Tom Jepson Creative

I don’t believe in future-proof.

As a user experience designer, a major part of my work is catering to unknowns. Unknowns with our product and service users; unknowns with our internal teams and stakeholders; unknowns with where our industry might be headed now, next week, or further into the future. It is common working in such a fast-paced industry for tools and trends to come and go, and for ‘required skills‘ to fly and fade in the blink of an eye.

These skills and tools are sold to us as the next big thing to future-proof our careers and ensure we’re hireable and professionally desirable for the entirety of our journey. It is valuable to keep in step with what’s going on however knowing it all and making our skills ‘future-proof’ isn’t.

From Wikipedia, ‘the term “future-proof” refers to the ability of something to continue to be of value into the distant future—that the item does not become obsolete.’ This infers that fear of obsolescence is a guiding principle for growth. I don't agree and, needless to say, I don’t believe in the term ‘future-proof’.

Here’s the rub. Future proof assumes that we know and understand our landscape, our audience, and our trajectory. It assumes we’re able to manage each and every factor within our circle of influence and be personally accountable to the things we have written off as ‘outside the circle’. It assumes we are not going to change course, either through necessity or desire.

Being future-ready means we’re equipped to handle change in our skills and our emotions. It means that, even in the face of adversity or massive, pivotal change we can roll with the punches and are ready to capitalise on what we have in front of us. It is acknowledging that we don’t know everything but are prepared to learn both now and in whichever version of our future we find ourselves.

To me being future-proof almost defies the fluidity of the future. To this end I prefer to talk about being ‘future-ready’.

By being future-ready and skilled broadly enough in your own area of expertise lets you use what you have to hand to great effect. A great example of this might be if you were facilitating a UX workshop and, as soon as you get going, the scope of the session changes. Would you be ready to bob and weave? Would you be future-ready enough, armed with tools to get the best result?

In UX work this acknowledgement that we know less than we might want or need is paramount to our success. Gaining knowledge and understanding on a project can guide our hand, steer our thinking, and change the future; the right piece of information can save a project or save you from wasting hours on something totally off-base!

Some might say yes, some might say no. Either way, change is going to come.

The TL;DR is this: beware trying to future-proof your work, your skills, and your personal life. You don’t know what will be coming around the bend. Be ready to flex, not just hold fast and hope for the best.