This week we ran an Ask the UXperts session with a difference. Rather than our usual Slack channel text based Q&A format, this time around Hawk braved being in front of the camera. She was joined by Interaction Design Foundation’s Mads Soegaard and the topic was one which is very dear to our hearts – UX education.
Your questions were amazing and they made for an insightful and valuable session. Thanks to everyone that sent one in.
If you didn’t make the session because you didn’t know about it, make sure you join our community to get updates of upcoming sessions.
If you’re interested in seeing what we discussed, or you want to revisit your own questions, you can watch the recording below or read on for a full transcript of the chat.
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Hawk: Welcome everyone. Awesome to have you here joining us tonight, maybe this morning, this afternoon, lunchtime, whatever it is for you in the world. It’s evening for me and it’s early morning for my special guest, your expert for this session, Mads Soegaard. Mads is joining us from the Interaction Design Foundation. We’re really big fans of his work. It’s a nonprofit organization which specializes in education and career advancement for designers.
Hawk: Tonight Mads is joining me to answer the questions that I’ve solicited from you, our community, over the last couple of weeks, specifically questions about getting a UX Education, a practical to approach to getting a UX Education. I’m excited to be joined by Mads tonight. I’m going to throw it over to him to give us some context around this session.
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, so good morning, Hawk. It’s early, early morning in Denmark and I had to put up these lights here. This is one of our video studios and I had to put up lights because this time in the morning in Denmark it’s completely almost pitch dark outside. So we don’t really see the sun like these four months in the winter, so don’t ever, ever come here during the winter. If you want to visit Denmark come here in the summer. Then it’s a magical place, but in the winter it’s just dark and gray and rainy.
Mads Soegaard: Okay yeah, so on that note, then my name is … Thanks for the introduction, Hawk. My name is Mads and founded the Interaction Design Foundation way back in 2002. We are a nonprofit organization who specializes in career advancement for user experience designers. Specifically our speciality is online user experience courses or basically courses revolving around the general theme of design, user experience design and UI design, design thinking and so on.
Mads Soegaard: So there is a bunch of related terms and that’s our speciality. We don’t do anything else, and we’ve been doing this for, yeah, since 2002. Actually then I’d just like to give some context to that. The reason I actually founded the Interaction Design Foundation and the reason that I find this Q&A so interesting is that the whole reason I founded it was that I felt it was really unfair that these knowledge and design skills have traditionally been reserved for people who are fairly well off and also people in the sort of you could say the Western intellectual hemisphere.
Mads Soegaard: You’d have to go to like a super expensive design school or these skills and the knowledge, design knowledge was really hard to come by online and it still is. So our goal is to lower the cost of high quality design education, so that means up the quality and lower the cost. That’s what we’re sort of incessantly working on. Our medium is the online medium because that’s how we are able to lower the cost and up the quality because we don’t have like big campuses. That’s our take on UX Education.
Mads Soegaard: Then we have local groups, I think in most all major cities around the world. I can’t remember how many hundred countries to get that sort of physical dimension into learning user experience. So these local groups are absolutely fantastic and thriving. Some of them are going a bit slow so we’re continually trying to optimize that. So that’s just to give a bit of context to yeah, who I am. So coming from where I do, then of course I’ll really try not to be biased towards online courses and online learning. I’ll really try to be objective, but just keep that in mind, that I might be slightly biased. I’ll remind you whenever I feel I’m getting too biased.
Hawk: That works for us because as you know our [inaudible 00:04:05] online and most of the people listening, in fact all of the people listening to us right now are people that know us via that medium, so [inaudible 00:04:14]. So are you ready to jump into some questions?
Mads Soegaard: Absolutely, yeah.
Hawk: Brilliant. So yeah, as I mentioned before, we’ve got a combination of questions from an email that we sent out from our online forums, which are a very valuable part of our community and also from our Twitter audience. So the first one is from the email that we sent out specifically about this session and it’s a good open starting question. It goes how can we effectively learn practical UX skills?
Mads Soegaard: Well actually first of all I should just mention that whenever I hear someone with a Kiwi accent, an Australian accent I get like really warm and fuzzy feeling inside because I used to live in Tasmania and I found it absolutely fantastic. I had a wonderful time there. Yeah. So okay, so how can you learn practical UX skills?
Mads Soegaard: So that’s, yeah.
Mads Soegaard: Well yeah, emphasis on the practical. So I’d say doing, doing, doing, doing. So the doing dimension is what it’s all about. Then how do you go about doing? I would say that let’s say that you buy a book, then it’s incredibly important that you just don’t sit there and passively read the book, but you actually put those things into like action. If you read a book about customer journey maps or personas or something, then it’s absolutely essential that you start to do it.
Mads Soegaard: So even if you don’t have a job as a UX designer, then I’d find it incredibly important that you just start. Yeah, just start doing. It could be do personas with your friends. It could be usability testing with your friends. That’s really not relevant. Of course it’s better if you have a job as a UX designer already and then you can do this with clients and so on, but often yeah, if you’re new to UX, then you don’t have that as a possibility.
Mads Soegaard: So I’d say as long as you just start doing, then that’s the key thing. So for example, when we construct courses in the Interaction Design Foundation, we put a lot of emphasis on exercises and templates and open ended questions. You’ll also see people who answer those open ended questions, some of them will be just hey, I’ll just do whatever is necessary and other people will be like they really put a lot of effort into it. So that’s the … Yeah. So of course you should be in the latter group. You should really try to put a lot, a lot of effort into it.
Hawk: Cool. Cool. So yeah, buy a book.
Mads Soegaard: So do. The doing dimension is what it’s all about. Yup.
Hawk: Cool. All right, thank you for that. Another one from email. What are the UX career or job options for those of us with really good people or interpersonal communication skills? So good communicators who would prefer to work with progressive companies or nonprofits but aren’t particularly strong at coding, I guess the question there really is how do we match our own skills with the UX positions that are available?
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, it’s super interesting that you mention coding because that’s the question that often comes up. I’d say that in some regions there’s some tendency to look at a user experience designer as someone who can also branch into coding, and so I’d say that it’s for me personally, I love programming by the way, I’d say that it’s important for you as a UX designer to know coding and to sort of know the fundamentals of how code is constructed.
Mads Soegaard: This whole idea of this whole approach of formalism, how do you actually take these ideas and essentially write them into code and make them come alive? Because one of my favorite sayings is ideas are worthless without execution. By extension, you could say that ideas are worthless without implementation, so all these wonderful plans that we make, they need to be written down to super rigid and super terse code in order to come alive, again, and bring a smile on our users’ faces.
Mads Soegaard: So it’s really important to know I’d say the fundamentals of code because otherwise you could fall into that trap of being that wonderful designer who’s like making Post-It Notes and all these wonderful plans, and then they just never come alive. So I’d say that’s important. One that note, I think you should leave programming to the programmers. So I would recommend that you specialize in user experience design and UI design, and just keep your knowledge of programming as sort of at a level where you can interface with programmers and you have meaningful conversations about them with regards to implementation, but no further than that.
Mads Soegaard: I would say that there’s enough, I mean, there’s a ton of knowledge and skills that need to be acquired in that spectrum from user experience design over in UI design, so you need to, everything from usability, testing to user research, I mean there’s a ton of skills that are needed as a UX designer and also a UI designer, so I’d say focus on that, make that your speciality. Yeah. That’s what I would do.
Mads Soegaard: Then also on that note, then I would also advise against becoming like, “Oh, I’m a user researcher.” Some are like, “I’m a usability tester and that’s only what I do.” I find that to be too narrow. I think there’s always this definition of what is a specialization and what is generalization, and some people say, “Well user experience, is that like a generalization across multiple domains and so on?” I’d say no, that’s actually a speciality.
Mads Soegaard: It’s a very well sort of thought out set of skills and disciplines that are needed, and that is a speciality. So you’re not like a generalist as a user experience designer. Actually, computer science started out like way back in the ’70s or ’60s, partially in the ’80s. No, in the ’70s computer science was not considered like a specialization. It was like hey, but you’re basically just a hands-on mathematician because that was what it was considered to be, so yeah.
Hawk: So can I just clarify? So when you say that to a degree that you think that UX-ers should know some code, are you talking more than just markup here? Are you talking deeper than just [inaudible 00:11:43]? To what degree do you believe that, because that’s what we get asked a lot and I think there needs to be a pretty clear definition put around what some coding means.
Mads Soegaard: Yup. I would say more than markup. So that depends on your medium. So if your medium are apps, as a user experience designer or designer let’s just say in a broad sense, you could be working on products, services, apps, websites and so on, so it depends on your medium. So of course it would not be markup if you were like doing an iOS app and only doing that. Then I would just say that markup is not quite enough. It has to be something with like if, then, so just something like that. Just some construed thing, yeah.
Mads Soegaard: Just get that basic understanding of programming, that’s all, because then you’ll exactly know why all of these weird questions are coming from developers when you just find this wonderful designer, this, you know, groundbreaking thing that can save the world and the programmer just looks at you like you just … Yeah. You know, came down from outer space.
Hawk: So understand how to grow a plant without necessarily knowing why the plant is growing. Get some understanding of the basic concepts without being able to necessarily write the code yourself.
Mads Soegaard: Exactly. Exactly.
Mads Soegaard: That’s the key.
Hawk: Perfect. All right, I think that was a good answer. Okay. So from our reader survey, our 2017 reader survey, one that is a personal favorite of mine, what professional development would you recommend for UX professionals? How can they progress once they’re already perhaps in a UX role?
Mads Soegaard: Yeah. So that’s a particularly interesting question. I would say that it’s super important to keep learning. I mean, I’m an addict of learning and I keep learning all the time. I really try to look at myself. Well, I mean I always remind myself, I feel dumb in a lot of respects because I always think of wow, I should learn this or I could learn this or I don’t know this and so on, so personally I’m addicted to learning.
Mads Soegaard: I would say that it’s incredibly important to keep learning. Like for example, at the Interaction Design Foundation we cover the whole spectrum from getting your first job as a user experience designer to like real advanced courses, so we have like super specialized courses on for example, augmented reality, virtual reality, user experience for augmented reality and virtual reality, the UX management with a lot of engineers from people, so we have super specialized courses.
Mads Soegaard: That’s our take on professional development is that it’s important to, the more you progress, the more you learn, to also remind yourself of how little you actually know and that there’s an infinite depth to learning. That’s why I said that I remind myself that I’m or I feel that I’m quite dumb because I always, like I discover new areas where I’m like, “Wow, I didn’t know this.” So that’s important to keep that attitude of like wow, just by you know, UX management. Wow, that’s a whole subdiscipline and it’s a merger between and oh, this wonderful thing called user experience and this enormously challenging thing called management and people and how do they act in groups and oh my God.
Hawk: Love it.
Mads Soegaard: I would say go into those specializations, then I would also issue sort of a warning, and that is the illusion of learning. So when you go on Medium for example, I’m not saying that Medium is a bad thing, by the way, but when you go on Medium it can also be a bit like going on social media. So you get this illusion of learning. You’re like, “Wow, this is interesting. This is interesting. Okay, then they did this over at Dropbox or something.”
Mads Soegaard: It’s like yeah, but you may feel good as you’re reading it, but are you really exercising your muscles? So it’s a bit like going to the gym and you’ll see some people hanging out at the gym and talking and so on, and then you’ll see other people completely focused without looking at their mobile phones and just looking horribly because they’re just working so hard and building up a sweat. I’d say just maybe actually don’t read so many articles and don’t focus so much on the news, news, what just happened at Google.
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, focus more on timeless knowledge because if you look at the time that you’re investing in that, then timeless knowledge will just help you like for the next 20 years or 30 years or hopefully for all eternity as opposed to some yeah, something happened to that one. Yeah, what can you really learn from that? So that’s another super important principle when we develop courses for our editorial team is that timeless knowledge, always timeless knowledge. Something that’s super valuable that can last for like decades.
Mads Soegaard: That’s for example why we never develop any courses on tools because a tool will get outdated in a few years. Some tools like Photo Shop for example, when you talk UI design have been around for ages, but I mean, the user interface keeps changing every year of course, but employers will not hire you because you can use a tool. Employers will hire you because you understand human motivations, you understand people in groups, what they do.
Mads Soegaard: They’ll hire you based on the design skills that you can use to create results, to create business value, to create smiles on people’s faces, and that’s another type of knowledge and skills. That’s just not about how they use a tool.
Hawk: Cool. That makes sense as well. So focus on real life, not on gossip I guess is what you’re saying. Focus on the news, not on the social media.
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, yeah, and try to go for as timeless knowledge as possible. So look at the, there will be a best before date on your knowledge. It’s like okay, so I learned a tool but okay, what about in two years? So more as humans and human motivations and psychology and our perceptual system for example. That’s fairly invariant and I mean, the human perception [inaudible 00:19:04] over like some 10,000 or 20,000 or however long. So that’s a more stabile skillset and knowledge, whereas if you learn some look, that’s not going to be around in 10,000 years, so.
Hawk: Cool. All right, we’ve got a live question from a listener from [inaudible 00:19:29], from YouTube. I’m a senior developer and I often interact with clients and I’d like to know how I should go about looking for improvement in my skills and how can I judge that I am improving? So I guess senior practitioners, yeah.
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fantastic. Fantastic. So developers, a developer who’s interested in UX designer or at least interfacing with clients and customers, absolutely wonderful. So I’d say user experience design is the cure or it’s the answer to your question because of course, I mean I’m …
Mads Soegaard: Is the answer to your question, because of course I’m biased, I love it, and you do too, and the audience probably will agree with me because it’s such a fantastic interface between development and the customers and the users out there. So the person who is asking this question, the developer, that’s the missing link to really understand customers, users, and so on. That is user experience design because it provides those structured … It includes the knowledge and the work processes and the skills and the tools that will bridge that gap between the code and the thing going on out here among the users and customers.
Mads Soegaard: I find it absolutely fantastic that that person … Yeah, I really whole heartedly recommend that person to go full all in into UX design and the person will be so immensely, immensely valuable because a developer who has people skills and user experience skills is just a fantastic person to have on the team. It’s absolutely fantastic. The developer does not have to become the UX expert or something, it’s just that interface and that bridge between that you can … Bridging that gap. It’s fantastic.
Hawk: Cool. Brilliant. And another one from YouTube from Tisning who’s a faithful Ask the UX Experts audience member, so thanks, Tisning, for your question. Tising asks, “Which course would you suggest for someone who has already been in the UX industry for more than five years?” So someone that’s intermediate to senior, what course or I guess, what path of training would you recommend for someone in that particular part of their career?
Mads Soegaard: I would advise against thinking in a singular course. So I see this as a continuous journey and the reason may be that for example, when people break into UX design they’re very much … I see that online a lot. I hear people asking, “So which course should I start? Should I start with this course or that course or that provider or that provider?”
Hawk: You hear that?
Mads Soegaard: Yeah. And that’s because the prices are so quite extremely inflated which I, because of the mission of Interaction Design Foundation of course I’m biased, so that’s the whole thing we’re battling against is that these prices should not be so high. We use technology to become so scalable and so affordable that this should not be … Which course should I choose because it such a vast investment and then I’ll be out of money after that, so you the courses should be more affordable.
Mads Soegaard: So in this particular person’s situation I would say it’s not about one course, it’s about strengthening your muscles in different areas. That’s our whole editorial strategy in Interaction Design Foundation. In order to retain members over five or seven years in our community is to offer I think we have 30 plus courses, that are very specialized in each of their areas because that’s really how I think you should go about learning. It’s just to continuously train your muscles in different ways. So if you go to a gym and just do the same thing over again, you won’t really progress. But you need to train your mental muscles in different ways. So I would say take lots of courses. But find the best ones.
Hawk: Right. So maybe start at a low price point, look online and take a whole lot of courses in very disparate and different kind of … Just little parts of our discipline until you find something that you connect with. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
Mads Soegaard: Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m saying. You can also go … Find some interesting and wonderful books. And the thing about books is that it will require a lot of self-discipline in order to put that interaction because it’s this thing of if you’re just passively absorbing a book and like, “Oh, this is a wonderful idea, a wonderful idea”, it can create that illusion that I warned against earlier, the illusion of learning whereas you really need to be like, okay, take your pen and your paper or go into the world and try to really apply this knowledge that you have from this wonderful book. So it does require more discipline.
Mads Soegaard: For a course, for example, the Interaction Design Foundation or other course providers, you have a bit more structure because then they’re like, “Hey, you need to enter these quizzes”, or answer. We have grading by instructors, so you need to answer open-ended questions or quizzes. The instructor will then rate them from one to 10 and that’ll be part of how you progress towards your course certificate. So in an online medium you can create a bit more structure around your learning so that we’re gently pushing you into a structure so you don’t have to have as much self-discipline as you do with a book.
Mads Soegaard: I then say, still you need quite a bit of discipline or self-discipline to do online learning, but self-discipline can be learned. So that’s it. It can actually be trained and learned. But still, when you’re on your mobile phone or on your desktop computer, it’s easy to just switch over. “Let’s just see what’s going on here on social media”, and then you’re distracted, whereas if you’re in a physical classroom, then you’re locked inside the room. You can’t escape. You may have your mobile phone and can go on social media on that, but you’re locked in a room. So that, I guess, is also the spectrum that you’re in. The pros and cons spectrum of books, online courses and physical classroom based classes is that the degree to which you have a scaffold or structure around you.
Mads Soegaard: In a classroom, you can actually have little self discipline because you’re locked in the room and the instructor will look at you and say, “Wake up”, whereas online courses you have some structure but of course, it’s easy to just switch over to social media, and in a book, it’s also easy to get distracted so …
Mads Soegaard: That comes back to then, you need to know yourself and how you are with regards to self-discipline. So when you’re choosing your education, then of course you need to keep in mind not only … Yeah, so you need to know yourself when you’re choosing a particular style of learning with the added note that self-discipline can be learned. So you don’t need to say, “Well okay, I’m really easily distracted so I should pay $40,000 US dollars per year to go to school because then I have a classroom based model where I’m locked in a room and then that’s better for me”, because then … Yeah, that’s a huge investment. So shouldn’t you perhaps then train your self-discipline instead of … Then you’ll save the $40,000 US dollars and maybe that’s better for you in the long term.
Hawk: Sure. So experiment I guess, is probably the answer. True. Alright, I’ve got another one to throw at you. So again, from YouTube, Ina asks, “I really want to transition into UX, but I’m coming from a non-designer, a non-tech background. Do I need a proper qualification? Do I need a university degree or a bootcamp like General Assemb.ly or CareerFoundry?” What’s the best way for somebody coming from a completely non-design, non-tech background to break into UX?
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, that’s a super interesting question.
Hawk: I hear that one a lot.
Mads Soegaard: Yeah. Exactly. So I return to my first point in this Q & A and it’s doing, doing, doing because there aren’t really a sure fire way of getting a job or doing the right thing because then of course, you would have written that article. It’s like, “Here’s the recipe for success. Step one, step two.” It really depends on a lot of factors.
Mads Soegaard: For example, as I just mentioned in my previous answer: your learning style. So how do you actually learn? Do you really need to be in a classroom or do you have that self assurance that you can sort of learn by yourself through self-discipline and going out there and doing, doing, doing? So that’s one consideration in that big puzzle.
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, so I would say again, it’s about doing. So taking courses where you can do practical exercises and then doing these things and not being shy. So let’s say that this person obviously hits this conundrum again that in order to break into UX design or in order to get a job, you need experience. In order to get experience … How does a person do that? I would say the way I would do it is yes, simply start doing. So I would do a usability test with my friends, I would do customer journey maps on some made up project, I would offer my help to any type of company who are willing to take me on but still have interesting colleagues and ambitious colleagues and then I would work my butt off just to create results.
Mads Soegaard: At the same time in my spare time, I would take online courses and try to take all those practical exercises into my perhaps unpaid job. At the same time I would start building a portfolio and then you don’t need to be like … You shouldn’t be shy about this because you can build a portfolio without having a job. So you could do a usability test on some of your friends and then you can include a snippet of that one minute or 30 seconds of that usability study or test and you can say, “Here. I’ve done a usability test.”
Mads Soegaard: So you can actually build a portfolio without having a job. And I’m not saying that you should then lie and then say, “Hey, I’m a usability test expert”, when in reality you did, you did some tests with your friends. So you, of course, shouldn’t lie. Any type of healthy relationship is based on truthful calibration of expectations. But what you are showing in your portfolio then is that you show initiative and you show a tendency toward action. It’s that, “Hey. I’m passionate about this. I’m doing it. I’m doing something. I’m just trying, trying, trying.”
Mads Soegaard: And employers or future colleagues will recognize that drive, that passion because you know that even if that person has only done a usability test on three of his or her friends, then that drive and passion of like, I want to do this … If you release that into a company then of course, in two years, one year, two months, that knowledge and that skill set will progress and all of a sudden that person will in a few years have become a usability expert. That drive and that passion.
Mads Soegaard: So to answer the question, so to answer more directly this question from your reader, I would say if UX design and design is your passion then just start doing concrete things and then I’m sure it will work out. Don’t worry about if you come from some other background. People have come from accounting and then found out, “Oh my god. I went into accounting because my parents thought it would be a really good thing to do and I could work with a big brand and become an accountant but then I’ve just found out that it made me die slowly inside and then I found this wonderful thing called design and wow.”
Mads Soegaard: So that person should not be apologetic for you know, “Oh, I’m a trained accountant.” Yeah. But that person should say, “Wow, I’m a trained accountant so I’m trained and I’m good at rigid thinking patterns”, because that’s also essential for when you get into implementation and programming, “But then I found this passion and now I’m just working my butt off in order to acquire more and more skills and more and more knowledge in design.” People will see that and recognize that and see he’s completely hire-able despite not having a “Hey, I’ve got a design degree from this super fancy and very expensive university.”
Mads Soegaard: I would say don’t be apologetic about it, don’t be shy, just do, do, do and just … Yeah. Follow your path.
Hawk: I like it. Okay, I’m going to segue slightly. The next question is another from our reader Sirvay, and it is: How can we address the gap between bootcamps and real life industry expectations?
Mads Soegaard: Super interesting question also. I’d say that that gap is actually a healthy sign because the gap is all about you may go into this bootcamp. It maybe takes a couple of weeks or a couple of months and perhaps it’s even actually quite costly, perhaps even very, very costly and then you may work on your portfolio and then you pitch to an employer after that and then they’re like, “Yeah, but …” You may have problems getting a job. So I think the problem here …
Mads Soegaard: I think that it’s perhaps a healthy sign of employers being critical of bootcamps and I think it’s a matter of the calibration of expectations not being well adequate because you can’t expect to become a User Experience Designer from scratch, “we’ll take you through a 10 week course and you’ll end up completely hire-able” and so on. If you think of it in terms of just imagine if we [set that to 00:35:46] people who wanted to become doctors. “Just take this course and then after that you’ll be able to cure patients.” Yeah, but are really sure that you’re ready to take on that?
Mads Soegaard: Do we really want this person to work on a product used by millions and millions of people after 10 weeks and take be really influential in key business decisions? Because that is what a User Experience will be doing. It’s all about the users and the customers and how we interact with them. This is a business critical thing. So you can’t gain that knowledge in 10 weeks. At the other … So, right after saying that, I should also say that that does not mean that you should then be scared. If you’re listening to this and you’re like, “Hey, but I’m a marketing person and I just want to break into UX design and I have no knowledge and no skills in User Experience”, or whatever. You shouldn’t be afraid and then think, [inaudible 00:36:48] expensive school or something.
Mads Soegaard: That’s not what I’m saying either. I’m just saying it’s the calibration of expectations. The person who asked the question just before, if that person has that drive and passion and so on, I would absolutely definitely hire that person to become a User Experience designer with the note that the person needs to gain more muscle and to do more training so the person would not be released into business critical decisions right away. I think it’s just a matter of calibrating … Yeah. I thought I had another point. I can’t remember.
Hawk: Oh goodness. Would you like me to jump into the next question?
Mads Soegaard: Hold on. Just bootcamps and calibration and expectations … Yeah. Let’s go to the next question.
Hawk: Cool. No problem. So the next question-
Mads Soegaard: No, no, no. Sorry.
Mads Soegaard: Okay, so one point. So for example, in the Interaction Design Foundation we have one course called “Become a User Experience Designer from Scratch”, and it probably takes a couple of months. The point is that after those couple of months, you will not have become a User Experience designer because one of the key points of the course is to take you through a helicopter ride above the landscape of User Experience and expose you to the various self-disciplines and components and so on and it will have lots of links to other courses and some material from other courses also so you get that breadth and understanding of: wow, there’s a lot here going on and I need to strengthen my muscles in these areas. [inaudible 00:38:40] fooling around the User Experience Designer. So that is again, it just touched upon this point of calibration of expectations. It’s a matter of you not being like a fully-fledged doctor able to cure patients after 10 weeks or two months … But that you have a path set out ahead of you.
Hawk: Sure. No, that makes sense. Cool, alright. I’ve got two related questions, both from YouTube, one from Catherine, which says there’s obviously new technologies every day: artificial intelligence, virtual reality … “How can courses help keep design students up to date with these technologies and do it at the same time. So how do we study for technologies like AI, future technologies? So how can we stay constant, how can we relevant, how can we stay up to date with these really fast changing technologies?”
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, so I would say that it’s a matter of aiming for timeless knowledge because there are certain constants that are, for example, the human [perceptual 00:39:53] system, certain cognitive patterns. So there’s certain things that are timeless and stable across a millennia.
Mads Soegaard: And then, of course, there are some fast-paced changes in technology, and then you have AI, and then you have virtual reality and so on, so technology very fast, but that’s actually okay.
Mads Soegaard: Because, for example, storytelling, how to tell a story, how to, like, narrative thread in a story, that hasn’t really fundamentally changed over a huge span of time.
Mads Soegaard: And when you design augmented reality/virtual reality, it’s also about storytelling.
Mads Soegaard: So, just like when you make a wire frame for a website, you’re constructing some paths and you’re trying to mold or shape the behavior of your users or customers along some sort of path or storyline and you’re trying to make them take a left here or right there based on a certain choice and so on.
Mads Soegaard: And so those storytelling structures are not irrespective of the medium but they still … that knowledge that you have around storytelling, narrative threads, wire frames, will also be applicable in virtual reality/augmented reality.
Mads Soegaard: But that’s the key thing, just go for the more stable and timeless knowledge, because otherwise you’ll get stressed and confused and it’s like, “Oh, wow, we have this new AI coming out, what does that do to UX? Am I prepared for that? Is my knowledge getting outdated?” And then you hit the classic fear of missing out [inaudible 00:41:59] and then you’ll find yourself scrambling across medium articles, then you’re wasting your time all of a sudden instead of just taking deep breath, taking two steps back, and just “Okay, what’s at play here? What’s going on? Oh, right, there’s some common themes here, like storytelling.”
Mads Soegaard: Okay, then better to learn those fundamental things as opposed to having that fear of missing out.
Mads Soegaard: And, again, I’m biased because that’s our editorial principal [inaudible 00:42:33] is time is knowledge, so, that’s the backdrop.
Hawk: So, the next question is one that’s important to me because it’s one that I get asked a lot in the UX Mastery community and it’s a difficult one for me to answer because it really personal for people, and that is one end of the spectrum, James from YouTube was asking, do companies in general still like to hire junior designers and what’s the market looking for new guys?
Hawk: But the thing that I’m passionate about is the other end of the spectrum, I’m a 52 year old x-ray technician with no degree or formal training and I’ve been told it’s unrealistic for me to try and switch careers at this late stage due to my age.
Hawk: So what are your thoughts? Where is the market laying as far as age and experience goes? Is the room for everybody or is there not? What are your thoughts?
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, first of all, of course, it really depends on the individual employer. Some people will not like people who have red hair and thus they won’t hire people with red hair, or black skin, or whatever it is, or a certain age level.
Mads Soegaard: So, you’ll always bump into those things. It’s like “Oh, wow, you’ve got a few stint of gray hair, oh, that’s really bad, so we won’t hire you.”
Mads Soegaard: Or the visa versa, it’s like “Oh, no, no. You’re not 40 yet, then you’re not smart.”
Mads Soegaard: Ignoring all of that, then I’d say it’s about passion and it’s about doing.
Mads Soegaard: So, I know people who have been really, really, really old at the age of 21 and I know people who are, like, 60 or 70 who are not old.
Mads Soegaard: I know the cliché that age is just a number, but I really, really, really believe that. So, if this particular person, your reader, is 52 I’d say that’s completely irrelevant. It’s the passion. It’s his or her passion, and his or her self discipline and that forward motion that really counts.
Mads Soegaard: So I’d just say go for it. When you ask an employer if, if you’re sane is perhaps not the right word. But if you as an employer see someone with passion and drive you’d be crazy not to try to leverage that because when you have a person who’s truly passionate about what he or she is doing, has self discipline, self reliance, and wants to work his or her butt off, not in terms of the absolute number of hours, but really just work intensely because of that passion, then of course, you should align your business objectives with that person’s passion, and then magic happens and love and rainbows and everything else.
Mads Soegaard: And similarly, I’d say as a junior, then it’s about, again, the passion, and doing, and energy, because these two people, let’s say the 21 year old junior person and the 52 year old person, they both feel a bit like insecure, perhaps, but [inaudible 00:46:08] so I compensate and that is what will get you the job, or, make you more happy in life in general and all sorts of other personal and professional goals.
Hawk: So be true to yourself.
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, exactly, work hard, be nice to people and just go for your passions.
Mads Soegaard: It sounds so simple, but, that’s really really [inaudible 00:46:37].
Hawk: Sure. I agree with you.
Hawk: A bit of a philosophical segue, now, perhaps. Maybe not. Do you think we need an accreditation system? This is from INL Forums. Do you think we need an accreditation system where UX becomes an accredited profession and that we work under a code of ethics or a code of conduct? Do you think that it needs to be more formalized, I guess is what he’s asking.
Mads Soegaard: Yeah, super interesting and very complex and can get into the philosophical. It can become a philosophical segue.
Mads Soegaard: I would say, do we need some sort of accreditation or certification … okay, so, if we compare ourselves to doctors, doctors have the human body, psyche and it’s remained fairly stable over the past ten thousand years.
Mads Soegaard: So if you have a more stable and fixed object of study or object of object of practice. And of course our knowledge and skills around the human body [inaudible 00:47:47] changes all the time and it gets expanded and so I’m not saying that a doctor now versus 200 years ago is exactly the same thing. But still you have something that’s more stable.
Mads Soegaard: On the other side, let’s look at a user experience. That is constantly changing due to a number of reasons. And I’m not actually talking about technology. Of course there’s AI and VR and bigger more processing power, whatever, is changing on the technological side, but there’s also other things at play here.
Mads Soegaard: There’s the actual definition of what we are as a discipline. So, if you google the definition of UX Design you’ll probably find two trillion search results and it’s because these terms are changing all the time.
Mads Soegaard: For example, [inaudible 00:48:42] term because there’s some institutions, some companies, some individuals who have an interest in promoting that term and then they’re very successful in doing that. Then it suddenly pops up, maybe go away again, maybe it will replace some of the meanings of user experience.
Mads Soegaard: The fancy word is social constructionism. That reality, social reality, is continually constructed and reconstructed all the time based on all the conversations we’re having, the books that are being produced and so on.
Mads Soegaard: So user experience, like any other term, well actually like most other terms, is inherently instable over time.
Mads Soegaard: The question on certification or accreditation is sort of a symptome of that. It’s like “This is so unstable. What is it? Can we please have some stability, people?”
Mads Soegaard: So the question is that type of symptom. I really don’t know what to answer because yes, it would be really nice with some stability, but then on the other hand then we’re trying to make something that’s inherently instable, because it is social constructionism in action, we’re trying to make something inherently instable stable.
Mads Soegaard: Also, it depends, for example if you go certain places globally, you’ll find local definitions of things. So if you go to the San Francisco Bay Area, interaction design is “Oh, that’s this.” And then at the same time I’m at a conference in Berlin, and then there’s a complete different perception of that. And who’s right and who’s wrong? That’s really difficult to answer.
Mads Soegaard: So, case in point, when I founded the Interaction Design Foundation in 2002, interaction design as a term was, in my opinion, more appropriate than user experience and it was getting more popular, also. So if I were to re-found the Interaction Design Foundation today I probably would call it the User Experience Foundation. Which is quite annoying because, like, “Can we please have some stability around these terms?” [inaudible 00:51:23]
Mads Soegaard: This was like an incredibly vague answer to that question.
Hawk: You said something about the state of play, to be honest, and that’s potentially [inaudible 00:51:36] question was posed.
Mads Soegaard: And also another case in point, for example, in the Interaction Design Foundation we say that our course certificates are industry recognized because more and more employers recognize them because we’ve been around for so long and are OCD about the quality of our courses.
Mads Soegaard: But we never use the word certification. That’s the reason for that, it’s a dangerous word because certification, what does that actually mean? It brings up this whole discussion which is a wonderful discussion, but may also lead down to confusion and a wrong calibration of expectations and we don’t want that.
Hawk: We’ve probably only got time for one more, but possibly two. I’ve got two related ones [inaudible 00:52:30] forums.
Hawk: The first part of the question is how does one get around this issue of having to already have worked in UX in order to work in UX so [inaudible 00:52:43] I need experience in order to get a job? Chris asks a similar question, but maybe with the answer involved, he sees a lot of talk about formal internships or apprenticeships. Is that the best way to get experience?
Hawk: So, I guess, what would you recommend was the best way to get experience partly to build a portfolio, partly to have that step in the door, partly to say “I know what I’m doing,” what’s your thoughts there?
Mads Soegaard: It’s a super good question because let’s say that I’m at square one and I want to really, really become a great, fantastic user experience designer and I have limited funds like everyone else on this planet. And then, where should I invest my funds? What should I do with my time and so on. So, I’d say yes, you could pay forty thousand US dollars per year to an expensive design program at a university or you could also say “Hey, I’m investing my own time, so I’m taking online courses, I’m reading books, and I’m offering my help for free.” So try and get an internship.
Mads Soegaard: And you don’t need an internship at some brand name, like “Okay, I’ve been an intern an Google” or IBM or something because that’s not really … I mean, yeah sure you have their brand name to put on your [inaudible 00:54:14]].
Mads Soegaard: If you can find some talented people who are ambitious in a small agency or in a company who’s doing something that’s unrelated to UX design but they know they have a need for UX design and they’re also ambitious, then I would go there and offer my help as an unpaid intern and to see this, that’s like an investment because you can pay forty thousand per year or you can just pay with your own time.
Mads Soegaard: I’d go for the unpaid … doesn’t really matter if it’s paid or unpaid internship, it’s what you want to get out of the internship is not the money, it’s about the more you can work the better. The more you can work your muscles, the better.
Hawk: Right. We lost coverage in the video there for a little bit so we lost a few of the words, but, I think, can I just summarize by saying that you’re saying that an internship’s great, it’s not about the brand, it’s about whatever experience you can get so that may be with a well known brand, but if you can pick up a project for the school up the road that’s equal value it’s more just about flexing your muscles a little bit. Is that fair?
Mads Soegaard: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. So pick up that project for your school up the road and just work really hard for them and get a lot of experience under your belt. That’s what it’s all about.
Mads Soegaard: You could also try to go for an internship with Google, but then it’s just a matter of how hard you can work and how much you can work on something that will build your knowledge and skills.
Hawk: Sure. We’re approaching the top of the hour [inaudible 00:56:07]. DO you want to get a couple of minutes to [inaudible 00:56:14] and maybe tell people how they can get in touch with, how can they find out more bout [inaudible 00:56:19] how they can get in touch you maybe they could connect on the forums?
Mads Soegaard: Absolutely. First of all, thanks to you, Hawk, and [inaudible 00:56:30] for having me. It’s been an absolute pleasure. It’s super early in the morning in Denmark, and I’m full of energy now after all these questions and full of positivity, so that’s really a fantastic sign.
Mads Soegaard: I just really, really hope for all the people who are listening that they hopefully become more and more interested in user experience and that they’ll just follow that passion and just really, really go all in on it, because user experience design in general just has an enormous potential not only for your professional lives because it’s a fantastic career, that’s the more ecocentric perspective, but also simply for the sake of the human race, so that’s the altruistic perspective.
Mads Soegaard: Design can really change the world. If you just think of all your frustration with ticket vending machines on a busy train station or something, just imagine if there were more user experience designers, usability people, [inaudible 00:57:35] designers, [inaudible 00:57:37].
Hawk: I’ve lost your video all together, Mads.
Hawk: You’re back. We lost you for a minute there. We’ve lost quality of video, so that’s probably …
Mads Soegaard: I think my quality is getting a bit bad.
Hawk: Yeah, it is. So, I’ll take the opportunity to wrap up, perhaps, and just to say thank you so much for your time. I know it’s really early and you’re energized. It’s getting pretty late for me, but I’m also energized. A lot of the questions you’ve addressed tonight are questions that, oh, this morning, sorry, are questions that I get asked an awful lot in our community, so it’s really awesome to hear your thoughts and someone that spends their day on most in this world. So I really appreciate your time.
Hawk: For everyone that’s listening, please check out the Interaction Design Foundation for Mads’s contact details.
Hawk: Please check out UX Mastery, community.uxmastery.com if you’ve got questions there, I will make sure that they get answered either by the community or by myself, or by Mads.
Hawk: But huge thank you for your time, Mads. And it’s been a real pleasure to have your company tonight.
Mads Soegaard: Likewise. Likewise. Thank you so much for having me. And have a wonderful rest of your day.
Hawk: Thanks, there’s not much left of it!
Mads Soegaard: Bye.
Hawk: See ya.