Design With a Big ‘D’: The DFW Experience

Four out of 10 Texas user-experience professionals work in Dallas-Fort Worth. Part 1 of our series explores Dallas-Fort Worth as a UX hotspot.

DFW UX Design


Editor’s note: About 12 years ago, Big Design Co-Founder Brian Sullivan challenged a group of local design leaders to put on a first-rate conference in Dallas. It only made sense, he says, because we had so many connections here — from top talent to recruiters to big brands. They started planning the next day. Today, the 3-DAY conference kicks off its 11th year with more than 80 speakers and will shine a light on the Dallas design community. We thought it was a good time to kick off this multipart series on Design in Big D by Dave Moore. Moore digs into the scope and depth of the DFW UX/UI industry, as the region becomes a hotspot for experienced design talent and companies. Because the Big Design Conference — bringing leaders from Disney, Amazon, Pixar, Adobe, Facebook, and more to our city — was a best-kept secret, says Sullivan. Until now.  — Quincy Preston

We are the accumulation of our everyday experiences:

Pulling money out of the ATM.

Paying for a restaurant bill or going to the movie theater.

Shopping for a car or even cutting one’s lawn.

How we interact with products and our environment often dictates our likelihood of repeating that particular act. Recognizing that fact, companies are expanding their workforces to include user experience professionals who specialize in creating positive interactions with consumers, employees, and customers. Today, four out of 10 Texas user-experience professionals work in the Dallas region.

Nearly 16,000 men and women (and counting) spend their days sniffing out the friction or humdrum of day-to-day life or once-in-a-lifetime events, and rack their brains to replace dread with ease or even wonder.

Hungry for
User Experience designers
Compared to similar-size metros, businesses in the Dallas region are hiring more UI/UX designers, and are paying them more.

Omnivorous consumers of UX
Designers in DFW are employed in the commercial aviation sector, the retail industry, financial services companies, logistics/transportation companies, and more.

Group (design) thinking
More than a dozen associations, events, and programs have sprung up in DFW, helping designers brainstorm, commiserate, learn, and hone their skills.

Some work for banks; others work for airlines; others, for defense contractors; still others work for watchmakers or the countless other companies that call the Dallas Region home. Others are just looking for a good problem to solve, or a boring routine they can turn into a game.

They’ve found themselves in the sweet spot of an exploding industry. The number of help-wanted ads has plummeted for workers who fasten bumpers onto auto chassis. Now, there is an insatiable demand for problem solvers — particularly those with digital skills.

Arguably, all companies are user experience companies, whether they’re selling smoothies or subleasing office space. The complexity of the Dallas Region’s economy guarantees a healthy mix of challenges to resolve and experiences to enhance. And steady work.

“Companies in the Dallas Region have been on the bleeding edge of adopting the customer experience approach to doing business,” says Diane Magers, CEO of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, whose primary mission includes building bonds between customers and companies. Forty-two major corporations — Microsoft, Adobe, etc. — have joined since the organization started in 2011, she says.

UX looms larger in Big D

One particular aspect that’s played a bigger role in this is digital and data interactions, such as through apps.

“Part of the reason is that companies that are relocating to the Dallas Region are hungrier for success,” Magers says. “A majority of those 42 companies in the (Customer Experience Professionals) association have a strong presence in the Dallas Region.”

DFW is a hotspot for UX talent

EMSI labor market analytics writes: “Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas, is a hotspot for this (UX designer) kind of talent,” estimating that there are more than 27,000 user experience designer positions in the Dallas Region – nearly a third more than the average metro of similar size. The number of UI designer positions in the region lags somewhat, at more than 7,300, compared to 8,400 in the average, similar-size U.S. metro. Because workers sometimes do both UX and UI work, the actual number of workers can be hard to nail down.

A person’s interactions in life have grown in importance in recent years. Where before, a user experience might have just described a website or app. Now, the concept extends to any point of contact with someone, whether they’re a customer or an employee. Whatever form the interaction takes – be it a notification to a barista of how a customer likes her coffee or a cue to a store manager that it’s time to order more French roast – the core motivation is empathy. Design thinking – which requires people to feel how problems impact people – is the framework for much of the work done in the user experience sector.

It’s not just, ‘Do I like that car?’ It also might be, ‘What was the experience like when I tried to use that feature?’

“It’s not just, ‘Do I like that car?’” says Michael Courtney, a Dallas-based futurist and data-driven analyst who was involved in the decision to incorporate the first camera into a cellphone, at Nokia. “It also might be, ‘What was the experience like when I tried to use that feature? Or set up that service?’ The user experience/interface are (becoming) larger and larger components of whether they will like the product, or be loyal to it. The user experience these days drives whether I acquire or keep new customers.”

That means design researchers such as Courtney often act as modern-day Jane Goddalls, observing their subjects, living among them, even setting up one-way mirrors to observe others as they try to use the tools intended to help them. Simply put, people in this trade must be empaths to feel the pain of what’s broken; they must be science-driven to objectively remove the sand from the Vaseline; and they must be creative problem solvers.

The core element of design thinking then becomes a sort of a multi-tool, where design research (figuring out how to improve how things work) and the ability to incorporate software and data into the experience or solution, become key elements in giving companies a competitive advantage.

The result is that companies are calling in design thinkers and other players – even lawyers – at the beginning of the problem-solving or innovation process, to help guide the conclusion that can become a reality. Or, if an idea is a non-starter, they can ferret out that possibility more quickly.

Shared (solution) experiences

The white-hot interest in all things user experience would seem a recipe for cutthroat competition and hard feelings among its players.

Researchers such as Michael Courtney often act as modern-day Jane Goodalls, observing their subjects, even setting up one-way mirrors to observe others.

Not in the Dallas Region.

“The UX community in DFW is incredibly tight and friendly,” says Brandon E. B. Ward, host of the ProjectUX webcast, which features developers and their newly launched app concepts. “Everyone’s really chill and kind and willing to share their knowledge. No one hoards their expertise. They speak at meetups, workshops. We all support each other.

”It would make sense that problem solvers would live friction-free lives as they set out to smooth the way for others.”

DFW Experience was first published in Sept. 2018 in a Dallas Regional Chamber brochure: “Design With a Big ‘D'”.


The DFW Experience

Part one examines DFW as a UX hotspot. Today, four out of 10 Texas user-experience professionals work in Dallas-Fort Worth.

How the Big Design Conference Came to Be

Part two looks at the beginnings of the conference. Big Design co-founder Brian Sullivan shares its origin story.

Corporate by Design

Part three shares insights for how design pros help companies such as Walmart, Accenture, Bottle Rocket, Sabre, and more gain competitive advantage.

Leading by Design

Part four covers a few big thinkers who are leading by design at companies such as Capital One, BBVA, Intuit, and USAA. Whether it’s slaying piles of paper receipts at tax time or making shopping an adventure, these Dallas area thoughtleaders are making their marks in their respective industries. The common thread? Dogged persistence.

Meet 6 UX/UI Experts Delivering Solutions

UX/UI designers and experts are integral parts of many company operations and span across almost every industry. The Dallas-Fort Worth region has no shortage of thought leaders who are helping create the solutions for some of today’s most popular products. Here are six you need to know.

Norm Cox, Iconoclast: Creating a Legacy in Design

Tap a menu on your smartphone to pay for your coffee, or edit a Word doc. Either way, you can think of Norm Cox. The North Texan was was on the Xerox team that developed the graphical user interface systems that we still use today.

XR: The Experience Extended

In the service economy, winners will be companies who can best anticipate customer needs and can provide the best customer experience. Enter Extended Reality. Here are four DFW companies making bets on its future.

A Look Into the Future:
Industry Leaders Say Universities Provide UX Firepower

From developing autonomous trucks to incorporating science and the arts, universities in Dallas-Fort Worth are churning out UX-perts

Teaching the Next Evolution of UX Design Thinking

Multi-dimensional UX: Preston McCauley has been working to help UX professionals discover new ways to approach the craft.

Societal Urgency:
UTD’s Cassini Nazir on the First-Person Experience

It would make sense that the best education in user-experience would involve a first-person experience. It’s about finding needs and figuring out how to fill them.

By the Numbers: Tech Roots Give DFW the Edge in UX/UI Boom

The user experience sector is exploding in Dallas-Fort Worth. That’s a good pairing with the region’s history as a high-tech hotbed.

Creative Vault: Your Guide to Resources for Designers and UX/UI Pros in DFW

There are plenty of area associations, events, organizations, and educational institutions to help designers brainstorm, commiserate, learn, and hone their skills. Here’s our resource guide to get you started.

#DesignThinking #UX/UI #DesignWithABigD

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R E A D   N E X T

  • Juliana Oliveira and her sister Sara de Oliveira co-founded Athlete-Centric Design to transform pro athletes’ lifestyles—not just with luxury design, but by improving their performance on the field through health and wellness elements. Now they hope to score by having their approach adopted as a best practice in the sports industry nationwide.

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Dave Moore has 30 years’ experience in writing, editing, reporting, and analysis. He’s traveled to Bosnia to observe efforts to boost the country’s post-Soviet economy, explored the causes of ho(...)