Why I Quit UX

Travis Kassab Avatar


After 7 years in UX Research, I now realize what UX is and what UX isn’t. And I’ve concluded that it won’t get me where I’ve ultimately wanted to go. I want to explain why I’ve pivoted out of UX and what I’m pursuing now.

To be clear, I do not mean to disparage UX or even discourage people from going into it. UX is a field that captivated my heart and soul, especially for the first several years. I see UX as a gateway for creatives into technology, which seems to me an unlikely, yet beautiful combination. I wouldn’t want to damage it in any way; however, I think UX can be falsely advertised, so I want to provide clarity to those challenged with the same doubts and questions that I was.

Let’s start with what a UX job is good for. A UX job, on average, offers the following benefits:

  1. A good work-life balance
  2. Relaxed work environment
  3. Remote, or at least hybrid, work location
  4. Competitive salary (that is relatively high-paying compared to the rest of the job market)

However, if you expect more from your UX job, like you want to…

  • Come up with, and build, new products from scratch
  • Have creative control over your designs and the product roadmap
  • Capture the value you create when the product succeeds (a path to “fuck you” money)

I’m here to tell you that a UX job will never give you these things. Let’s break down each in more detail.

At a UX job, you will not come up with, and build, new products

There’s two parts to this. The biggest misconception I had going into UX was that UX Research was a systematic way to come up with new product ideas. This is not the case.

UX Research is good for validating product concepts and testing the usability of existing products; however, it will not take you from 0 to 1.

What I mean is that something must come before UX Research. There must be an inkling of an idea, otherwise how would you know which users to interview, and which aspects of their workflows to study?

I’m not even saying I know what this something is. If a process could be prescribed, it would be a money printing machine, akin to an algorithm that predicts the stock market with 100% accuracy. My guess is that it’s a mixture of domain expertise and a fundamental understanding of the technologies needed to bring a product into existence. It’s possible this is where feasible product ideas come from. Some venture capitalists also speculate.

But, the second part is, even if you do come up with a killer feature or product idea, you won’t have the time or the space to execute on it at your job. You weren’t hired to ideate new products, you were hired to design existing products/product concepts. In any case, the company is always more conservative than your best ideas. And this brings me to the next point.

At a UX job, you will not have creative control over your designs and the product roadmap

If someone has hired you, it means, at the very least, a product concept already exists. This means the product vision and roadmap is likely already established, otherwise they wouldn’t have the business justification to hire you in the first place.

The reality is that most UX jobs are no more than delivering designs based on requirements from upper management. In other words, the job is more about obedience than it is about whitespace ideation.

And, unless you’re working in an emerging field, where you’re designing novel use-cases, you probably won’t get to scratch that creative itch that wants to push the envelope. Rather than being graded on creative exploration, you will be graded on efficiency and your skill in recycling existing design patterns.

What do I mean by “emerging” fields versus “stable” fields? Let me give some examples of stable fields. The first couple iPhones required a ton of design innovation, because mobile was a brand new UI paradigm. But how much has iOS changed in the past 10 to 15 years? Not much. This is what I mean by “stable”.

Also, when I say “eCommerce” website, you can immediately imagine 80% of the screens that make up its UI. Products are placed in cards and the user can filter based on product attributes. There’s a shopping flow where you put items in a cart, and then a checkout flow, etc, etc. 

The point is, this type of product has been designed many times before. The mental models are in place. If you were to design an eCommerce website from scratch, you probably wouldn’t want to deviate from these mental models, as this would likely hurt usability.

On the other hand, Apple Vision Pro has led to a resurgence in spatial computing. This is an example of an emerging field. The mental models that are being designed for the Apple Vision Pro right now will lay the foundation for the next several decades of design patterns in spatial computing.

I have a hunch that creative technologists, like UX Designers, are most fulfilled when working in emerging fields. This is why I built uxstartupjobs.com, to connect creatives with 0 to 1 design opportunities and jobs at seed stage startups in emerging fields like Web3, AI, Health+Bio, Space, Robotics, etc.

I’ve even seen some positions for “Founding UX Designer”, which is an incredibly exciting opportunity in my eyes. This means a startup is searching for a product designer to join as one of its first members. And the product designer will receive equity as part of his/her compensation. This brings me to my final point.

At a UX job, you will not capture the value you create when the product succeeds

Building software is one of the most high leverage things you can do; however, at a job, you willingly give this leverage to your employer.

For example, if you design a product that attracts millions of users, and generates billions of dollars, all the value will, rightfully, accrue to your employer. You’re compensated with a flat salary, and the business shares none of the product equity with you because it took the upfront risk in funding product development. These incentives are not for you if you’re a highly ambitious and talented product designer.

And, while UX salaries are great relative to the rest of the job market, it will still take you decades to reach escape velocity with respect to wealth (i.e. acquire “fuck you” money), assuming you invest your income properly. 


So, in summary, a UX job cannot, and will not, give you the following:

  • Come up with, and build, new products from scratch
  • Have creative control over your designs and the product roadmap
  • Capture the value you create when the product succeeds

Only tech entrepreneurship can give you these things. And of course there are downsides to entrepreneurship. You have to take risks with your time and money to build a product, and this is after you’ve overcome the gargantuan challenge, for which no prescription seemingly exists, of generating a successful product idea.

However, if you do decide to pursue tech entrepreneurship, then fortunately you’re not far off as a UX’er. You’ve been steeped in technology, you know how to attract and retain users with good user experiences, and you’re used to collaborating with devs.

These are my conclusions after 7 years in the field. If you’re in UX, let me know what you think. I’d be curious to know how much our thinking and experiences align, or not. And if you’re considering UX, let me know if, and how, this piece influences your thinking.


I believe everything I stated above also goes for the rest of the product team, like devs and product managers.