Mike Beasley of Amazon on the Growth of UX in Michigan
By Laura Cowan
Laura K. Cowan is a tech editor and journalist whose work has focused on promoting sustainability initiatives for automotive, green tech, and conscious living media outlets.
Photo courtesy Mike Beasley, Amazon.
Mike Beasley of Amazon is the co-chair of UX Ignite MI with his colleague Andrea Neuhoff of Duo Security. Together they represent a cohort of user experience and product design professionals that are a growing pool of talent in the Michigan area. "Amazon has found Detroit a rewarding place to hire," Beasley says. "Until Amazon moved in, there was a lot of talent not being tapped."
Beasley is a UX designer in a generalist role with Amazon. "I feel lucky to be able to run through different UX skill sets covering design, writing, and research," he says. Beasley says he travels a lot to Seattle, but he stayed in the Ann Arbor and Detroit area after graduating from the University of Michigan's School of Information and working for companies like Ithaka and Pure Visibility because he has deep roots here. Also, he sees Michigan as being an area of challenge but also of growth for tech and user experience professionals in the future. "The Great Lakes is looking good with climate change," he says, emphasizing the importance of living and working near such a natural resource as 20% of the world's surface fresh water. The work Beasley has found in Michigan has kept him happy, too. "I find it very interesting to solve problems," he says. "It's interesting to solve problems, like opening a box of Legos and throwing them out on the floor, seeing the pieces, and figuring out what you're going to build. It's like solving a puzzle."
Despite recent layoffs at GM and other OEMs and suppliers, Beasley sees automotive as an important growth point for UX professionals locally, mostly because software is now such an integrated piece of the vehicle driving experience. "The UX community exploded around here in the last 15 years," he says. "The idea that this is a field has penetrated more, is out there."
The flip side of this, Beasley says, is that with awareness of the importance of user experience comes the skill set getting diffused out. "Realistically, a product manager picks up UX skills," Beasley says. "That's not a bad thing, but it makes me wonder in 10-20 years, are there as many specialists? There are more roles [especially in smaller companies] pushing together skill sets."
What would Beasley like to discuss with anyone in industry if he had the chance? "Automotive has a culture mismatch, using waterfall method for these long product development cycles but trying to hire people who are used to working in startups at a faster pace," he says. "It's a challenge." Beasley would love to connect with anyone thinking over similar issues. "Our job is full of emotional labor... a whole lot of skills related to working with people," Beasley tells me. "Our job is to own the process of getting people onboard for what we're going to build." It's not your job as a UX designer, he says, to come in with a magic idea to solve everything, but rather to learn the constraints, see what the business is trying to accomplish, and get everyone aligned by bouncing ideas off people to see what works. "Michigan has pound for pound more UX talent than other places" to accomplish this, Beasley says.
Beasley, like many tech people, considers himself an introvert, but that's why he signed on to co-chair the UX Ignite MI meetups in Ann Arbor, which have taken off in recent years. "It's a ton of people," he confirms, "UX MI is my way to get engaged. There are a lot of Ann Arbor people here." But UX Ignite MI also attracted speakers from Toronto, Detroit, Dearborn, and the Michigan State campus. It's clear this a growing field with a lot to offer industries with increasingly complex software user experience and interface design challenges that engineers don't have the skill set to solve.
"GM, Ford, Hyundai, even suppliers are an exciting growth area," Beasley says. They're just building out the business models to "bring in UX to help with their services."