This is a response to a person requesting advice about making a shift into the usability profession:
I have spent a good part of my career advocating for businesses to shift to UCD methods for strategic advantage. I have long championed the design profession’s idealistic vision of how businesses should operate and serve their customers and constituents.
I have recently arrived at the conclusion that this will not likely happen within the current constraints of western capitalism. I do believe that UCD will provide competitive advantage at a tactical level, but ultimately businesses will continue to leverage technology and information against their customers rather than for them. I’m not suggesting that customer satisfaction is not an important measure. I believe it is. But, if a company can calculate how much dissasitisfaction its customers will accept before switching to a competitor, they may elect to return a larger quarterly profit to their shareholders over increasing customer satisfaction. Obviously this is an oversimplified example but you get the point. Businesses are in business to make money, not satisfy customers.
I believe that the field in general has shifted to commodity status. This of course means tougher competition for employees or consultants, lowered rates and salaries and less clout in the workplace. I also believe that a big shift is happening in that the business value for Internet, Web and IT have been roughly established and now we’re going about the business of structuring and leveraging information. This means that Information Architecture and those practicing in that space bring important expertise.
There are still lots of big, complex problems left to solve and their our opportunities for smart people in this space. The challenges are differentiating yourself, getting noticed and connecting with decision makers. Certainly there are fewer jobs and thay pay less but there are also a handful of folks that are very successful in this space. You can be one of them.