So you’re considering a career as a UX designer. You’ve done your research and have a pretty good idea of what the role entails: interviewing users, coming up with design concepts, creating wireframes and prototypes, and handing them over to the developers—right? That’s the on paper version of working in UX, but there’s a lot more to it besides. In fact, there are certain elements of UX that might surprise you, and being a successful designer extends well beyond learning the right practical skills.
To gain some real insight into what it takes to work in the field, we asked five UX industry experts what they think new and aspiring designers should know. Our expert panel features none other than Cathy Pearl, Head of Conversation Design Outreach at Google, Scott Jenson, UX Strategy at Google, Ioana Adriana Teleanu, the influencer behind UX Goodies, CareerFoundry’s very own tutor Jonny Grass, and Priyanka Gupta, Senior Product Designer at Twilio Inc. Who better to share advice on forging a career in UX?! Here’s what they had to say.
1. Cathy Pearl, Google: “Be aware of your own bias—you are not the user!”
Aside from her role as Head of Conversation Design Outreach at Google, you may also know Cathy Pearl as the author of Designing Voice User Interfaces. Having worked in voice design and UX since 1999, Cathy certainly knows what it takes to make it in the industry. Her advice for new designers? Put the user first! Cathy says:
“It’s really easy to ignore your own biases in design. But it’s important to remind ourselves that we are not the user. Just because I like or don’t like a feature, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Push hard to incorporate user research into your projects, and make user testing a regular fixture. There’s nothing like watching someone use your product and holding your breath as they go off track. It’s humbling, but ultimately extremely valuable.”
So, while mastering the UX design process, be sure to pick up some UX research techniques along the way. You can learn all about user research (including why it’s so important and how to actually do it) in this introductory UX research tutorial.
2. Scott Jenson, Google: “Design is as much about sociology as it is about technology.”
Our next pearl of UX wisdom comes from Scott Jenson, who is responsible for UX Strategy at Google. Scott has over 25 years’ worth of industry experience, including a stint at Apple and a great number of talks and publications. So what words of advice would Scott like to pass on to new and aspiring designers? According to Scott, UX is all about “the art of the possible”—and you need to hone your people skills to make it happen.
“It’s so easy to focus on the technology of design instead of the sociology. UX is rarely a solo effort, and getting a team to see the problem with empathy and agree to a solution is often a measure of your social prowess. It’s been said a million times but *listen* to people, don’t fight them, and always be prepared to change your mind. There is a great song from the musical Evita called “Politics, the art of the possible” about how politics is measured by how you navigate a problem, what you can get through the legislature. It’s a perfect allegory for UX design. We can’t fall on our artistic swords. We must figure out how to ship something, even if it isn’t perfect. Shipping isn’t a final act, it’s the first of many. Start simple and build.”
We couldn’t agree more. You might think you need to be a tech whiz to make it in this field, but actually, communication, collaboration, and an open mind are much more valuable. So, to reiterate Scott, never underestimate the power of good people skills!
3. Ioana Adriana Teleanu, UX Goodies: “Learn the language of UX!”
If you’re a keen Instagrammer and UX enthusiast, you’ve no doubt heard of Ioana Adriana Teleanu, the genius behind UX Goodies. Aside from running one of the most influential social media accounts in UX, Ioana is also UX Manager at UiPath—and she’s got some sound advice on the importance of building up a solid UX vocabulary:
“Listen to experienced designers talk! Ideally you’ll do this in a one-to-one setting, be it through direct conversations, mentorship, or in a co-working context; anything that creates a dialogue with senior designers. Alternatively—or better yet, in addition—listen to podcasts, conference talks, and design-related audiobooks. The idea is to build a basic design vocabulary that will enable you to get your ideas across and ensure that you speak the shared language of your profession. A personal (and funny) anecdote from my early days as a designer is that sometimes, as I was lacking the proper design terminology, I had to refer to basic design components as ‘the little thingie that does that thing’ or ‘a small box that opens up like that when you click it’, often followed by ‘Oh come on, you know what I mean’ together with some hand gestures, mostly met with confusion and, if lucky, amusement…”
Sound advice from Ioana, but where to start?! We can recommend this beginner-friendly UX design glossary, complete with ninety-one UX terms that all designers should know. This UI element glossary will also get you up to speed on the most important user interface terms—no need for “thingies” and hand gestures!
4. Jonny Grass, CareerFoundry: “Communicating your ideas is as important as the ideas themselves.”
Jonny Grass is not only a Learning Experience Designer at JDC Entwine; he is also a CareerFoundry tutor, providing expert feedback and advice to students taking our UX design career-change program. When it comes to forging a career in UX, Jonny wants you to know that communicating your ideas is as important as the ideas themselves—and he’s got some creative ideas for doing so. Jonny says:
“Whether you’re designing a portfolio case study, presenting a design concept, or even writing emails, think about how people process information. Cut out excess details, use wireframes or comics, do whatever it takes to convey things as efficiently and clearly as possible. And tell the story you want the person you’re telling to know.”
Jonny’s rule of communication applies to a whole host of scenarios—whether you’re sharing your design ideas with key stakeholders or trying to convince someone to hire you as a designer. It’s all about cutting through the noise and delivering your message. On top of that, Jonny has some valuable insights into the variety a career in UX can offer:
“Your design role and what you work on will vary a lot from one company to the next. The organizational structure, workflow, and UX maturity of your organization will determine what you work on and how you work. As you begin interviewing, ask questions about your team, the division of labor, and expectations. It’s hard to scrutinize when you’re looking for your first job, but it’s critical to your success and happiness in your career!”
Wise words! For more interview preparation tips, check out this guide on how to prepare for a UX interview.
5. Priyanka Gupta, Twilio Inc: “Share your work early and often—vulnerability is what helps you grow!”
Priyanka Gupta is currently a Senior Product Designer at Twilio Inc. With a background in computer science, years of experience in the product design field, and an awesome portfolio to match, Priyanka certainly knows a thing or two about forging a successful career in UX. Based on her own experience, Priyanka urges new designers to embrace their vulnerability:
“I think the best advice I can give is this: You have to share your work early and often and allow yourself to be vulnerable in order to grow as a designer. This is extremely difficult to practice as we get attached to our work, but once you let go of that, design becomes a lot more fun! I would also advise industry newcomers to read; read what other designers are doing, and read about how other companies are solving the problems they’re facing. Remember, there’s rarely ever just one way of solving a problem, so when you expose yourself to different kinds of approaches, you can learn and iterate on your own approach. Own the work you’re doing but be open to suggestions—there’s almost always room for improvement!”
When you’re just starting out, the prospect of sharing your work with more experienced designers can seem daunting. But, as Priyanka says, it’s an unavoidable—and extremely beneficial—part of the learning process. As you progress through your career, you’ll also need to master the art of giving feedback, so it’s best to get familiar with the process as early as possible. You’ll find an excellent guide to constructive and empowering design feedback here.
So there you have it: some solid career advice from the UX industry experts! If you’d like to learn more about building a career in UX, check out this ultimate guide on how to become a UX designer.