can have an innovative logo or an innovative chair, but I’m not sure that drives innovation itself…

We need to push innovation, and not just in the sense of innovating with traditional forms of design. You can have an innovative logo or an innovative chair, but I’m not sure that drives innovation itself… And the unfortunate thing about innovation in the abstract is that the press have no interest in it — they won’t feature UX in an article on design because you can’t show it to them. The government aren’t interested because they can’t get a picture in front it.

My Milkman [an award-winning design solution by Frontend] is brilliant because it has a story, and I think we should take a lesson from that. Irish people are really good at stories and Milkman is a great story — people can relate to it. UX almost has a PR problem — maybe it should be telling its own story more.

UX almost has a PR problem — maybe it should be telling its own story more.

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