My Day Job: Jason Hobbs



Jason Hobbs is an Information Architect and User Experience Designer. He’s got a lot to say on the subject, and regularly does so when he presents papers at UX conferences around the world.


Jason was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on UX, as well as tell us a little about his experiences in the world of IA and UX.


Please tell us what your official (or unofficial) job title is:

Jason: User experience designer.


What and where did you study?

Jason: History of art and Philosophy at Wits and then copywriting at the AAA.


If you were to explain to a five year old, or an accountant (not to imply that the two are in any way similar) what it is you do, what would you say?

Jason: I would lie and say I fix cars for a living.


What characteristics and skills does it take to do what you do?

Jason: Mostly it’s what they call ‘middle brain’ and relational thinking. You also require empathy.


What do you love most about the work you do?

Jason: I do a lot of things and they all reflect different parts of my personality. Doing them all makes me feel full, like I’m living myself out. Design expresses my creativity, lecturing is performative, my academic work offers a kind of rigour of thought I love, community work is social and giving back, etc.


What’s the part you could do without?

Jason: Uncertainty as to when the next job will come around.


What is your creative process when you sit down to start working on a project?

Jason: Mostly I work on large projects with fairly big teams, multiple phases and a high degree of complexity, so my first step is to design the process that will be the creative journey over the next few weeks or months.  


Your proudest work-related moment?

Jason: None. I’m horribly hard on my own work.


What example of design work do you admire most, and why?

Jason: It’s not work per se, but I find the BBC as an organisation really admirable. Whenever I check in to see what they’re up to they’re either ahead of the game or right in the middle of things. For an organisation as big and old as they are they have this amazing ability to remain relevant and keep up to speed with things. And their policies appear to be amazingly forward thinking. At a time when print is dying and many other industries cannot fathom what to do with the information, technology and digital age they’re right in it, tackling big issues and finding ways through. 


What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Jason: A writer. Then a rock star.


Do you have any advice to those who might consider a career in IA and UX design?

Jason: Work on as many projects as possible from as diverse sectors as possible. Get a mentor as soon as possible and have as many as possible in your career. Get experience in an agency, client-side and working for yourself. Work in different social, political and cultural contexts. Learn as much as possible from other fields of design. Read veraciously about the topic. Develop your business acumen. Be uncompromisingly ambitious. Really love doing it, as an end in itself, or rather try something else.


What is the current state of IA and UX design practice in South Africa?

Jason: 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 has 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. This 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. 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.


Overseas there is a trend towards Cross-Channel AI, Service Design, Design Thinking, etc, which all have a strongly user-centred approach. We need to catch up and start focusing on process and principle rather than just deliverables. 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 and awards.


Some card sorting work with a client

Some card sorting work with a client

Bronwyn Kotzen presenting at World IA Day 2013 at UJ. The event was put on by the SA UX Forum, which was founded about Jason 7 years ago

Bronwyn Kotzen presenting at World IA Day 2013 at UJ. The event was put on by the SA UX Forum, which was founded about Jason 7 years ago


Find out more about Jason’s work here.


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