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Editor’s Note: Go East, Young Man or Woman

Having just completed my first year as editor-in-chief, my thoughts turn to the future, but in a special way—eastward—as the theme of this issue looks at usability in Asia.

In the 19th century, J. B. Soule, in an Indiana newspaper editorial of 1851, urged entrepreneurial folks in the United States to head westward to seek professional and personal opportunities. Gold had been discovered a few years before in California, which inspired thousands to pack up and move into uncharted territories with the hope of striking it rich. The landscape of the U.S. and of the future world economy was forever changed.

It sounds familiar today, but with an eastward spin, as article after article in print and on the Web comments on the rise of China and India, as well as the impact of other Asian countries on national economies, on trade, and on the movement of goods and services.

Martin Wolf, an economic analyst writing in the Financial Times, recently urged high-income countries not to fret too much and urged all countries not to take steps that are self-destructive to trade and mutual success in a world going through a huge supply shock of inexpensive labor. A chart in his article shows that the 2002 hourly manufacturing costs in China were about one twenty-fifth to one twentieth of those in Germany and the U.S. The global labor force is expected to rise from about one billion people in 1980 to about three billion in the early part of this century. That cannot help but affect usability and user experience (UX) professionals. That means you and me. From the viewpoint of our profession, there are many interesting challenges for us as professionals:

  • Will our current best practices change as new cultural and professional norms emerge based on the practices, attitudes, and values of Asian professionals?
  • Do all people everywhere have the same levels of expectation and needs in terms of usability and UX?
  • How can we account for different legal, technical, and governmental constraints on our professional practice as we consider different countries?
  • Will Asian centers of education become more prominent internationally as worldwide professionals seek to learn “universal” principles of practice as well as localized variants? The rise of the technology institutes in India is well documented and well known. Current efforts are underway to renovate the Indian educational system, and China has committed to increasing the number of art and design schools in the country enormously.
  • Will major players in Asia develop centers for UX analysis, testing, and design, much as Indian call centers captured corporate attention in the 1990s? So many advancements in remote testing and analysis have been demonstrated that it seems likely such centers can provide very competitive services.
  • How can high-income countries maintain their competitive advantage? How can developing countries find a profitable market for services despite the competition among North American, European, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean contestants? Already salaries, the cost of living, and the price of office rentals are increasing significantly in Bangalore, India. Will this trend emerge in other high-tech service centers in Asian countries, with a consequent leveling off of competitive advantage?
  • Will professionals relocate to Asian countries to take advantage of work and cost-of-living advantages? Already some articles point to this phenomenon in some professions, especially in the high-tech sector.

Alas, I don’t have answers to these questions. One thing seems certain, however: we all shall witness a transformation of our services over the next few decades, not only as technology changes, but also as this vast shift in global economies takes place.

Mr. Wolf of the Financial Times comments on the importance of education and training by high-income governments to keep their citizens competitive. That is probably good news for all. His view is that Asians will not simply end up more competitive in everything, which he considers an absurd notion. His basic advice seems to be: don’t panic, things will sort themselves out. In the end, he urges all of us to “rejoice in trade’s ability to help people escape misery, take the benefits” that can be reaped, and make the adjustments that lie ahead.

As we move into the new century, we all need to participate in a global dialogue about our profession, our objectives, our goals, our practices, our lives, and our livelihoods. Join us as we continue that discussion in our current issue.