When I was studying multimedia design and communication some years ago the term User Experience had only been around for 1-2 years. It was a ‘sprout’ in the industry presented as an eclectic role for digital problem solvers. That’s where the majority of web designers, analysts and developers started to transmutate into a very unique craft.
Fast forward to today, you have UX Designers, UX Developers, IA/UX Designers, UX Unicorns, UX<insert whatever hybrid title>. And me? I’m a Senior UX/UI Designer.
People often assume that this job rocks (and it does). They say things like: ‘I wish I could do what you do for money’. If you are one of them and wonder where you should start or what exactly this role is about, this post is my attempt to answer that question for you.
What does it take?
People tend to put UX into a creative specialist box, but the creativity is not just visual design. The truth is that we don’t use crayons to sketch out ideas, we don’t take creative breaks to play table football or play with legos to practice problem-solving. We don’t look for nor wait on inspiration from the Universe, use thousands of post-it notes to gather the ideas.
What we do is to take problems and deliver solutions in creative ways based on research and data. Where feedback streams from different types of users collide, we as UX designers mark the noticeable patterns. We then build, iterate and test each step of solving the initial problem. Importantly, the ‘testing’ could refer even to just fool-proofing ideas in your own mind, or doing it with one user or thousands of them. Sounds complicated? And it is.
To put it into basics:
Where quantified user needs meet business requirements – that’s where a UX designer makes the magic happen.
The interaction of these two elements is a daily process that the UX specialist has to manage. He acts as a translator and the iterations to the final product are the magic. Managing this process requires a lot of compromise and even more hustle.
What about skills?
To be a UX designer, you should have a wide range of important skills. The quickest way to figure out if you do have these skills, is to ask yourself – can you do the following without frying your brain out:
- Can you shift between the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ side of your brain? Where analytical thinker meets the creative problem solver.
- Are you an idea machine able to solve problems?
- Do you have extensive knowledge of heuristics and best design practices, user psychology, human-computer interaction, usability, interactive patterns, the underlying technology, etc.?
- Can you empathise and embody the user psyche into your own at every step of the project?
- Do you strive to be eclectic, curious and to never stop learning?
- Can you convey your ideas in a clear and easily digestible way?
- Are you open to challenges? More importantly, do you take ‘No’ as a challenge?
- Having knowledge or experience in one or more of the following areas is a plus: developer, visual designer, marketing specialist, researcher, analyst or in fact any other role involved in digital production.
- Can you question every single decision and move you make throughout the day, so that you can answer the what, why and how? This means thousands of questions you have to face hour by hour. Your every solution has to fulfill user needs and cover the business requirements. You must be able to translate the data and research into answers. Finally you must be able to sell your solution to your boss, coworker, client and most importantly – the end user.
Lastly: Are you able to switch off your thinking and the problem-solving mechanism when the work day is over? This is where many specialists who display entrepreneurial values overreach, sacrificing their health, general wellbeing and work performance.
And there’s plenty of perks
Digital production remains an ever expanding industry as businesses focus more and more on their users. This tends to bring a solid demand for people who are able to solve problems and deliver mindful products. What this means for you is an amazing opportunity to explore and push your ideas forward without any doubts or fears. With immense demand the industry has your back.
What you do as a UX designer can make users relate and empathise with a digital or physical product. This then results in higher conversion rates and sales. As in any other field, if you are good at something and deliver an abundance of value you will get rewarded accordingly.
Furthermore, thanks to the eclectic nature of this field you will be able to apply the skills learned to other parts of your life. You will basically be able to solve any problem with your UX lenses on, designing the optimal solution, even if it’s just a date or you need to fix a household item in your house.
If you can handle all of this – you are in.
My 3 tips on where to start:
1. Find a mentor
This applies to any specialty in absolutely any field and even beyond that. A good mentor will deliver more valuable insight and learning, even in 20min sessions, than you trying to figure things out yourself through trial and error.
Don’t panic if you don’t know anyone in your vicinity who could act as mentor. You can find mentors virtually by joining online communities or by following influential people on Twitter and other social media. Most people will be happy to help and give guidance if you ask them.
2. Read, read, read
This includes books and published online material. Actual UX cases in a deconstructed fashion are the best primer. These will give you the foundation on which to build your experience and expertise.
Recommended online sources:
- https://www.interaction-design.org (various UX courses for a fixed yearly price – a goldmine of knowledge for both beginners and advanced professionals)
- https://medium.com/design-ux (interesting free articles from experienced users)
- http://www.uxmatters.com/ (not the prettiest site, but an absolutely essential knowledge base. All backed by data and studies.)
- Human Computer Interaction by A. Dix, J. Finlay, G. Abowd, R. Beale
- The Elements of User Experience by J. J. Garett
- Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions by B. Hanington, B. Martin
3. Start slow and build your own experience before designing it for others
Be a knowledge sponge willing to learn and take in information through osmosis. Finding an internship or job-shadowing a UX designer could enhance the theoretical knowledge you built up via books and courses. By being exposed to real life scenarios and challenges, you’ll know exactly what to do and how to apply what you learnt by the time you’re a fully-fledged UX designer, Moreover, this is really the only step which will reflect clearly on your resume and land you a better position in the future.