As a part of my Spring 2019 Independent Study I interviewed an experienced UX Designer to better understand what that position entails over time and on a day-to-day basis. This interview is paraphrased and does not include any identifying information as requested by the interviewee.
Can you tell me about your background and journey towards becoming a UX designer?
I started my career in marketing in the music industry. My undergraduate degree is in music business. So, I spent a few years doing that but unfortunately this was at a time when the economy crashed so there were no jobs available. Then, I did a brief stint as a photo editor for a fashion blog. I had previously learned some design programs and things like that because there was a job, I had at a music venue where they had me help design their advertisements. I thought this is fun, I like using photoshop and illustrator so I took some classes and edited photographs for a while. Later I realized that I don’t want to do this for a living so I kind of reset my life and went back to get my master’s at Parsons in their design and technology program. At the time I had an idea of what UX was and thought “oh, this is interesting. I want to learn more.” Our program at Parsons had everything to do with everything digital that you could learn. I did focus on UX, particularly UX for emerging technologies like designing for AI, and IoTs which is a favorite of mine. I kept my passion too by working on music technology things as well.
Currently, I am working at a tech consulting firm. The company basically provides consulting for tech and business solutions. They’ve only recently brought in design in the past few years. My role is to work with clients who have a particular problem statement for a particular portion of their product or if they’re a well-established brand wanting to connect with their customers more digitally, we come in. I’ve worked with companies doing things like profile set-ups for banks, CRM systems for HR companies, and my favorite so far, I helped build an Alexa scale for listing stock prices.
How long have you been working in UX?
In UX I’ve been doing freelance while I was in school and at the current company for a year so a total of about 3 years.
If you could go back and do anything differently on your career path, what would you change?
Wow, that’s an interesting question. I would’ve, in my earlier career, researched more what the opportunities are available to me, I did that later in life. Also, later in life I had that drive for it so it would’ve been nicer to have that earlier like right out of undergrad. With that being said, my path is my path and I got here because of what I went through and I’m super grateful for that in a lot of ways.
What experiences best prepared you for working in UX?
I think just understanding product because I started my career in marketing and I was marketing for musicians and artists and event marketing and it turns out that I’m very passionate about the end result, the product. Whether the product is the artist or what we’re offering is services. And I think that what makes me fascinated with UX is that instead of marketing it, I’m building it and working on making it the best way for people to use or experience.
Is there anything you wish you knew before entering this field?
I guess understanding how the business aspect of UX works, because you’re still within the ecosystem of “this is still a business”, so you still have certain requirements you have to fulfill. Also you’re a part of this team so depending on what you’re working on there’s a lot of people with a lot of different skills that go into making that product. It’s a bit of a shift because, when you’re in grad school you’re doing most of your projects by yourself unless it’s a group project so now there’s all these different components and all these people who could help me and understanding what they do is also really important. Like a lot of them don’t understand what I do even.
How do you bridge that gap between you and non-UX’ers?
One of my methods, and I’m grateful for this as a part of my education, I learned how to code, now granted I am not an engineer-level coder but I understand the ecosystem and how it works and how they approach it so I am able to communicate using that language. Also, I still network a lot and I’ve made an initiative to get to know project managers because even now I’m not too sure what all they do and I’ve had difficult relationships with project managers in the past. I need to know how to make that better and the best way to do that is to really understand where they’re coming from, generally what their background is, and things like that.
What are the major components of your job on a day-to-day basis?
A lot of interacting with clients, we do have to do daily or weekly calls and then a lot of collaborating with the team. Right now, I am doing primarily research at the moment and it’s been a bit of a challenge since the research involved has to be medically backed so gaining access to those kinds of journals and just understanding all of that domain-specific knowledge has been a challenge.
What is something about your job that would surprise most people?
I work with a lot of people who still don’t know what I do and I get confused with being a graphic designer all the time. It’s frustrating but I’m not alone in that experience.
What is your favorite / least favorite part of your job?
Favorite: My company has us set goals every year and as a part of that you can do some passion projects. Since I’m really into AI, I want to create a platform for the UX team to know how to design for AI. When future projects come up, they know how to prototype for it and build up on it and create a better UX. That’s been great and I’ve been able to do a lot of research and put together prototyping tutorials and things like that.
Least Favorite: The least favorite part is that projects end very quickly. Like the longer projects last about 6 weeks, we do the discovery portion and then there’s a separate team that does the delivery part so it’s kind of sad that I don’t get to see how things turn out.
What’s the most difficult project you’ve worked on?
When I did the Alexa scale project it was for listing stock prices and there’s a lot of different questions the user would potentially ask. I know nothing about finance so it was like a different field for me and I had to catch up on all that different jargon. My role was to design for how people are going to be asking for the stocks and prices. There’s all these ways people may request certain information and stocks, so I had to learn what is the terminology they would use and what it means. It’s fascinating to design for different industries but it’s also frustrating when you’re not familiar with it because it’s a challenge to empathize and really understand the who the user is.
What kinds of tools are especially important for someone entering this field to know?
I would say that your strongest tool is your network. Knowing the right people is how you can get to where you’re going and they’re your resource. That’s how I’ve gotten into this career, through a lot of networking. Other tools are things that help you do research like the platform Medium where you have a lot of experts writing about very specific and interesting things. There are also a few great websites for user research like UserTesting and guidetouxr.com.
What kinds of projects or elements are most important to include in a UX portfolio?
Depending on what you want, definitely cater it towards what you want out of a job. Another important part of a UX portfolio is displaying the process and describing how you got to the end result. Also, show what you’re passionate about even it’s not specifically career-related. Employers want to see that, they want to see that you have depth in your skills and your personality/who you are.
Do you have any advice for someone trying to enter this field?
Network and continue learning. With UX you are always going to be learning, you have to keep up with things and the technology.