Working as a UX designer
One of the things I love about sharing my experiences through writing this blog is the feedback I receive from readers. I find it surprisingly exciting knowing that my content is being read across the world by people with so many different backgrounds and experiences. In fact, the highest engagement rate I have is on my on-boarding mail where I ask people why they signed up for my newsletter! Feel free to sign up and see the email for yourself!
Some weeks ago, Maureen from Germany signed up for my newsletter. Maureen is a UX-designer at a Service Design Studio in Berlin and wanted to know more about what a UX-designer normally does! She feels the field is so broad and that the work she does is sometimes very different from what she had learned.
Well Maureen, I hear you loud and clear.
When first learning design, there’s this notion that when we become designers we’ll do only beautiful, world-changing work. Then, we enter the industry and learn things aren’t exactly as we expected. - When You Dreamed About Doing What You’re Doing Now
Just like we're still struggling to define UX and what it is, there's no surprise there's some uncertainty around our job roles. In fact, most of the questions I get are around how to get better at UX in the work that they are doing.
But before I dive into the topic, let me give you a quick background.
I started designing webpages in 1997. Back then, there was very little talk around user experiences and, for years following, a good user experience was more or less defined by fancy graphics. While fancy graphics can be a factor in a great user experience, it should not be the starting point. After years of purely designing stuff for the web, I realized that my true interest and skillset was not based around setting that perfect gradient or drop shadow, but rather how everything related to each other. I loved graphic design and defining a grid system so the page would be easy to read and to find ways of highlighting what parts of the page were most important. With a background in design, I learned one of the basic things in UX - how to define the problem and use visual cues like grids, hierarchy, positioning, and white space to visually present a solution.
Doing the work
The work I normally do as a UX-designer is, in many ways, not much different from the work I did more than 20 years ago. I still approach problems in a similar way:
Define the problem
Explore different solutions
Execute through visual design
What has changed - drastically - over the years is the way we approach each individual component. Technology, as an example, has evolved so much and our options are so further along than where they were two decades ago. Additionally, we use technology to a far greater extent today, our need for good experiences has increased leading to even the tiniest bit of design needing to be tested and validated.
Booking.com A/B tests everything. If something cannot be A/B tested, Booking.com won’t do it. There’s more than 1,000 A/B tests running at any time. - Living a Testing Culture
This way of working requires much more from us as designers than previously. We need more insight into how the business works, what the users are thinking, and a deep understanding of the technology involved. The playing field is increasing in size every day as technology advances. With things like the progress of voice controlled user interfaces, the playing field is not only growing, but adding additional dimensions. As that's not enough, the Internet is overloaded with articles like; 13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want To Be a Successful UX Designer, 7 steps to become a UI/UX designer and 14 Uncomfortable Habits That Will Make You a Better UX Designer. With reading topics like these, no wonder no one really knows what a UX designer does.
So how can we define the work that we do as UX-designers? We can't. It depends on too many things.
It depends on...
Depending on the project and the organization you are in, the work you'll do as a UX-designer will vary a lot. Here are just a couple of different paths I've personally come across during the last years:
Design. Sometimes projects are mainly in need of visual design, but because they want a design that works for them, the work is labeled as UX design. I think it's important to highlight that having a clear focus on visual design is not 'less' UX-design in any way. Perhaps the user research is already in place, the processes and funnels work, and it just needs something to better highlight it. Design. The work I did for Nationalencyklopedin is an example of this.
Optimization and analysis. Other times, it's the opposite. Perhaps the project already has a clear set of design guidelines and even a design system in place. But what they don't have are steady conversions. So it's your job to try out different solutions to optimize and analyze the conversions of the project. Should this CTA move higher up the page? Can we change this copy to something more direct? Can we remove this third step in the process? These are very different questions from design related questions, but still just as likely to appear in your work as a UX designer. See the work I've done for Frank for an example of this.
Product and feature development. Working on a digital product or tool can be very different compared to working on a corporate website. When you're working on a digital product, you're often faced with the challenge of jumping between long term strategic goals and specific (sometimes seemingly minor) bits and pieces like refining filters, redesigning the login sequence, or looking through metrics for email engagement. The work I've done for E.ON contained all of this.
User research and information architecture. Similar to optimization and analysis is doing user research and working with the information architecture. When I worked with Falkenberg, for instance, their old website had nearly 9000 pages. One of the key factors in the redesign that we identified was therefor clearly to remove, unite, and organize the information in a more "user friendly" way. This work included redefining the navigational structure, something that's not an easy task in the world of municipalities as there are many stakeholders to please. (Hint: A good way of reaching a great goal is serving the user, not the stakeholder).
Clearly, there's some variation in what a UX-designer actually does. And we haven't even got into the discussion whether designers should code or not...
There's no 'one way'.
So forgive me for the non-answer Maureen, but as you can see even from bits and pieces of my work - being a UX designer can mean a lot of different things! While some people prefer to specialize in one area and becoming guru's of a specific task, others (like me) prefer to know a bit about everything and use those skills to be able to work on a more diverse set of projects. Depending on your company, the clients you have (if you're an agency), and your specific interest, you can put together your work as it pleases you. After all, your experience with your work is what really counts at the end of the day!
After working for more than a decade as a designer, I can promise you this: There may never be a point when you’re consistently doing only creatively fulfilling, exciting work that perfectly aligns with your passions and values. For every one perfect project, there are 10 projects you’re doing just keep the lights on. Not only is that work a reality you will learn to accept, but it’s an opportunity. Any project, no matter how small, can change your life. It’s better to realize this early and take advantage of it. - When You Dreamed About Doing What You’re Doing Now