UX Careers Panel: Courses, Portfolios, Interviews & More…

UX Careers Panel: Courses, Portfolios, Interviews & More…

A large sketchnote of the UX careers panel
Summary:

Last month we held a free panel discussion here in Melbourne, coordinated through our new meetup group.

We recorded a video of the entire panel discussion, which we’ve published here for your viewing pleasure.

Last month we held a free UX Careers panel here in Melbourne. We organised it using our new UX Mastery Melbourne meetup group.

We had about 40 enthusiastic attendees join us from a range of backgrounds, including graphic designers, marketers, business analysts, and developers. The panel conversation was shaped by the audience, who asked a ton of really interesting questions. We even gave away a door prize (a free ticket to one of our upcoming workshops—congratulations Garry!).

If you weren’t able to make it, fear not! We recorded a video of the entire panel, published here for your viewing pleasure:

The talented graphic artist creating the amazing sketch of the conversation in the background is Rebecca Jackson. We also captured Rebecca’s work on video, and put together this fantastic time-lapse video of her sketch coming to life:

A huge thank you to Rebecca for braving the awkward space behind the panelists to capture our conversation in such a visually rich and inspiring fashion.

A large sketchnote of the UX careers panel

The event was a lot of fun, and it was great that so many people stuck around afterwards for a beer and a chat.

If you’re interested in attending future events like this, and you live in Melbourne, join the UX Mastery Melbourne meetup group.

UX Careers Panel Transcript

Matt: Good evening, welcome. My name is Matt and this is our very first ever UX Mastery meet up group, our very first careers panel.

We’ve got a bunch of UXers here who are going to talk about their careers and their thoughts on careers in User Experience design.

What is UX Mastery? UX Mastery is a website founded by Luke and myself for aspiring User Experience Designers.  So we publish a tonne of articles, we’ve got E-books, we run regular webinars. We also have a community forum, if you haven’t discovered the online forums, it’s a great place to get advice, get support, get your questions answered about User Experience. And we also do occasional in person workshops. Speaking of which, we have a few workshops coming up very soon that we’re really proud of. We’ve run these a couple of times and they’re well received. So, we’re running a workshop about Sketch Noting. We’re running a workshop about Introduction to User Experience which is great for graphic designers and business analysts and marketers that want to get their head around user-centred design. And we have a workshop specifically for mobile, designing for mobile, designing device independent user experiences.

So, go to uxmastery.com/training if you’re interested in any of these workshops. If you’re doing the tweet thing, hashtag uxcareers, is the hashtag we’d like you to use for this event tonight.

Just very quickly, on our panel this evening, we have myself, Matt, to my right here we have Ben Rowe from Thirst Studios, we have Jamie Chin from Symplicit and Luke, my partner in crime for UX Mastery.

I’ve also got Rebecca Jackson who’s kindly volunteering to graphically record our conversation tonight.  Rebecca’s just going to poke around at the back and do her thing and we’ll see what she comes up with by the end of the evening. Very quickly, to kick things off, what I might ask each of the panellists to do is just say your name, what you’re doing, where you’re working and a little bit about how you started in User Experience. Ben.

Ben: Hi everyone, how are you going?  Ben Rowe, I’m a UX designer.  I’ve been working where I am at the moment which is Thirst Studios, for about two years now. My career in UX is, I suppose it’s a little bit different than some, but probably not.  I think everyone makes, a lot of people make a transition from UX from another career and for me it was marketing. I studied marketing at uni and really loved marketing for about ten years of my life and then had a bit of mid-life crisis at about the age of thirty and decided I didn’t want to do marketing at all. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Next after that, and UX back then was sort of, kind of, a newish kind of thing, so I sort of knew that I wanted to be involved in it.

Matt: When was back then? How long ago was that?

Ben: Back then was seven years ago or so I think. And so, I wanted to stay, I wanted to keep in the web and do stuff online.  I didn’t quite know what role it was going to be and so for a few years I was kind of just trying a few different things. I was an Account Manager for a while. I think worked as a BA for a while and as I did that, I kind of realised that, you know, and UX started to emerge and I kind of realised that I wanted to do that. So I, I’ve kind of done a few different things along the way to get to where I am now but the thing I guess I’ve learnt is that, everything that you do in the past kind of adds up to where you are and you can kind of put together a story based on your experience. For me, I felt like there was a few years where I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing, but looking back, I can sort of say now, well actually, I’m a UX designer whose got a bit of a marketing focus because I’ve got that background. I’ve done a few things that have helped me get to where I am now and so I’ve been able to kind of weave that story a little bit.

Matt: And Jamie?

Jamie: Hi, I’m Jamie and I’m currently working in Symplicit as a Lead Designer. So, I’ve basically was a graduate from RMIT and I headed back to Malaysia and then I got into advertising so for a couple of years, I think about six years, I’ve been working in advertising and doing all the cool stuff like, you know, every designer just dreams to be in advertising and that’s what I did. I started to feel as if that whatever I do has always been just campaign and it was just a very quick sort of fame. People know you for this campaign for a while and after that, the campaign ends and that’s it.

A lot of stuff that I designed back then, it was just online ads and it was just websites and a lot, I realise a lot of people weren’t thinking about usability. Eventually about six years after that I got burned out and I came back to Australia and I really wanted to focus on usability and I’ve got into another agency, but I was still trying to figure out, but as I start building e-commerce website is when I start to realise, you know, it’s really important and it’s going to make a big difference when someone uses the website.  So that’s when i spoke to Headhunter and eventually she kind of pointed me, like yeah, why haven’t you thought about UX. I was like, yeah I did but I have no idea because I’m just a visual designer and to make that move was kind of hard and I wasn’t sure whether there’s opportunity. And she said, “yeah, just give it a go and just meet up with Symplicit” and yeah I’ve been with Symplicit for three years and I’m happy too now.

Matt: Can we just possibly get a quick show of hands, everyone who has a graphic design or visual design background in the room?  Cool. And anyone with a marketing background?  And anyone want to volunteer other backgrounds because I’m curious what the gap is. So BAs? Any others? Development? Yeah, cool. How many developers have we got? A couple, cool. Interesting. It is a bit of a diverse mix.  And Luke do you want to give us your chequered history.

Luke: Yeah sure.  So as people have touched on, UXers tend to come from fairly different backgrounds. My background is in film production. So I studied film which is a lot of cross-over with UX in terms of visual thinking and collaborative work and things like that. So I’ve found having come from that background, running my own web design business for a few years and I wrote a book that was about design ethics and I felt really challenged by that to make sure that the stuff that I was bringing into the world was actually going to be really useful. I didn’t want to bring in stuff that wasn’t going to be helpful and I found my way to doing a usability test with Sensis and that opened my eyes to this idea of user-centred design. From there, implementing some of those things into my work got more and more involved in UX and I’m here today co-running UX Mastery with Matt.

Matt: So the way we’re going to work this conversation is, I’ve got a bunch of questions here which I’m going to throw at the panel, and I’ll probably have my own opinion on a few of them as well which I’ll chime in but we want to make this reasonably interactive so once I’ve covered off a few bases, we’re going to open up the floor to you guys to not be shy, ask whatever questions you like. So I’ll kick things off and ask Jamie about your visual design background and how much of your visual design background do you think helps you as a UXer?

Jamie: Well, from the way I see it, visual and UX basically it helps each other a lot. When it comes to visual design, UX actually helps me narrow down a lot. It’s very easy when it comes to design, we tend to just throw everything that we want, like, “this is awesome”, you know, “this is what I think that we should have all this”, but we’ve never actually thought about seriously, “is this really important to the users?” and in the long run, what does it bring?  Is it going to simplify someone else’s life or is it just going to make someone else give them a headache and stuff like that. So in that sense, UX actually helps me a lot to focus around my design and when it comes to UX, it’s more like the design helps me push the boundary of you know, where we can take it. It doesn’t have to be boring. I get it you know, sometimes there’s a flow but there’s a lot more ways that you can do so design actually helps me push mine, UX stuff to become more real and better.

Matt: How about you Ben? You have a marketing background, have you up-skilled in your visual design chops or do you bring a lot of other stuff to the table that hasn’t been necessary?

Ben: No, I don’t know, for me I’ve always been interested in visual design. I don’t have a background in actually learning it but I’ve found that getting more into that, it’s been something that I try and kind of practice and study and learn a bit about, you know, in the background. And I think it is important to have some sort of visual. I think that you know, a lot of UX designers come from a visual background. I don’t think you have to be particularly visual, but I think it’s important to kind of understand, or have a pretty good understanding of visual design as well.

Matt: And what about yourself Luke, how did you go from film to UX?  What role did visual design play along the journey there?

Luke: So I never formally studied any sort of visual design, I was always self-taught even in basic web design stuff.  So I think some of that hunger for more formal understanding of how you do design is what actually led to being curious enough to go and find out about some of this stuff. In terms of crossover with film, like I mentioned before, whatever your background is, I think it tends to flavour your approach into whatever roles you might go into. So it’s not like there’s a User Experience role that is concrete and locked down, it’s going to be very much what you bring to that role.  And for me, that looks like I enjoy sketching and I also enjoy coding so this kind of mixture of creative and technical is met in UX because you get to swallow this product.  You get design process, you get to talk to developers, you get to talk to designers. I find that really fascinating.

Matt: So I started with that question because that’s the question that we get asked a lot at UX Mastery. People email us and go, “I’m not a visual designer, can I still get a job as a UXer?”. And I think the answer we usually give is, “yes, but don’t expect to just walk into this amazing role.  It’s something that you need to work towards and you need to get some experience and you need to become a rounded generalist player”. Is that fair? Do you guys thing that UX, good UXers as generalists?

Luke: Yeah, I reckon. I mean this idea, we talk about this idea of a T-shape professional where you’ve got a breadth of understanding across a bunch of things, whether that’s from your background in visual design or business development, or business analysis or development, whatever. And then sort of one strong speciality which sort of.

Matt: Can you elaborate for us Luke on, for people in the room who might not be familiar with the overwhelming spectrum of scope that the User Experience umbrella tries to cover. What are those various areas?

Luke: Yeah I mean, so looking at a rough UX process, you’ve got, you start at the beginning with business needs analysis sort of stuff. So people with a BA, business analysts, that kind of stuff really strongly there. It might feed into some user research with going and finding out more about the audience which of course then leads into a lot of analytical sort of stuff with unpacking that, seeing what actually it means to the project, what the opportunities are in that.  And then through concept development, you get to sort of have big visions for things, ideas, it’s not locked down into functionality yet but it’s getting there. Through prototyping and then all the production roles around visual design, development, coding and that kind of stuff. So it’s looking at that process, UX design wants to take that from end to end because it likes to steer that and keep the user, it’s a user-centred design process.  So that’s why it’s so broad, but you know, UX roles might be particular to do with the structure of some of that coming out of the user research into the conceptual stuff, looking at menus and navigations and stuff and that would be an information architecture role.  Which is one of the earlier sort of labels for the UXer but I guess about ten years ago it was quite the thing.

Matt: Another question that we get asked a lot is, “What does a day in the life of look like?”.  How would you answer the question, “what does a day in the life look like”, for yourself Ben?

Ben: I think that’s one of the awesome things about UX in the fact that every day can be quite different.  It can vary between the clients that you’ve got and the jobs that you do.  So I work for an agency where there’s eight of us so we have a mix of you know, small organisations who we do end to end websites for and then sometimes UX consulting gigs for or we don’t do any website build stuff, but we just are focusing on UX and so those.

Matt: What’s an example of say focusing on UX but not involved in the web build?

Ben: Okay so as you know, you’ve worked with this client too Matt, done some work with Deakin Uni recently where I’ve gone in as a UX consultant and that has involved everything from talking to users, researching users, usability testing with students mostly, but also some requirements gathering with different stakeholders in the business and all the way up to sort of visual design.  So that’s a big client who understands what UX is.  But then also sometimes you’ve got smaller clients who don’t necessarily know what UX is or have a different understand of what UX is. And one of the frustrating things with a smaller client sometimes is that they think that, “oh we’ll just give it to the UX guy, the UX guy can just do a bit of UX”.  Do a bit of UXey stuff you know.

Matt: Sprinkle a bit of UX on top.

Ben: To make it a bit usable.  And so, between you know, a small client like that and a big client like Deakin, there’s a whole lot of variety, getting back to what the actual question was.  And I love that.  I really do enjoy sometimes having to sell UX, sometimes the client understands what UX is so you get straight into it.  That mix is what I really enjoy.

Matt: How about yourself? What’s a day in the life of look like for Jamie Chin?

Jamie: Well, as a visual designer in Symplicit, I guess it’s like what Luke says. In UX there’s actually a very wide range.  I mean, all of us have our own speciality and basically for me, I sit under basically visual.  But at the same time I still work across some of the UXey stuff where maybe I’ll be involved in workshops so it requires a lot of planning together with maybe a person who’s running a workshop and we plan how we can get whatever the information that we need to come up with a design or concept.  And then we’ll plan it and I’ll just do the whole concept, designing and stuff and eventually he’ll take it into testing and while he’s doing the testing, we’ll even, I will be the one that will be at the background iterating and making changes to make sure as we test, we keep feeding back in all the good stuff and then we’ll just test it with more users so at the end of the day the product that we come up with is actually exactly what the user wants.

Matt: And Luke, this question is a bit tricky for you because Luke and myself spend about half of our time on UX Mastery and half of our time doing consulting work for clients.  So what is a day in the life look like for you when you’re wearing your UX design consulting hat?

Luke: Yeah, so if I think back to like ten years ago being a visual designer or doing user interface design, I was obviously doing a lot of Photoshop or sketching and I find it quite funny to think of myself as a designer these days who spends a lot of time in Excel so doing spreadsheets and stuff whether that’s sort of planning things or mixing data around.  There’s also this idea of the iterative nature of a user-centred design process so while at one point I might be sort of conceptualising for some other things, I might be then taking feedback from other iterations and then also planning future iterations for the next sort of round.  So it’s kind of this past, current, future sort of view of design.

Matt: Jamie, what was the hardest thing that you found moving into UX design from visual design?

Jamie: I guess trying to understand exactly what UX actually covers.

Matt: What would you say to someone who asks you what UX covers?

Jamie: I mean initially when I first got into Symplicit I just thought, “hey, I’m just interested in usability”, you know and I’m good at it so I thought just, I wasn’t really sure about how wide it is until I got in and you know, I got thrown into projects and you start learning a lot about exactly who the customer are and it’s all different based on different projects.  And I guess that was the challenging part because previously in agencies, all you get is just, “design this” and they don’t tell you anything.  And you just expect that it works but at the end that doesn’t come up with a result that you want, not really.  I mean, it’s sort of, you just try trial and error sort of thing.  But in UX, it’s really learning that whole thing and I found it really beneficial.  That was the hardest, but it was good still.

Matt: What was the hardest thing for you Ben?

Ben:  Can you repeat the question?  I’ve forgotten what the actual question was.

Matt: The hardest thing you found in transitioning from marketing to User Experience.

Ben: Yeah sure.  I think for me, just like feeling like I had the confidence to actually say, you know at some point kind of say, I can actually call myself a UX designer now.  Because I sort of, I think I sort of felt like I needed to have certain amount of rungs on my board before I could actually go out and say, “yeah, I’m looking for UX jobs.  I’ve got UX experience.”.  And so, I did that just by hard work I guess.  I kind of spent a bit of time doing some freelance jobs on the side from my actual day job.  I tried to really build up a portfolio by just kind of working on some projects and not necessarily real projects, a few fictitious projects too where I sort of thought, well, okay, how would I look at redesigning this particular website or something like that.  And just coming up with enough sort of material that I could put into my portfolio, into my sort of tool of tricks to then actually go out and say, “I’ve got enough skills now to be UX designer”.  So I spent a couple of years just sort of, slogging it after hours at work to do that.  But it paid off I guess.

Matt: I think that’s a good point actually is that there generally aren’t junior UX roles advertised.  They just don’t exist.  I think that clients are becoming educated about what a User Experience designer means and what they expect from that is that there’s someone who can deliver measurable results through design, through user research.  And so backing yourself to be able to say, “yes, I can deliver measurable results”, I empathise and I probably felt a little bit like a fraud if I was to call myself a UX designers.

Ben: Yeah, that’s how I felt too.

Matt: My background is development.

Ben: But the great thing about UX, is that you can, it is easy for you to come up with a portfolio of as I say, fictitious projects.  Identify things, it’s not actually things you’re necessarily getting paid for, you don’t have an actual client, but you can identify a website that you use that is frustrating, think about the ways that you might improve it, go out and talk to you know, a group of friends who might be in the target audience and kind of create your own portfolio pieces.

Matt: Yeah cool.  What about yourself Luke?

Luke: I reckon starting in UX, the hardest thing for me was process. I think in general designers love process and the lack to you know, how do I do this? I’m going to do this and then this will happen and this will come out at the end.  I think for me, going from no formal design background into doing web development and then transitioning into UX, I still got stuck by that and I think coming out the other side of lots of conversations about that kind of stuff, I think the idea of focusing on principles instead of process when you’re getting started is really important.  It means you can be very adaptive to the culture of the place where you’re working. You know, you’re not necessarily going to come in and sort of dominate you know, the way an existing team might be working.  Plus things started to make sense a lot better about why you might do this sort of process in this situation but not this one.  So process for me was the thing. But I guess the flip side of that is a lot of UX is really difficult and that’s one of the best things. I find it really challenging. It’s all about problem-solving and stuff like that and I actually really enjoy the difficulty of it.

Matt: Ben, you touched on portfolios and as we know, visual designers, the portfolio is kind of part of a deal when you’re pitching yourself to a client or an employer. What does a UX portfolio look like?

Ben: I think a UX portfolio is a little bit different to a visual design portfolio. I think you know, as a visual designer it’s all about making everything as beautiful as possible but I think actually with a UX design portfolio, it’s actually more about unpacking what the problem was.  So on a particular job, of course it’s lovely to show the end visual, how it all finished up, but I think what’s more important is to kind of uncover what the process is of how you understood what the problem was in the first place and how you then came up with a solution around it.  And so because I’m not a visual designer, my UX portfolio doesn’t look particularly pretty, but I’ve got a combination of sketches through to wire frames and a bit of a narrative around that as to what were we thinking, what were we trying to hypothesise that the problem was and how we came around to finding a solution and try to just present that as a story as opposed to beautifully finished PSDs.

Matt: Does that ring true for your Jamie? How did you?

Jamie: As for me, because from a visual design background, I have a lot of agency work so how I just approach Symplicit back then was just bring whatever work that I had and I was just basically selling on exactly what my thoughts are when I was designing stuff and it’s more like just telling them about usability and you know, what I think could be improved based on whatever worked that went live.  But at the same time, it was more as well, some of the stuff and I just explained about my thoughts, why did I do it?  So that was how I actually sold my portfolios from my company back then.

Ben?: Yeah, I guess for me I’ve managed to survive quite a few years without a portfolio but my personal preference was to find sort of natural relationships in networking and sort of work with people that had seen the way I work or knew me so I was lucky in having that for most of the work that I picked up. Having said that, because there’s quite a lot of crossover between UX and visual design, I think it’s definitely becoming an expectation that you would have some sort of folio.  And I totally agree with what the others have said that it’s about telling that story of a process whether it’s really messy or not, including a bit of where you’ve come from in terms of data or business brief sort of stuff and then showing how you got there.   My folio that I now have is very messy, it’s not very glossy and good to look at on every page, but it definitely tells a story and I use that as something that I can present and then tell my story as I did anyway but I’ve got things in front of me to be able to support that.

Matt: So Jamie and Ben have talked a little bit about agency side work. Luke I know that it wasn’t that long ago that you took a role that you were a more of an in-house designer rather than kind of freelancing.  I want to ask you, it’s been said that UX is everyone’s job, not just one person’s. So how do you go about instilling a user-centred culture in your place of work?

Luke: Yeah, it’s a broad question.  It really depends on the workplace.  So whether the place you’re coming into is very receptive of UX or whether it’s still a bit foreign to them and it’s a bit of an education.  So, perhaps five years ago, it was a lot more of the education sort of stuff and these days, as was mentioned, people are a bit more savvy about what it is and you can sort of step forward a little bit more and get into other stuff.  So wherever the business sort of lays in that spectrum, if it’s very much about introducing ideas then again, going back to principles and having some discussions about that kind of stuff means you don’t sort of stand on any toes with process.  You know, if you can pull stories about other ways that a user-centred design process has actually had a really positive effect on the outcome of a project, then you know, you sort of flag those and say, “Look we could do this too, this is how it works” and with those earlier things, sort of being able to chip in with smaller projects until you build trust and then working up to doing bigger projects.  So that’s for that side.  For people that are a bit more savvy about it, then I guess, coming in, still a lot of it is about culture but I guess you get to start a bit deeper with that stuff.

Matt: Jamie do you have any specific tips based on your experience for how to sell UX to a client or to an organisation?

Jamie: The way I sell UX is more like, nowadays everyone is just becoming very time poor and becoming more savvy so everyone is just trying to save time whenever they can.  So it’s not just about brand anymore, it’s more about the whole experience of using something.  You just don’t build something and expect that to you know, stick with the users.  It’s more about experience of using it.  So how do we actually use it?  We always just ask the client why are you doing this and how is this going to simplify someone else’s life? So in that sense, that’s how I usually sell and at the same time, it’s almost coming to the whole understanding the users more.  It helps the business a lot in the sense that it does reduce a lot of the risk of failure at the end.  So doing UX is more like a quick testing of any ideas that you have in the cheapest form, wrap it, prototyping and stuff and it sort of helps you reduce all the resourcing wastage and you know, money that comes with it at the end of the day and then the project [inaudible].

Matt: What about yourself Ben?  Have you got some particularly memorable moments when you’ve had to put more effort into championing the importance of user-centred design than others?  You don’t have to mention the client names.

Ben:  No, no.  But I think the one technique in particular that I’ve always found really useful and I think it’s because clients often really very far removed from their users actually using their own website.  So I’ve always found that if you can get the client in front of the user or even just you know, we’ve done video recordings of usability sessions and then cut it up and just show some highlights and then show it back to management.  Give them a real flavour for how much trouble users can actually have when they’re using the clients’ website.  I think that actually kind of brings it alive.  You can do the whole, there’s a lot of business benefits for getting into UX as far as increasing your conversions and all that sort of stuff but I think there’s nothing as powerful as showing a video reel of highlights that says, “you know, this is a typical user on your site and they’re having all sorts of trouble and it’s not all that hard for you to fix these things”.

Matt: I ask this question from a slightly selfish point of view because I’m happy to own up and say that I’ve had an in-house role in the past where on reflection, I probably didn’t get the best that I could’ve because I had this idealistic view of the change that I was going to be able to effect when reality was, it was a large siloed, politically sensitive environment in a corporate that like one person, I’m not an organisational change consultant and I couldn’t actually kind of get buy-in from the key stakeholders that I needed to and I realised that actually, this wasn’t an organisation that was ready to embrace the kinds of you know, hard questions that needed to be asked at that point and I had to make peace with that.

Ben?: One thing with big organisations as well, it’s not as easy as just identifying a problem and fixing it because there is a whole lot of political stakeholder barriers that you’ve got to jump through and I’ve spent you know, on a similar client, acting more as a business therapist or something to try and even just get the right people in the right room to have a conversation about stuff.  All of that is a big part of it as well.

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Matt: I’m not going to ask anymore questions.  I’m going to throw the questions over to the floor now.  Who would like to ask our learned panel and feel free to ask anything.  It doesn’t need to be specific about one technique or careers or whatever.  Is anyone keen to pick their brains? Otherwise I have plenty.  Up the back.

Audience member: Leading onto getting stakeholder buy-in and who has to be around the table, the flip side of that is, who’s on the table from your side? So is it one person? Or who goes in from your agency?

Matt: So the question was, for those who may not have been able to hear, in terms of getting buy-in at an organisation, stakeholders on the client side are one thing, but who goes in from an agency in a typical User Experience engagement?  Do you want to take that one Ben?

Ben: Yeah sure.  So my experience has been, it’s been me as the UX designer and sometimes having my boss do that as well.  In other cases it’s actually been where, you know, I’ve been working with a client in the organisation and we’ve got a good relationship together but it’s our role to then you know, sell that up the chain to their bosses and sometimes I sort of go in, you know, with my client to help them, if that makes sense.  And just trying to do that with as much justification as we can, that we have gone out and spoken to users and getting you know, their feedback and getting their intentions as much as possible.

Matt: How does UX sales work at Symplicit Jamie?

Jamie: So basically it’ll normally just be my boss or else it will be the Client Engagement Manager that actually goes out and meets the client.  But once they get a rough brief, normally what they do is they just bring it back to the office.  That’s when they’ll work with the team to kind of maybe just pick a lead or a designer and just talk about what sort of approach that we should sell just to you know, get that goal that the stakeholder wants and then just go back and sell it.

Matt: Ben why don’t you talk about the hiring and interview process for UX designers at first?

Ben: Okay.  So from my perspective?

Matt: Well no.  If someone was to apply to Thirst to get a UX role, what can they expect? What should they prepare and what can they expect the process to look like?

Ben: Yeah.  Look, I think it’s, we’re pretty big on cultural fit where I work so it’s sort of, half the battle is sitting down and just talking to someone and making sure you get a good feel that they’re going to fit in.  But then going back to the question before about the portfolio, we want to see some recorded work that they’ve done before and that can be anything from a highly polished visual design to a whole bunch of sketches or anything like that.  So we get a feel for how they would tackle a project I guess.

Matt: Down the front here.

Audience member: [Inaudible]

Matt: So the question is, if you’ve only worked on part of the process of a project, how do you present your contribution to that project without being misleading about the parts that you didn’t work?  Is that?

Audience member: [Inaudible]

Matt: What do you think Luke?

Luke: Yeah, totally.  I think UX is totally a collaborative medium so people don’t necessarily expect you to do everything end to end.  You’re working within a design team.  And even going back to the previous question about who from the agency might go in to do a project; at the start of a UX project you do a UX plan and it’s about sort of, matching the resources and the assets on the client side and the agency side and filling in any gaps that you might have.  So that kind of collaborative approach to design means that, I don’t think people fully expect that something that you put on the page, unless it’s a smaller project and you say, “I’ve done all of this”, that it’s assumed that there’s been a whole bunch of inputs to that.

Matt?: I will say this though, I think that it is important that you demonstrate an understanding of the entire process and that includes numbers.  For example, if it was an e-commerce site and you were involved in part of the project, for example, the wire frames and the usability testing and the outcome of that project was that conversion rates doubled and the company made a hundred million dollars more that year as a result of that conversion rate being improved, you need to know those numbers and be able to talk with them [00:36:02 authority].  So if you’re on a project, here’s a good tip.  If you’re on a project, make sure that you get some stats over the before and after, when the project’s benchmarked and then the measurable result that your team’s effort has made.  Because without those numbers you’re just kind of talking about, yeah we made it better, like really, it’s a lot more convincing to an employer if you’ve got some hard figures that you can say, “the design made this difference and these are the numbers”.

Luke?: Yeah totally.

Matt?: And it can be hard sometimes to get those numbers but it’s worth hunting them down and getting to know the rest of the project team and getting an understanding for the entire project so that you’ve got that data for your own personal career benefit really.

Luke?: We talk about this idea of telling a story with your portfolio. Literally it’s you know, beginning, middle and end as well.  You know, dramatic curve and climax and all a bunch of stuff and I think that transparency of things, whether it’s defining the business brief and then things you had to go through, hoops you had to jump through to get there including the stuff that maybe didn’t turn out.  So you can actually be fairly honest about the tussle you had with trying to get to the solution.  Not just showing where you got it right, but also showing the stuff that you struggled with.  It gives good insight into the process that you did and what your capabilities are under pressure.

Matt: It sounds a bit naff and some people make fun of it, but I think it’s actually a useful addition to your portfolio to include photos of the design room with all the posters on the wall and the messy butcher paper and you know, maybe a photograph of you facilitating a meeting with the client and demonstrating.

So I want to bring out, there’s an article that Jared Spool from UIE wrote called, “The Five Indispensable Skills to UX Mastery”, not related to UX Mastery at all.  The five skills that Jared Spool mentioned were, sketching, story-telling, facilitating, presenting and critiquing.  So this is based on analysis that they do of some of the best UX designers they knew in the States and what were the common skills between these individuals who are seen to be at the top of their game.  And they were the five things that all of these people did really well.  That’s a bit of a tangent but I guess it demonstrates that these are kind of life skills.  These aren’t skill in how to use actual balsamic mock-ups or how to create wire frames.  These are the business skills that you can use in any career but it just so happens that in User Experience they’re five skills that it’s really important to hone and you know, you can’t just read a book on them and all of a sudden be better.  There’s kind of things that you chip away at throughout your career and that we all work on to get better at.  Any other questions? Down the front. Sketch noting.

Audience member: [Inaudible]

Matt: Sure.  I’m happy to take that one because I do create quite a few sketch notes at conferences that I visit and I have done some paid sketch noting gigs.  So sketch noting is a word invented by a bloke named Mike Rohde who wrote a book called, “The Sketch Note Handbook” and it was basically his word for taking visual notes.  He was tired of taking written notes that looked boring and that he never referred to ever again.  So he experimented with typography, he experimented with different imagery and combining them in order to capture his notes in a more interesting fashion and he turned out that it increased his retention.  It increased his ability to recall stuff afterwards.

The notes were more interesting to look at so he was more likely to refer to them and you know, he shared them online and people thought they were wonderful and just kind of, the meaning and the message was carried beyond the conference or the presentation or the meeting.  And it sounds like it’s completely unrelated to User Experience design, but in fact, doing a lot of sketch noting and doing what Rebecca is doing behind us here where she’s taking notes, visually and using words, is a great way to practice your sketching skills, your listening skills and your processing skills because you’re doing those three things at the same time.  And harking back to Jared Spool’s article, you know, getting better at listening and getting better at sketching, getting better at processing, they’re all skills that can make you a better designer.  So I’m a big believer that sketching and sketch noting makes you a better designer for those reasons.

Luke?: Loads and loads of sketching, not so much sketchnoting.

Matt: There are a couple of fields that are quite common in the States called graphic recording and graphic facilitation.  So graphic recording is basically what Rebecca is doing at the moment, large scale sketch noting. Graphic facilitation is a more interactive version of that where there might be a meeting or a workshop and the graphic facilitator is documenting the meeting and the conversation but it’s this feedback loop where if someone in the meeting sees that what they’ve said has been captured on the board and they feel validated, it doesn’t you know, if they’re like stuck on something and keep coming back to it, they’re not going to keep bringing it up because it’s been captured there and it changes the dynamic of the meeting and it makes for a more engaging meeting because people feel like it’s not just some boring meeting, it’s being captured with a purpose.  So yeah, Luke and I are both big fans of sketching and sketch noting as a key part of being a UX designer.  There was another question up the back.

Audience member: Yeah, it was a question about the industry as it stands right now.  You’ve got some panellists who have been working in UX for seven plus years.  Does it feel, as an outsider to the industry, it feels like it’s reaching a bit of a critical mass, are we going to see a boom of advertised roles or is it still going to be quite niched where people have to create their own opportunities?

Matt: That’s a good question.  Is UX about to reach critical mass or do people still need to create their opportunities.  Do you want to start with your response Luke?

Luke: Sure.  So there’s a couple of bits to that question.  If you’re in the process of being recruited or wanting to be recruited, then often people ask you know, “Do I need formal qualifications?”.  A couple of years ago, there wasn’t any you know, UX degrees as such. There were some interaction degrees, there were plenty of cognitive psychology degrees, visual design degrees but nothing that fully captured this idea of UX as its own sort of thing.

So I think going forward, that’s going to become more of a thing.  People often write in and say, “Do I need that formal education?”. We say you don’t at the moment because people are hiring for cultural fit and if you can demonstrate some skills and solid response to process and stuff, then you’re in with a good go. Changes from say, five years ago or ten years ago, I think they were a bit more buried in the larger companies that had a definite need for dealing with this website that had you know, a million WebPages.

How are you going to start restructuring that and that’s where this idea of information architecture and that kind of stuff came through but now that we’re kind of in a culture that’s, I mean, people use the idea of Apple bringing to the mainstream which actually is an industrial design, not necessarily a user-centred design but, popularising that idea that that thing should be usable and useful and meaningful and that is permeating things in a bit more of a mainstream way.   So this is getting to be a bigger thing.  I feel like at the moment there’s plenty of UX roles advertised.  I think there’s a definite hunger that can’t be filled so it’s a good opportunity to sort of cross from a different field at the moment. Going forward of course, that will not be as easy to get into but definitely now.

Matt: Ben or Jamie did you have anything to add to that?

Jamie: No, I just think that it is definitely growing because from two years back, I don’t remember hearing much about UX.  You hear about it, but like you say, it was just niche.  But I think with the whole Steve Jobs you know, Apple and stuff, everyone starts to see usability as more and things like that and innovation.  So you can tell, I mean, these couple of years, I’ve been working with a lot of clients and they are starting to even form their own internal UX team and they are very dependant on us bringing them on a journey and teaching them about the whole UX so they can form their own team as well so it’s definitely an industry that’s growing.

Ben: And just quickly. I think UX has exploded in the last couple of years but there’s still a fair bit of misunderstanding as to what it exactly is.  As you speak to UX recruiters, there’s only about kind of 5% of them who actually know what UX is I reckon and there’s a whole lot of others that will call you up about a UX job but in actual fact, it’s a visual design job.  There’s a whole lot of, I think a bit more maturity to happen in UX design before everyone really gets it.  But that’s kind of cool because it means that it’s going to grow and it’s going to mature and we’re all into it.

Luke?: If you jump in now, you get to help define what that means.

Ben: Yeah, yeah.

Matt: But it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to be UX designer to do UX design and that if you’re close to the fire, whether you’re a developer, whether you’re a visual designer, whether you’re a BA, you know, there’s going to be elements of your role where you’re doing stuff that would normally fall into the role of a UX designer and that’s how you get some experience and make sure that you identify and capitalise on those opportunities if you know, heading towards doing this stuff full-time is what you want to do.

I wanted to comment on the Apple thing too because a good friend of mine described the effect that Apple’s place in design at the forefront of what they do has had on everything and that was that he explained that there’s a tonne of managers out there who manage these IT systems at work and then go home and play on their iPads and then come into the boardroom the next day and go, “How come our product doesn’t look as good as what I’ve got here”.  And that’s why they’re elevating the importance of design.  And you know, a lot of us have known that for a long time that design is important but people that make decisions at that level are the ones that are finally getting it and I think that that’s part of the movement.  Anyone else? Questions?  Yes.

Audience member: [Inaudible]

Matt: So there’s two questions there isn’t there?  How do you make things that are usable and useful and delightful?  And then, how do you get better at it?  How do you get better at what you do Luke?

Luke: I think jumping in and giving it a go is a big part of it.  That develops experience so once you’ve developed experience, you can see where the conventions are and where you can break those conventions.  And then like you say, jumping in, giving yourself permission to innovate a bit.  Combining that with this idea of having some visual skills, I think you can make things look good.  The thing that’s behind making them look good is their usability, knowing the context for things, putting the right things in the right place at the right time, keeping it simple but you know, being aware of the sort of flow of this task to this task to this task that makes it seem quite elegant.  And that will really sort of help this idea of being useful and also being usable and once you get those things right, you can then sort of put the cherry on top and make it meaningful.

Audience member: [Inaudible]

Matt: A job that we’ve been most proud of.  Ben why don’t you take that one first.

Ben: Yeah, probably in the last twelve months I’ve been working for, I think I mentioned before, for Deakin Uni and I’ve done a project that’s sort of involved, you know, kind of end to end UX from research to design and also sort of a bit more senior kind of stakeholder management stuff along the way so it’s been a pretty good all round project.  There’s been plenty of times in that twelve months where I’ve felt like it was a complete disaster but I finally sort of, twelve months now, I feel like it’s been an incredible learning curve from a whole lot of different skills.  I finally got to a solution which is going to be okay I think.

Matt: So part of the pride comes from the challenging environment you’re operating in?

Ben: Yeah I think so.  It’s you know, it’s quite easy to come up with something that’s usable and beautiful and delightful if you don’t have hurdles in the way.  But the reality is, sometimes as a UX designer you get involved with clients and with projects where there are some compromises that you need to make and so yeah, I feel like I’ve achieved some sort of pride by managing some of those.

Matt: What’s your proudest professional moment Jamie?

Jamie: I think the very first project that I got thrown into was ANZ and was working together with the innovation team and it was the Grow money which has just recently been launched after two years and it’s been a whole continuous one and a half years of working with them.  It was on and off so now at the end when it’s live, yeah, it works majority, like whatever that we proposed.  But I mean of course, there’s always bits and pieces at the end when the client tries to do stuff that’s not what you proposed but I guess that’s just how it is.  But overall, I think yeah, it’s come up as pretty good app.

Luke?: Yeah, I’ve been lucky too to do some work on some pretty fun projects.  Some household names that even just personality wise sort of appealed to me.  I really enjoyed working with them.  I guess with the bigger projects, it’s been about what rubbed off on the team and how I learned from the team too.  So having left a little bit of a legacy.  But probably the proudest moment is probably right down the other end of the spectrum where my mum runs a pony parties business where she takes ponies to kids parties and helping her get that online business set-up.  She’s just a sole operator, but having followed that user-centred design process from end to end and tinkered with it for so long, it’s really running quite sweetly so I’m quite proud of that.

Matt: Personally speaking, there was a project I worked on at Australia Post.  It was the Australia Post postcards app.  I don’t know if you guys are familiar with it, but basically you can take a photo with your iPhone, enter a little message and address in a handwritten font and pay with your credit card and Australia Post will go and print a physical postcard and stick it in the mail.  It’s a fairly simple concept.  There are already some other apps out there that did this but working with the Australia Post team to make this app standout based on user experience and we had a real scare getting close to launch when Apple launched their cards app and we thought, we’re differentiating based on user experience and now Apple is in the game.  Do we back ourselves to go up against those guys?  And we had a look at their app and it wasn’t that great and they ended up canning it anyway and yeah, the product is great.  It gets a tonne of users.  People love it.  People love it when they’re travelling and they don’t have to find a stamp or a postcard to send home and it’s local postage because it’s getting printed in Australia. And then it won a Moby award so I was rapt with that, especially given that it’s a large bureaucratic organisation and there was some significant hurdles in terms of stakeholder management and the fact that the end product got out the door and was as good as it is, I was super proud of.  Yes?

Audience member: [Inaudible]

Matt: Usability no-no’s you mean?

Audience member: [Inaudible]

Matt: I’ll go first.  I think that the biggest thing that I see is a product that just isn’t a good fit.  So it’s a product that’s been designed but it’s not the right product that should’ve been designed.  So I guess that whole user research process has been skipped. Someone’s had a great idea, they’ve gone let’s make this and then we’ll market it and if it’s not selling, you’re not marketing it hard enough as compared to going right back to the beginning and think well, actually, who are our customers, what are their needs and what can we do to fill those needs?  I mean, it’s not specific to UX, it’s more of a kind of entrepreneurial mindset as well to think about product management.  But yeah, it can be a difficult conversation to have with a client that they’ve got a product that it would be like, what’s the term? Putting lipstick on a pig?

Luke?: Polishing a turd.

Matt: What’s a big thing that you see?

Ben?: I think sometimes you go to a website and you can kind of tell what’s wrong with the company by looking at the website.   I tend to, a lot of businesses, their websites are not user-centred at all, they’re business-centred so the way that they structure their navigation, the way that they organise their pages, makes sense to them inside the business but to the user itself, it actually makes no sense at all.

Matt: Yeah let’s put the organisational structure on the homepage.

Ben: That kind of happens quite a lot doesn’t it? That you do see this is this department, and this department and this department.  That makes no sense.  That structure makes no sense to the user, but there’s infighting between the departments and it just becomes easy for them to create their own pages so that’s yeah, sort of a common thing that we have to try and unpick.

Matt: Jamie?

Jamie: Yeah, I think time as well.  You know, most of the clients, they just rush to get everything live.  Sometimes you do come across client that goes, “yeah, we’ll hire the UX guys and do all the stuff”, and although we did all the research and we come up with a nice design for them, for them it’s just, “we’ve just got to launch it in one month”, and they start skipping steps so that’s when you know, everything just kind of falls down and then they’ll come back to you and ask you why.  And you’re like, “the research that we showed you, you know, you are meant to do this and that” and eventually they kind of get it, but it’s just a whole timing thing sometimes when you rush things.

Ben: And the user research is one of the things that they want to skip sometimes too.

Jamie: Yeah, I know.

Matt: Yeah, we know our users don’t worry.  We’ve known them for years.

Jamie: Yeah.  That’s why you kind of video tape everything and you say, this is exactly what I said.  So it’s sort of a proof to help you in the end in your work in backing things up.

Matt: Your background in marketing Ben, because personas is a term that’s used in marketing quite frequently but it’s kind of a different thing compared to the concept of personas in User Experience.  How have you managed terminology and mindset about market research versus user research and what have you learnt from that?

Ben: Yeah look, back in my marketing days, we did a lot of market research and I use to work in FMCG Marketing so you know, ice-cream and coffee and stuff that you’d buy in supermarkets.  And we’d get people in and do research about what they might potentially do.  What ice-cream they might potentially buy next time.  The thing that, the big thing for me with user research is that you’ve got to try and explore causality, like why they actually, and what they have actually done in the past, as opposed to asking users what they might do in the future.  Because often, it’s much better to understand what they have done if that makes sense.

Matt: Absolutely.  And Luke, is there any big no-no’s that you see recurring themes?

Luke: Yeah.  I mean, there’s a certain reality around needing to design for an existing system but I think if we take an example of like a car park ticket machine at the airport.  A couple of years ago there was a really disastrous, like you’re trying to follow a process, you can’t even see where to start let alone where you go next and it’s this zig-zag across the hardware just because the design is catering far too much for the system.  So I think you can see a similar thing in websites where you’re asking too much of the user at the wrong time because of that.  And probably a second one would be just trying to put too much on the page.  You’ve got too many people having input.  There’s no clear vision for something.  It needs to be to just do one thing and do it well.

Matt: We’ve got time for a couple more questions before we break for drinks.

Jamie: At the back.

Matt: Yes?

Audience member: [Inaudible]

Matt: I would’ve thought that being a librarian is quite close to information architecture.  I mean, the information architecture field has spawned out of the library sciences so whatever skills you’ve got into organising information, auditing content, arranging things into sensible buckets and yeah, that’s probably a pretty good grounding.

Luke?: And curating content too.

Matt: Apart from someone who comes from film, is there anyone in your network that’s had a bizarre, unusual background?  I met a guy at UX Melbourne a while ago whose background was event management and the reason why he was attracted to User Experience design was because actually designing these rock festivals and thinking about the experience of someone as they enter the venue and being able to shape the audience into where the toilets are placed and where the cafeteria is and all of that stuff, it’s actually you know, there’s a lot of parallels between physical experience design and digital experience design. _

Ben: That’s what’s great about UX I think is that you can come up from different angles and whether you’re a librarian or an event designer, there’s a story that you can kind of tell, that you can weave into how you got to wanting to be a UX designer.  And there’s always stuff from the past that you can tap back in on.

Matt: And a lot of those other skills about sketching and story telling and listening and processing and critiquing and facilitating, you know, they’re not specific to visual design or marketing or anything really, they’re like I said, they’re kind of business skills that serve you well in a large or small organisation and in pretty much any career.  We’ll take one more question.  Up the back.

Audience member: [Inaudible].

Matt: Sorry enlighten me as to what a vuey is?

Audience member: [Inaudible]

Matt: Oh, a vuey, right.

Audience member: [Inaudible].

Matt: Who would like to tackle who’s job is User Experience?

Luke?: Yeah so it’s everyone’s. This idea of a collaborative team that works together on stuff and pulling people with the right skills together.  Sure, you can have someone who’s good at pixels and they do visual stuff.  You can have someone who’s good at sound stuff and they might do you know, responsive sound stuff, but I think one of my favourite things that I did when I was first getting into UX was this kind of impressions audit of all the touch points of a business on their customers or users.  So this idea that the way the receptionist answers the phone is just as much a part of branding for example as using the website interface.  So I would say for that kind of stuff, rather than this sort of hand off process like waterfall where someone does their job and then hands off to the next person and they do it and that sort of thing, maintain a bit of fluency across discipline, across the whole team so that everyone gets inputs at all points of the process so it’s kind of everyone’s I would say.

Matt: There’s a really great book by Jeff Gothelf called “Lean UX” and I mean, primarily it’s marketed as a book about how to do User Experience design without kind of focusing too much on deliverables that can blow your timeline, but really, the book is not, what I took away from the book was that as designers, we need to become design facilitators and we need to involve everyone in the journey.  So if you’re in a team and you need to be sitting next to the developer or you need to be sitting next to the voice specialist or whatever else, and you need to be getting them collaborating on the design and not just be the one that does the design in a silo on your own and then hands it over.  So in answer to your question, it should become everyone’s job.  And that’s not really, I don’t want that to be a cop-out, but, it’s true that collaborative teams kick arse.  Like, if you can get a great culture and a great team that are working together and everyone has input on the design rather than it being an ego thing where you are the designer and you’re precious about, then that’s where the magic happens.

Well, that’s all we’ve got time for this evening.  We’re really appreciative that everyone’s taken your time to come and join us this evening.  We hope you found some value in the conversation.

I will give a quick plug to our workshops again that are coming up in a couple of weeks.  We’re teaching about introductory user experience design, sketchnoting and UX for mobile.  It’s at a fabulous co-working space in Thornbury called Nest Co-Working.  There’s a log fire, there’s an office dog, it’s a wonderful space.  So please come out.

A big shout out to Luke for giving us the venue tonight.  Stick around and buy some drinks at the bar.  We’re very lucky to have this space to use.

And a big round of applause to Rebecca for all of her sketching at the back there.  If you’re not signed up for the UX Mastery newsletter, then go to usmastery.com and come and do that so you can stay in the loop.  And the meet-up group, if you aren’t part of the meet-up group, then you should join that.  And please stick around and have some drinks.

Thanks everyone.

Matthew Magain
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Matthew Magain
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