Advice for Aspiring UX Designers
I recently had a conversation with my wife’s younger cousin. He is a junior in college and is interested in pursuing a career in UX design. He asked me what are some key things he should know about the field and what companies look for in interns and new college grads.
The conversation caused me to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned throughout my career. If you are looking to start a career in UX design, maybe you’ll find the following useful.
Our jobs are largely problem-solving. To be effective, we have to make sure that we are solving the right problem. Doing so requires a strong curiosity and determination to dig until you find truth. That means: using a variety of tools in our toolbox; listening to cross-functional partners to benefit from their expertise, and making educated guesses when we don’t have all the information.
Get good at storytelling
Design is subjective. That is to say, the most visible aspects of design seem subjective. Color, imagery, copy, etc. For that reason, it is very common for designers to have to defend their work. Partners and stakeholders often second guess design decisions, because too often they only see the end results. For us to show that our decisions were built on a solid foundation, we have to take others along with us on our journey to the final solution. Few realize that the real work is the stuff that we tried but didn’t work. The things that ended up on the cutting room floor. The assumptions that were laid to rest. But if we can’t explain those interesting, Aha! moments … it all looks subjective.
Let’s go back to high school government class for a moment. Remember that lesson that started, “we live in a world of limited resources…”? One of the hardest lessons for me to learn early on was that we can’t fix everything. Companies have limited resources. People, time and money. That means they have to focus those resources on the things that will make the biggest impact or that are the most critical to the business. Guess what, not everything is critical. Guess what else, all experience improvements aren’t created equal. Companies have to make tough decisions every day about where to invest their resources. Sometimes the choice is between two worthy alternatives. Our jobs as UX designers are to equip the decision-makers with the information they need to make the best investment.
Be self-aware, not self-centered
Through our use of data and user research, we have a unique opportunity to holistically understand the problems we are trying to solve. Our process can embolden us because we are confident in the tried-and-true methodologies we used to arrive at our recommended solutions. While it is great to have confidence in our work, we shouldn’t discount the knowledge and experience of cross-functional partners. Sometimes other circumstances, like market factors or strategic business objectives can impact the path forward. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t fight for the things we feel are important. Rather, we should choose our battles wisely. We can employ the tools we use every day to better understand our partners and the challenges they are dealing with.
To sum it up, remember that we are part of a larger team. Every role is important to the success of our businesses. Together we can develop products that meet our business objectives, solve problems for our users and are technically feasible.