In this episode, originally recorded as an exclusive webinar for Gold Members in our community forums, Matt and Luke are joined by Hawk in this UX podcast to discuss all things UX-related: techniques, portfolios, and how to get started in UX.
In this recording of last weekend’s webinar, readers asked questions about how to break into UX, create a portfolio, and manage your career.
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Office Hours webinar transcript
Matt: Welcome to Office Hours with Luke and Matt, which is going to be a chat about all sorts of things user experience-related, as an exclusive for our Gold Members, which currently is a fairly small group of people.
We’ll chat about some of those interesting user experience-related problems and issues that folks have asked us.
We’ll start with the first question from Paddy, who’s very active in our forums. Paddy asks whether you have any good tips and techniques to get test subjects talking out loud and tips to avoid the ‘please the tester’ responses. Paddy is hoping to avoid influencing the participant to answer in a way that makes him happy. Luke, have you had this experience?
Luke: Yes, it’s something that happens in every test or every interview. The first thing I would say is that you shouldn’t ask leading questions. When you’re talking to someone you’ve got to be very aware of any bias that you might introduce by simply being there and that’s got to do with the language you use. It could be the way you frame your questions, whether it’s the look on your face when you’re asking a question, whatever. It’s important to develop enough of a rapport with the person you’re talking to that they feel like you’re friendly and open and they can openly share with you, honestly, without getting them to a stage where they feel like they have to please you or that you’re looking for a particular answer and they want to give it to you because that happens all the time, it’s a very easy mistake to make.
I would say don’t worry about silences. Let the silences sit there and they can feel mildly uncomfortable but know they’re in control of giving the answer, rather than trying to respond to you all the time.
Matt: I have, on occasion, pretended I wasn’t the designer when I was. For example, if I was moderating the usability test I’d go in and I’d say to them explicitly, “look, I’m an independent consultant from outside that they’ve just brought in to check whether this is going in the right direction or not, so if you say anything, I’m not going to get offended. I wasn’t involved in this; I’m just here to test it, so help me out and tell me your honest thoughts”. I guess that is lying but I think it can be forgiven because it’s a technique for getting honest feedback. I’m removing myself from the process so they don’t feel like they need to tread around their feedback if they’re being critical. That is a tip that I would recommend other people use and I can sleep at night and look in the mirror safely by doing that. Another tip is that using stakeholders as participants is a wildly successful way of getting people on side with making changes based on usability improvement. I’ve had the Chief Digital Officer of a very big university using his university’s website and failing and swearing. The entire time, I knew that he was becoming enlightened to how big a problem we had at the time and how important it was to fix it and so I had his backing on a bunch of stuff. That was a very powerful political move to get buy-in within a large organisation.
Something you learn over time is that communicating design and getting buy-in is just as important as doing it.
Matt: We have a question from Richard who wrote, “I’m researching migrating to Australia from the UK where I’m currently working as a senior designer with some UX/UI design experience but I want to learn more. Are there any courses that are recognised by Australian recruiters or establishments that I should pursue”? Luke, what are your thoughts on courses and recognised courses?
Luke: There are two takes on this. I’ve probably got a longer-term view on this than Matt. I’d say take the opportunity to do a university degree in interaction design or something similar in the long term. In the shorter term, there’s no reason not to start practicing UX design, even without a university degree.
Whether you’re in a design position where you can start putting these techniques into practice straight away or whether you’re moving across from some other field, whether it’s print design or development or whatever, you can still practice some of these things on the side or start working them into your work. Eventually, you might even be able to get a UX position. You may define that as becoming a UX professional, getting paid for being a UX designer or it may just be about starting to practice doing UX design.
In terms of courses, most universities have design, psychology or human computer interaction disciplines, but every course is different so it’s a good idea to do your research.
Matt: We list degrees across the world on the UX Mastery site. Because UX is so broad and many clients and recruiters don’t understand what it means, I think someone can get a great job without a university degree if they’ve got experience and can sell themselves well, though.
There’s never going to be the case where a recruiter says “sorry, you’re not going to be suitable for this UX role because you haven’t done this course.” I agree that some of the HCI and interaction design courses are useful for becoming better at what you do, but I think getting a degree in something closely-related, for example, design or engineering or computer science, or something that’s relatively close to the fire in terms of creating digital products, is a good start. On top of that, I would advise getting some experience and learn how to talk with authority about your process, do a bit of prototyping, do a bit of usability testing and all those techniques that we bang on about on our site. If you’ve ticked a bunch of those boxes and you’ve got a degree in something—I would say it needs to be a degree in something closely related but so many UXers come from wildly unrelated degrees – HR, fine arts, for example, so I think a degree in anything shows that you’re willing to learn.
Luke: I think that idea of passion being a driving force in UX at the moment is certainly true. Many experts have had backgrounds in other things or they’ve just got a sheer amount of experience that’s given them the knowledge. I think it’s a really good time to be starting in UX because not everyone expects that you’ve got a psychology degree or whatever. If you’ve got the passion and you go out there and do a bit of reading and live the life and practice UX then that’s going to go a long way.
Matt: And you do have to get that experience, there’s no excuse. I think that user experience roles are generally hard to come by, particularly roles such as an intern or a beginner. Most people who are looking for a UX designer want someone who has already done it. I don’t think you can expect to get that experience in your first role. You need to find the experience on your own, whether it’s within a community group, or a personal project. You need to be able to tick those boxes and then be able to talk about that experience. That’s how you can make that transition into your first UX role.
Luke: Developing a portfolio of work is important.
Hawk: Yeah. I’ve noticed recently, whilst researching UX jobs to put together our jobs board, that employers tend to ask for specific experience, rather than for specific education. So it would seem to me that you might be just as well-off doing some kind of specific software training or getting really good at a popular tools. Would that be the case?
Luke: Definitely, yep. Because it’s early days for UX as a mainstream practice, there’s this really broad range of expectations in roles, mainly because they’re either moving from an existing design role or a new company is starting to adopt user-centered design practices of whatever it might be. So there’s this full range of things, there are different types of software or whatever. So this idea of being a UX designer and being able to guarantee any position is not true. As with almost any job, I think it’s your background and your experience that’s going to dictate your suitability for a role, and that includes software experience or particular types of projects.
Matt: And people shouldn’t interpret that broad range of expectations as needing to be an expert in all of them. Most UX roles are generalist roles and so the first thing you need is to be able to talk about the process you follow and understand the user-centered process. And then you need to have dipped your toes in each of the phases along the way and I think, generally, it’s good advice to become T-shaped so that you become an expert in one particular area of that process. But you still need to be able to talk with authority at the top level of everything along the way.
Luke: Yeah those common things to do with UX, whether that’s grounding all your thinking in research, or the administrative process, that’s pretty standard across the board.
Hawk: From what I understand, it would seem that you need to be able to market UX as a concept, you need to be able to sell the important factors that surround UX as well as being able to do them yourself because it would seem that the stumbling block for lots of people is coming up against people who don’t see the value in it, so you’ve kind of got to be a …
Luke: Kind of an evangelist.
Matt: An evangelist, yeah.
Luke: UX has been around for a long time but a lot of companies are still creating positions for themselves, growing departments for this sort of stuff. Jobs will come up where there hasn’t been a UX designer dedicated to that role and you’ve still got to have passion and be quite infectious in being able to convert people to the idea of changing the company culture to adopt the user-centered design process rather than something that’s a bit more top-down.
Matt: That’s hard. I’ve been in that role. I was in a large bureaucratic organisation, where there was a lot of politics and silos and personal agendas with people in power and I think it was possibly naïve of me to think I’d be able to get a user-centered process in place to deliver the product we were working on because, really, the organization wasn’t ready. And I’m not an organisational change consultant and I didn’t have the authority to say people at the top needed to change their way of thinking or change their structure or whatever. So I was up against it there.
Luke: It’s a bit like approaching the whole team.
Matt: Yeah. We talk about UX being everyone’s role, everyone’s job and really I was going in there trying to get a better result. The end product was better than what they had. Was it as good as it could have been? Nowhere near, but at the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do, so if you’re going into an organisation that is new to user-centered design, you need to manage your expectations about how ready they are to embrace doing user research. That’s the big hurdle; being prepared to invest in user research and user testing because most companies, especially if they’re coming from a technology background, don’t immediately see the value until it’s too late and they launch something that people hate.
Luke: Yeah, and it’s a good thing to be able to point at user research and say “look, this stuff is showing something different to what we as a team or leadership is actually expecting”. I was working with one particular client where, in order to be able to battle against the politics, you had to have some hard evidence. But you also need to be very careful that you’re not using the research as a crutch or you’re not trying to justify things with metrics. I think, even though UX is a pseudo-science, you can’t simply say, 30% of our respondents said this so therefore we’re not going to do it because 70% didn’t. You need to be very careful about relying on numbers or research too much; you’ve still got to make a judgement call. But balancing that in the face of strong opposition and being able to justify your decisions is a funny process.
Matt: Yeah I don’t know. I think having metrics to back up your decisions is vital. But, you’re right, getting buy-in and getting everyone on board with the idea rather than just fighting them with numbers is going to be a more fruitful outcome.
Luke: It’s very true. We wrote a blog post on this last year saying that if there’s one thing you do when you start at an organisation it should be based on principles rather than justifying your role as a UX designer. You should do your job only and let other people do their own job. The role of a UX designer is really to evangelise and sell this idea of UX being a process or a role that everyone in the design team should adopt.
Matt: The next question comes from Seshank in India. Seshank is really keen to start his career in UX design but he’s finding it tough to break in. He says most of the job requirements require 2 – 3 years of experience and most of the academic programs in India prefer students from an engineering or IT background. He’s got an architecture background, having done a Bachelor degree, and has been working in the field and he wants to transition to user experience. How can he make this happen? What are your thoughts on architecture as a foundation for a user experience career Luke?
Luke: I have a good mate who I often describe as doing user experience design in the physical space; he’s a landscape architect for Sydney/Melbourne and he’s responsible for the way spaces in the city are used or created. There are a whole bunch of similarities and crossovers that he and I enjoy discussing, whenever we catch up. And there are quite a few roles like that, whether it be film-making or architecture or psychology, there’s a lot of crossover with other things, which gets back to that idea of which degrees you might study. There are still many things you can borrow from other fields.
Matt: Do you think there’s much overlap in the process?
Luke: I think one of the reasons UX is coming of age is that it’s getting back to design fundamentals. For a long time web design, in particular, was either coming from a design or a development perspective and we managed to bring those together. For the last 5 years, it’s really been about delivering a better customer experience. I think that fields with a formal design process, whether that goes right back to Bauhaus stuff or whatever it might be, but fairly robust web design and interface design is getting there now.
Hawk: I have an opinion because I actually have an architecture degree.
Matt: I was about to segue to that but you beat me to it.
Hawk: Whilst I’m not a professional UX designer, I jumped from architecture to web design, and I found it really useful for several reasons. One was obviously the general design process, but also the ability to be able to communicate that design process and my thoughts behind the steps I had taken and being able to communicate to people why I had done certain things. It would seem to me that in a UX type design process, that’s even more important. And I still, today, come up against things I realise I have taken from that experience, that I wouldn’t, at the time, have realised was going to be so valuable.
Matt: I will preface all of this by saying that none of us have a lot of experience with the user experience field in India and, in different parts of the world the industry may differ somewhat but, that said, 2 – 3 years of experience, well, if you invest some time in getting 6 months of experience working on a community project or a personal project and then you milk that for all you can in terms of talking about the way that you think, the process you follow, the deliverables that you create along the way, and if you tell the story of that project you’ve worked on that’s going to be a feeling to a designer. And it’s not just about careers or user experience, it’s about human nature; that people love to hear a story and they love to see the inner workings of the creative process. Really, I think the questions is not “should I go and do an academic program or should I go and work for 2 or 3 years in a related field and try to migrate across?”, the goal should be to try and find an opportunity that you can make the most of and then tell that story really well. I think that’s good advice for any career, really.
Luke: Sometimes you see job advertisements for 5 years of UX experience, but UX as a popular label has probably only been around that long so what they are asking for is people that were practicing something before it was really mainstream. Of course, people have been doing this stuff for 20 years or more.
Matt: Totally. And if Seshank was to talk up the overlap between architecture and UX and talk about his experiences there, he can get some value out of saying “no, I don’t have 3 years of experience as a UXer, but I’ve got 12 months because I’ve worked on this community project and this is the outcome that came from that. Prior to that I had 5 years of architecture experience and this is what we did and look at how similar it is”. I think that’s going to be a good approach.
Luke: And demonstrating that passion will go a long way. It’s not a requirement that people must have 2 years of experience before they even get to interview but if you’ve got passion and they’ve got the benefit of your experience and you’ve listened to yourself and learnt from that, you’re going to be in a much better position than someone who’s been in a position for 2 years and doesn’t really care or doesn’t have that fire in them.
Matt: It’s also important to remember that when people fill jobs, it’s not just 100% about “do they match up on paper?” We talk a little bit about this in our ‘get started’ book but a lot of the best positions don’t come from a classified in the newspaper or on a jobs board, they come from your network. And if you go and attend a bunch of meet-ups and get to know a few people and they get to know you then that cultural fit of “he’d be a nice guy – or girl – to work with”, informs their decision when it comes to hiring if it’s something that you’re a good fit for. So don’t discount the peripheral, softer parts of the job-hunting process and just focus on “do I have the degree or don’t I?” because there’s a lot more to it. Humans are complex and humans hiring humans to do complex, interesting work is just as complex.
Luke: Absolutely. I did a public speaking course on trying to improve my public speaking skills a few weeks ago and they were talking about body language. They brought up an example of body language during job interviews and the idea of the job interview being, as Matt said, two humans coming together to see if they can work well together. There was a university study done in the United States where they got people to do certain exercises before going to the interview that would help them be a bit more expressive in their body language. And they used another group to do things that shut them down and make them a bit more insecure and the differences in those two groups, simply because of the way that confidence was inspired through your own personal body language and then the way that was communicated to the other person, had a huge difference, not insignificant. I’m not saying go in there acting confident and you’ll get the job even if you don’t have the skills, I’m saying those sort of soft things that you come across in an interview are really what interviews are about.
Matt: Have you got any stories to share, Hawk, about job interviews or applying for roles that were a good fit and they weren’t interested or vice versa?
Hawk: You’ve asked the wrong person. I have had one job interview in my life so I’ve been fortunate enough to jump from job to job basically…
Matt: So tell us why that’s the case.
Hawk: I think that’s the case for the reasons that you say; that I talk a good game.
Matt: Yes you do.
Hawk: I think you need to do what you do with confidence and honesty. I think you’re a fool if you go in pretending to do something that you can’t do but if you go into any situation with the attitude that you haven’t done it before but you’ve got the confidence and you’ve got the skills to give it a damn good try, then people are usually willing to give you a go on that. If it doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out but that’s a hell of a lot better than going into a situation feeling meek and unprepared and thinking “well, I’ll give it a shot and see what happens”. People sense that straight away and nobody actually wants somebody working for them, whether they’re good at a job or not, who doesn’t have that confidence. That’s part of a company culture as well—you want to surround yourself by people that are smart and are brave, I guess. That’s what you’d want in your business. I’m not necessarily saying I’m smart and I’m brave but I am definitely saying that I talk a good game and, for that reason, you’re an example. I did an interview with you so I’ve been fortunate in that regard.
Matt: Yeah I’ve done my fair share of hiring, mostly designers and developers, and it’s hard to be objective about it but 95% of my decision after the interview’s over about whether the person’s a good fit or not, relates to not how the numbers stack up and what their qualifications are and what’s on their resume, but about how good a cultural fit they were and how confident they were about the stuff that we were asking them to do in the role. Confidence is huge.
Hawk: Yeah, and I guess, also, there’s an aspect of either, in your field I guess portfolio, in my field reputation. I think these days, with the internet, everybody gets Googled before they walk into that interview room, so if you’ve got a good online presence, and if you’ve got a good portfolio or series of work or even just online reputation, that makes a huge difference as well. I guess my advice to anybody in any role is to make sure you’re really careful about the stuff that is online about you and be out there as much as you can. Get onto forums, ask questions, be seen to have a share offering and community type spirit across the board. And I’m not pushing, necessarily, our community but that is something that people see and that’s something that people want in an employee as well.
Luke: Mmm. Reputation precedes you, yeah.
Matt: Alrighty, let’s move onto the next question which is from Ben. Ben was asking about our book. He said, “Before I buy this book, how do I know if UX is for me?” I didn’t include this because I wanted to plug the book but because it’s a fair enough question. Someone hears this term UX, and they think it sounds interesting but how do they know it’s going to be something that’s worth investing their time in to find work and get a decent salary? What are your thoughts on tackling something you don’t know a lot about, Luke?
Luke: Personally, I am curious about a lot of different things so tackling things I don’t know anything about is part of how I operate. My attitude is that you can jump in the deep end with things, give it a go and you can go a long way. But having said that, my partner’s a teacher and last week she had a work experience person doing a tour of the school and this person hadn’t had many years of teaching experience but was a natural teacher. My partner ended up saying to her, “please become a teacher, we need more people like you in the field” just because there was a natural confidence, she was happy doing the job, got a lot of enjoyment out of interacting with the kids, naturally knew how to handle them, was confident, all that kind of stuff, she was a natural teacher. I think the same can be true for UX where if you’re into doing good design, problem solving, you’re passionate about taking problems or concepts or research and then forming that through a process to have a good outcome, along with passion and that kind of stuff, the hard skills will develop. It’s the soft skills that will probably determine whether you’re suited for that or not.
Matt: I’m going to be a little harsh on Ben because my response to his question, how do I know it’s for me? What does it take? And what are my chances of finding work and getting a decent salary? Stepping back from UX, is UX an in-demand skill at the moment? Yes, it is. Does it pay well? Yes, it does, as a general rule. But, stepping back from UX, this is a really risk-averse, conservative approach. It betrays a lack of curiosity. I would suggest, Ben, if you’re not sure if it’s for you then do a bunch of reading. You need to go and do some research, read some of the articles we have on the site. Do some networking, go along to some meet-ups and chat to some people there and find out for yourself. And if you’re basing your career decision on what’s going to pay really well then, I don’t know, I think if you’re interested in something, you genuinely have a curiosity about something, then you’re going to enjoy it a lot more and if you get really good at it then you can always get paid well to do it. That’s the fundamental approach that I have in life. I know artists – and generally art is not seen to be a profession that pays well – but I know artists that have found a way to make a great living out of their art by running workshops, teaching kids to do what they do and being a bit creative about how they market their services as well as being able to pursue their passion. If you’re curious about something, if you’re passionate about it and you become good at it, you’re always going to find a way to make a living out of it. Just park the worries about “if I do all this work, am I going to find a good job or not?” and just go and do something that you’re interested in. That’s my advice.
Luke: And to be honest, the reason Matt and I wrote that book is because a lot of people have those kinds of questions. So, fair enough, ask the question before you buy the book but the book will really answer those questions and if you find that it really doesn’t – I don’t want to set up an excuse for getting a refund – but if, honestly, the book doesn’t do what you want then let us know. We’ve got a 100% money-back guarantee on it so that will be very helpful.
Matt: Mmm, and that said, if you’re not prepared to drop $18 on something that might change your life from a professional point of view then I think, investing in yourself is always a good idea and you should be liberal in investing in yourself, is my advice.
Luke: And the book is jam-packed of stuff.
Matt: Yeah we’re proud of it, there’s plenty of value in there so hopefully you find it useful, Ben. The next question is from Kim. She asks whether someone can really get a career in information architecture or user experience design without any formal education? She’s reading job postings and she’s got this one particular job that she’s copied and pasted because it lists all these responsibilities about collaborating with stakeholders and defining user requirements and content strategies and wireframes and all of the stuff that a UX designer does. Is this going to be something that Kim is going to be able to do without getting a formal education? Luke, what do you think about this?
Luke: I wrote an article on UXmatters.com last week called “Beyond User Experience”. It’s more targeted at intermediate UX designers or people who have been working in similar roles. So, whether they might be business analysts or product managers or people not necessarily seeing UX as the end point in a career, there are a lot of shared skills around things that product managers do that UX designers also do.
I think that moving laterally across, whether you’re working in an organisation and you’ve got some skills you can use to move sideways into a different job. I myself don’t have a formal degree even in design. I studied film. In a couple of years’ there are probably going to be more and more people coming up into the industry who are going to have degrees so it will probably get a bit more expected but if you’ve got that passion and you’ve got solid experience and you know what you’re talking about I think that’s going to count for a lot. So, short answer to that question, no, you don’t need a formal degree.
Hawk: I think it’s also important to remember that every job uses jargon and if you read every single skill that was required of you in any job, even something that might be considered an easy job, there’s jargon that you won’t understand until you’re in the position. I think it’s important not to be put off by the type of things you read in job descriptions. They’re never going to pitch below what they want so that’s where that being brave comes in I think, just, take a punt.
Luke: Having written job descriptions myself, you’re writing for something ideal, you don’t know the people who are going to apply for it, unless you’ve already got someone in mind. You’re writing a wish list to try and make sure you’re going to get someone of quality. But I think your job coming into that interview is to communicate that suitability for a role or to inspire the person who’s interviewing you and demonstrate how you can contribute to the company and add to the culture and all of that stuff that Hawk was talking about before, so, not paying so much attention to requirements but, sell yourself.
Matt: There you go Kim. Go in there, charm them, get a bit of experience and talk about it with authority and be brave and you’ll go far. The next question comes from Alon. Alon says “do you have to be considered artistic to be a good UX designer?”
Luke: Alon, good question.
Matt: Yeah. Alon doesn’t sketch much but he does enjoy some of the more analytical aspects of user experience like usability testing, usability studies, analytics, AV testing and advocating. Is UX the correct career to be considering without sketching ability? I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this.
Luke: Matt and I both do a lot of sketching and those sketches get posted on the website so I’m wondering whether we’re influencing people to think they have to be sketch artists to be UX designers.
Luke: There are some strong cross-overs.
Hawk: I don’t do any sketching but what I would say to him is to check out Mike Rohde’s sketching handbook. There are just so many tips in there. I couldn’t sketch to save myself and there are some pretty clever little things in there.
Matt: So what did you learn from doing that course, Hawk?
Hawk: Simple tips like some really basic ways to draw people, some really smart ways to draw people’s faces. He’s got a clever grid system of drawing 9 different circles and they’re just slightly different angles of eyes and things like that to give people different expressions, just some really cool simple ways to do things like that. Ways to make headings look pretty, ways to do little curly bits and to take something that you wouldn’t have thought would work together on the page just makes something look like you know exactly what you’re doing. And I’ve noticed with you guys as well that you both have specific things that are kind of your signature and I think that if you figure out what that signature for yourself is then you don’t need to be able to draw everything in the world. If you’re really good at trees just make sure you put a lot of trees in there. There are lots of waysto make it work.
Matt: Alon’s question was about being artistic, and I think you need to be careful about aspiring to be artistic or to be an artist because art and design really are two very different things. Art is about self-expression and, maybe I’m being simplistic here, but design is about solving problems. And sketching – a lot of people see someone sketch and they think “oh, they’re really artistic” but actually sketching is just a language for communication. It’s a visual language. It’s a way of expressing ideas in a less ambiguous fashion than words, generally. And, as Hawk mentioned, quite rightly, it’s not that difficult to get to a point where you can have some basic visual literacy to communicate ideas. So the answer is no, you don’t have to be artistic but sketching is a great skill to have, it’s great for communication and we all sketched as kids. We didn’t have any inhibitions about sharing our drawings when we were younger and, for some reason, we lose that confidence in communicating visually as we grow older and that’s a real shame. So I would definitely encourage you to embrace sketching.
Luke: I certainly wouldn’t call myself a sketch artist but, like you say, I really enjoy sketching so it comes out in some of my work and I find it really useful for user experience design. Jared Spool who’s a usability expert and an early pioneer in UX, wrote an article in which he called sketching an indispensable skill for UX and I think it’s because of those things. To be a good sketcher you need to listen and process and analyse and then communicate that sort of stuff out and that’s really at the core of some of those soft skills for UX.
Hawk: I also think in every job, in every role, there’s a niche for somebody and I’m sure, just like there are architects that can’t draw but they’ve got amazing spatial awareness, I imagine the same goes for UX. Your strength might lie somewhere else but there’s somebody else in your team that does those aspects of it. I suppose it depends on the job and the size of the team but if you’re indispensable at one of these other skills then who knows.
Luke: Whether that’s naturally thinking, jumping on the whiteboard and doing a bit of sketching just to help people get a concept rather than writing endless bullet lists, whether that’s inspiring some vision in the design team by putting together a story board, or whether it’s simply sketching out a bit of a layout, the idea of thinking visually for what is essentially a visual discipline is important.
Matt: There you go, Alon. Don’t feel intimidated by sketching, embrace it and make it part of your workflow and part of your communication skills and you can still go on and be awesome at all of those analytical parts of UX. Sketching will definitely make you even more awesome.
Luke: Give yourself permission to have some fun with it.
Matt: Yeah. Christina wrote a great email to us and I’ve got you in mind here, in particular, Luke, because Christina has a film background. She used to be a visual effects artist and when she was preparing to enter that field she had a good understanding of what all the various roles within the field were. She knew what a texture artist was, what a modeler was, what an animator was, what a lighter was and the role that each of them played and the tasks expected of them and she doesn’t have a good feel for how that works in the UX space, because, as we were just saying, UX has this wonderful spectrum of all different specialties and roles within that space. What are the various specialties within UX? How many can we list?
Luke: I feel a blog post coming on! It’s a meaty subject and I suppose film, in particular, is driven as a collaborative process so you’ve certainly got a director and, even having been a director, I still wonder why the director gets all the credit for a film, really, it’s a huge teamwork process and whether that’s from cinematography or people running around making sure people don’t trip over electrical cables, whatever it is, those people are all there for a reason. I guess for anything that involves a lot of people working together, you’re going to have to understand what people’s roles are in order to work efficiently. In the UX space, as I say, it’ll be a great article to do, just looking at what particular job titles or roles or elements of a process and it’ll change for different companies and different approaches of course.
Matt: You’ve got a bit of a list in front of you, do you want to read out some of the roles that we’ve got there?
Luke: We’ve got User Researcher, which is obviously very focused on the early parts of the process, user interviews, behavior analysis, all that kind of stuff. User researchers might specialise in getting some of that context and then passing that onto other people who then do a lot of the design work. Information Architects obviously will be more around structuring information, helping to find information when you’re using an interface, probably the next step, menus, all that kind of stuff.
Matt: We do have an exciting announcement relating to information architecture coming up on the site, probably later this week. I won’t say any more about that but it’s very exciting. If you want to learn more about information architecture, definitely watch this space.
Matt: That’s a great snapshot of the different roles. What it highlights to me is that there are some roles where you are the UX designer and there are other roles where you are doing UX as part of your role and there’s no one best practice, or hard and fast rule about what that team structure should look like or what that makeup should be.
Luke: An important part of the project to start, when you’re doing a UX plan, is to understand who you’re going to be working with, whether you’re by yourself, whether you’re with a team, how do you harness all those skills? To look at all the various different elements of skills that need to be used, what stuff can you actually bring? Are you suitable for that job? Do you need to bring in outside help? The important part of putting that plan together is at the start.
Matt: I hope that’s answered your question, Christina and given you a snapshot of some of the roles within the UX spectrum. Many people work doing all of the above and are particularly good at one or two of those areas, but some people will specialise just in being an interaction designer or right down to just doing wireframes and prototypes. I’ve seen people whose job it is just to do the wireframes and prototypes and I think that’s possibly the case that people think that’s most of what UX designers do and that’s not necessarily true.
We have one more question we’re going to tackle and it’s from Lisa. Lisa emailed us today and she’s feeling hysterical. She’s in desperation mode. She’s losing her job that she’s been in for 19 years, which is in the graphic design and drafting space. She sees UX as possibly a path to salvation for saving her career and she’d like some information about migrating from graphic design to user experience. Any information would be helpful. Lisa, I think that you have a fantastic foundation, Lisa. We’ve touched on a bunch of stuff in this conversation today but, Luke, do you have any specific thoughts about whether graphic design is a good career to move from into UX?
Luke: Absolutely. We talked before about that idea of thinking visually being quite important for UX as a visual medium. I mean, it’s not critical, like you could be specialising in information architecture if you’re a bit more analytical but, in general, having had 19 years of design experience, that’s pretty hefty. I think a lot of those skills, in terms of familiarity of how content can be presented and the way people will read that, is going to be really important for understanding human behavior and the way humans interact with the design. Obviously print design or graphic design is quite different from an interactive medium but a lot of those skills are translatable. Having 19 years of experience, particularly if you can pull out those aspects that are directly translatable to a user experience position and then find any gaps you’ve got and have some passion and some fire there too with learning them, absolutely.
Matt: Yeah I’m going to go one step further and say that, Lisa, your visual background gives you an advantage over other people that are coming to UX because the design stuff will be second nature. The fundamental principles of layout when you’re sketching a wireframe or doing information design of a form, you know, button placement and copy and that sort of stuff, you’ve got the edge because you’ve got so much experience doing that stuff in the print world. What you need to do is tackle those things we’ve touched on in this conversation today about getting some experience, doing some networking, making it a personal project that you develop and then talk about possibly helping out a local community or sports team or not-for-profit or something where you can apply some of those techniques. We’ve got this big thing we call the UX techniques back on our site—it’s Uxmastery.com/resources/techniques and there’s a whole bunch of techniques that UX designers use when they’re working at various stages of a project. My advice would be to get a bit of experience in using a few of them. Usability testing should be where you start and then branch out and try doing some user interviews, try doing a content audit, try building an information architecture site map and arranging navigation for a site redesign. Ticking those boxes and then talking about that as a story, is going to make you a very appealing employee for doing UX in a space, so it’s definitely achievable. You can do it, but it’s going to take a bit of hard work to tick those boxes.
Hawk: It looks like Lisa has got some experience, probably management experience and that type of thing as well in a VP role so there’s that aspect of it as well.
Matt: Good luck Lisa. I hope that’s useful for you. Before we finish up, I did want to mention to any of our listeners who are out there and are Melbourne or Sydney-based, we have a couple of workshops coming up, not just in Australia but in Asia as well. We’re teaching workshops in Melbourne in a few weeks’ time on an introduction to user experience and, later, in Sydney in August. And we’re also teaching some workshops in the Philippines.
Luke and I are very excited to be able to travel to Manila and Kuala Lumpur to teach some user experience workshops to some folks over there. It’s going to be amazing. If you’re in any of those four cities, please go to uxmastery.com/training and all the information is there. They are still fleshing out the pages for the sign-up for the Asian workshops but for Sydney and Melbourne, those workshops you can sign up to right now. We’d love to have you in class and we love talking about this stuff so please come along.
We love connecting with people who are aware of the site and who follow us and to give them a chance to help them in their career and giving them some guidance in person is very rewarding so we love it. We also have an online forum.
Hawk: Our online forum is a really relaxed place to come and either ask questions of us or of each other and also to support each other or to bounce ideas off peers. We are looking to do portfolio reviews, we can discuss the types of things we’ve discussed today in a non-threatening way, so definitely encourage as many people as possible to come along and join that and it’s community.uxmastery.com.
Matt: And finally, we have a newsletter, Luke.
Luke: We do. I think you should subscribe, everybody subscribe to our newsletter. It comes out fortnightly. We try to put some juicy things in there, we’ve usually got a little tip in there, something practical that you can apply straight away, news about what we’re up to, as well as a bit of fun and games about what’s been going on around the UX Mastery headquarters.
Matt: We just passed 5000 subscribers to our newsletter the other week so that’s a fairly big milestone that we’re quite proud of, so if you’re not on our email newsletter list, you get the inside scoop on events like this, on new products we have coming out and other free events.
Hawk: Ask the UXperts.
Matt: That’s the mailing list to be a part of if you want to get the inside scoop on Ask the UXperts. Just quickly, Hawk, if people want to hunt you down on Twitter and connect with you, where do they go?
Matt: And what about yourself, Luke?
Luke: Yep, so you can find me on Twitter @lukcha.
Matt: And my name’s Matt and I am @mattymcg on Twitter and we’d love to have you connect with us if you do the Twitter thing. This has been Office Hours with Matt and Luke and Hawk. Thank you for joining us today, Hawk. We hope you guys have found it interesting and useful and we’ll do this again sometime, I think. This was fun.