In this episode, Matt & Luke talk to Patrick Neeman, Director of Product Design at Apptio and creator of the popular Usability Counts blog and UX Drinking Game.
In this recording of last weekend’s webinar, readers asked questions about how to break into UX, create a portfolio, and manage your career.
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- UX Mastery Podcast #4: UX Careers with Patrick Neeman (MP3, 53:57, 51.8MB)
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Continue the Conversation…
There were some great questions asked of Patrick in our community forum ahead of this event. Thank you to everyone who submitted a comment, either in the forum thread or within the webinar. We weren’t able to answer every question, but they have triggered some great discussions—we’d love you to get involved and keep the conversation going.
Luke: Welcome, everyone, to the fourth UX Mastery webinar. We’ve got people joining us from around the world. It’s great to have you all here, we’re glad you’ve made the time to come along.
Today we’re talking about ‘How to Get an Awesome UX Job’ – finding job opportunities, crossing over from another position, portfolios and job interviews, and generally how to get started in UX.
My name is Luke Chambers. I’m one of the co-founders of UX Mastery. We’re based in Melbourne, Australia, where it’s currently a cool, overcast 9am Sunday morning. I’ve got a little croak in my throat so apologies in advance about that. And sitting not too far away from me with his sketchpad and pen is my co-founder Matt Magain. How are you today, Matt?
Matt: I’m good. I’ve got my coffee, I’ve got my sketchpad. We’re going to try this little experiment. I’m going to sketch out our webinar. If I’m a bit distracted in the conversation it’s because I’m trying to do several things at once but that’s okay. It’s all good, we’ll see how it goes, if it’s too hard we’ll can it for next time, but it should be fun.
Luke: Very good. And we’re also very lucky to have with us today Patrick Neeman, all the way from Seattle. How are you Patrick?
Patrick: Pretty good. Getting over a cold and enjoying the Seattle rainy weather but yeah, I’m fine.
Luke: Lovely. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Patrick: So my name is Patrick Neeman, I’m a Director of Product Design in a company called at Apptio. We help companies manage their IT spend – you know, companies like American Express, Starbucks, Amazon, Walmart, Microsoft – pretty big companies. Before that I worked at a company, a couple of companies before, called Jobvite, I was Director of UX there and Jobvite is a company that provides an applicant tracking system so we interviewed over 100 recruiters and hiring managers during my time there, so we completely understand the hiring process, and I got to talk to a lot of really cool UX types while I was working there.
Luke: Very good, so you have a lot of good experience of both sides! You also run the uxdrinkinggame.com…
Patrick: That is correct, I actually run two things . I actually run something called Usability Counts, it’s a blog that has over 45,000 words of advice about being in the UX field, and I run the UX Drinking Game, which recently was featured in Pragmatic Marketing – which is a product management training webinar and event company.
Luke: Excellent. Alright, lets kick on into some questions now.
Just over a week ago UX Mastery launched community forums at community.uxmastery.com, and we’ve been having some great conversations in there, some people asking questions they’d like answered in today’s webinar. So a big thank you to all who submitted questions – there are some great questions in here. I’ve got the list in front of me and we’ll go through them with Patrick.
If you’ve got a question about landing a UX job you’d like Patrick to help with, then you should be able to submit it in your GoToWebinar control panel. We’ll see it and get to them after we’ve done these ones that have already been submitted.
So Patrick, the first one here we’ve got from Armen. Armen is asking:
“How can I increase my job opportunities when I live in an area where there is no study or work opportunities for a UX specialist? I’ve had some success writing on medium.com and some other sites, but what else can I do for my career?”
Patrick: Basically the first question I’ll ask is where do you live? The second question is there are a lot of areas in the US where they don’t have UX specialist roles and what I encourage designers to do, is do a lot of UX activities as part of their design process with customers.
If there’s nobody telling you that you can’t do personas, you can’t do usability research, you can’t run focus groups, you can’t do wireframes – you just go ahead and do it, and then when you get to the next client you say ‘hey, this is the work that I did for this one client’ and you actually use it as part of your portfolio.
One of the examples I use that is really relevant in my life is last weekend we participated in an event called Start-up Weekend here in Seattle and we actually went through the process of building a whole prototype, including an imminent, is there a place where I can type this URL? (I’m going to go ahead and put it in the chat window)
Matt: I’ll go ahead and write the URL in this window, Patrick
Patrick: Yeah, so we went through the whole process of doing a prototype, we did a presentation, we were competing against ten other start-ups and we won the design portion and all the designers that I brought along to the event they’re using it in their portfolio to say ‘hey this the UX work that I did, that we did. We did research, we did some usability testing it was a lot of fun’.
Luke: I think Armen is in Armenia.
Patrick: Yeah, do side projects too. Side projects are awesome for doing stuff like this.
Luke: Excellent, second question is from Carrie:
“I am currently working as the only developer on a web project. I’m finding the experience terribly lonely, isolating and becoming increasingly depressed especially as I do not have anyone to bounce ideas off and lack of understanding from fellow colleagues leads to the assumption that my work is easy or they could do better.”[Laughing]
Patrick: Our work is so easy…
Luke: Have you had a similar experience and how important do you think it is to be able to share ideas?
Patrick: Yeah it’s really, really important to share ideas, there’s this wonderful thing called Twitter where you can go ahead and follow a whole bunch of designers and they’re all over the world, and I actually do this a lot and they reach out to me for Skype calls and we share the work that we’re doing and we get feedback it’s like we’re using the usability test and it’s very, very powerful.
Most designers are very introverted because of the emotional needs of our jobs and that is one outlet they can do to kind of do that, another thing that you can do is once you get on Twitter, once you get a start point of meetups you can actually invite designers out for coffee. I actually lived right above a coffee place and so we’re there all the time probably like once a week. A couple of weeks I’m meeting with a designer, we’re talking about our work and really exploring the kind of design work that we’re doing.
Luke: Very good. Another question, this one from Cassandra:
“I’ve been attempting to break into a UX designer position for a few years now (I have a few years of web design and front-end dev). Available positions are for mid-level or senior UX designers. If I can’t afford UX schooling and have limited UX experience, what’s the best course to breaking into this career?”
Patrick: That’s a really, really tough one. I just recently hired a junior web at Apptio and he had a really-really good mind for UX and his vision on stuff was great, and we’re actually training him. He was lucky because he found an opportunity where he can get on to a bigger team and actually learn from some other people. That would be the first thing that I would say – look for companies that might have junior people or junior positions open. I know that’s kind of hard.
Another way that you could do it, you can reach out to other designers that are more senior than you, do side projects or do other work and then show them your work and it’s almost as good as working with them directly. And another thing is like, another way that you can do that is if you have web development, I was looking at the CF web design experience, what you can do is go somewhere and use those skills, go somewhere they already have a senior designer working, and say ‘hey, these are the skill sets that I have. I want to work with this designer, I’ll do this web development and design stuff for a while but I really want to pick up the interactions design’, that’s the way that most junior designers did and broke into the field.
Matt: So Patrick, kind of off the back of that, if you don’t have a visual design background is that a hurdle for people, do you think?
Patrick: I actually don’t. One of the prototypers I have at work, he has a background in infomatics which is basically the, and I’m doing some quotes here, “product management” degree at the University of Washington and so he’s a programmer and he has an interaction design background and so he’s been real instrumental in helping us create a prototype for the company. And I actually value that skill set a lot because he thinks of a lot of things that we don’t think of, because we’re designers and we don’t totally get involved in all the technology.
Matt: That’s a good point.
Luke: I’ve got a question here from Pietschy – he says:
“I started life in a BA role, and later moved into development. Recently I did a solo job designing and building an in-house system for a small business where I particularly enjoyed getting back into requirements analysis, wireframing etc. I’d like to do more of this kind of work, do you know if there’s much of a market in the UXD world for back-office business systems? Or does the money tend to go to customer facing products?”
Patrick: Oh this great, this is an awesome question!
Where I work at is heavy-heavy enterprise, it’s IT spend, it’s B2B, if you find the right companies it’s a huge market from two perspectives.
The first perspective is they’re always looking for people that understand this is the business system because they’re a lot more complex than developing say an iPhone app.
And the second thing is – and this is the story that I tell people just me being an enterprise it’s literally 20 years of job security. As technology improves and as the products improve, the younger generation is actually expecting more products that work like an iPhone or iPad and so having a great user experience designer on staff is very, very important.
Does that make sense? Basically like the upper management I work with they are basically saying we know that you have to have the backup thing, but they also realize that a great user experience also sells the product
Patrick: And that’s going to increase the demand for people like us, which is great. The pay is awesome.
Luke: Yes can be very good. And we’ve got a few more questions coming in now, we’ve got one from Tim, who says:
“I’m just starting out with UX conducting focus groups, doing usability testing and now creating personas, do you have any examples of a good portfolio design?”
Patrick: There’s actually… I’m going to type it into the window and you guys can move it across…
Matt: I can put it on the sketch here.
Patrick: Yeah, so there’s this one portfolio that I point people to Laura, she’s an assistant designer that I mentored, now working for Amazon Lab 126. One of her portfolio pieces tells this great story about how they went through all the research and she talked about personas, and she did all the stuff and it was a three-day project, and it tells an amazing story.
Luke: There’s a lot of information about UX portfolios online. UX Mastery has just published an eBook about Getting Started in UX, and part of the bundled bonus extras with the eBook is a portfolio template and a resume template. That resume template is actually Patrick’s one. Go head and tell us a little bit more about what went into that, Patrick.
Patrick: As for the resume template, that was something that I actually developed when I was working at Jobvite, about 6 years ago. We went through some layoffs and I realized that my resume was horribly out of date and so I had a copywriter re-write it, and so when I got to Jobvite – which is an applicant tracking system – I actually tested my template through Jobvite over and over and over again until I got to a format that I knew that worked perfectly in most applicant tracking systems. I also did, quote, usability testing, quote, on showing it to recruiters and everything and the template basically states ‘hey this what I did at a job and then these were the goals that I achieved’. For example, if you worked at a job like an e-commerce site and then you can talk about how you increased the shopping cart conversion by 5%, that’s the kind of stuff that recruiters are looking for.
Luke: Excellent, excellent. We’ve got a few more questions rolling in from the forums . ‘UXer’ asks:
“Why all of a sudden does everyone want to be in UX, is it because they want to be in technology, but don’t want to learn code?”[laughing]
Patrick: Should we describe what UX is, to start the discussion?
Luke: Sure, let’s go!
Patrick: So the way that I interpret UX myself is it’s an overarching discipline that includes design, content strategy, visual design, front-end development and then the research. There’s a couple of others in there, like information architecture, so it covers a lot of ground so when you have a UX team and you look at the people in the room like at Apptio, ‘right, how did these people ever get into the same team?’ I have the most it’s not like a whole bunch of product managers sitting around, it’s like literally ‘wow, they all have very different skill sets’, it’s like ‘how do you manage that?’
I think the main reason why people got into it is because of Apple. The iPhone is a wonderful product, and people think: “Oh, I want to develop iPhone apps for that.” What they don’t realize when they get into UX, you don’t start off and get the creative product. You have to collaborate with a whole bunch of different groups of people and the right product managers and developers and they don’t realize and they think they’re going to be able to design a product on their own, what it really comes down to is you don’t actually design the product, you facilitate the design. Does that make sense?
Luke: I think that is exactly what this person is asking – they can make the connection between the business strategy and the design team to provide value to the customer. And hence the expression of “facilitation”, as you say.
Patrick: Yeah! On that note what I like is—a lot of the products I worked on in front of millions of people. Like, I was doing some work at Microsoft with the potential to affect half billion people, and that was a huge driver for why I like being in this field.
Matt: Jeff Gothelf, who wrote the Lean UX book, talks about that exact point too. He talks about how one thing we need to learn as designers is that we are design facilitators and that everybody has valid input to influence the design, and we need to be prepared to create and instill a process where that collaboration and that input is synthesized and you end up with the ‘synergy’ of the team you’re willing to use, to use a buzz word, yeah, to end up with a great result.
Patrick: Yeah it’s really hard to create a design culture. Creating the right environment where that collaboration actually respects our roles is really, really hard and what’s really hard about that is that a lot of other people think that, they think that everybody can be a designer and they don’t understand that a lot of us have spent years and years of beating our heads against the wall to really understand what UX is.
Matt: And so on that point, ‘cause that is something that I’ve really struggled a lot with in big enterprise clients and that’s the idea of championing and justifying and selling user experience as a valid focus.
What has been your experience with that problem and how did you overcome it?
Patrick: It really depends I mean having a design-influenced culture is really top down and what you do is you have to start pounding their head more with data. Like, where I work now we’re starting to get into data design. We’re collecting immense amounts of data on how our customers use the product but yet nobody had bothered to analyze it and so one of the things we’ve been working over the past two weeks hey we have all this amazing data once they saw it like the light bulb totally turned, where you illustrate a light bulb and now they realize it, instead of just doing a lot of guessing. Asking the customers what they want now, we know what they’re using, and that totally transforms the conversation. Many companies never get to a design influence culture and then it hurts their bottom line.
Matt: Sorry to hijack the question thread, it’s a little selfish of me, but I’m really interested in this stuff because I’ve had those jobs. So for your career is it best if you’re in that situation where you’re in an organization and you see they don’t get it and you’re not, you know, an organisational change consultant—you’re an UXer. Should you acknowledge there is only so much you can do at and cut your losses and find a work environment where you can thrive and learn? Part of the stubborn consultant in me wants to say “no, I can change this place, I can really make a different here”.
Patrick: That’s actually a really good point. I’ve been in places, I’ve been presented with situations fairly recently where we’ve had consultants in there and literally change doesn’t happen overnight, like they’re being a UX consultant but they’re like two different approaches. Being a UX consultant you’re there to say “hey, there are obviously things that are going wrong, there are some areas you can fix” (I’m moving my hands around) but when you’re in-house that change comes much slower because you have to put all these pieces in place. Yes for example many companies, I think it was Scott Berkun that had a book about this. You know: “A Year without Wearing Pants” or something like that. It talked about how change has to be slow and you have to do it one piece at a time and you have to involve a lot of people. A lot of people do understand what design-led means, but they don’t know how it changes their job and so you have to gradually educate them across the organization about hey this is what it really means. And it’s a very difficult conversation because it actually involves them sharing a piece of their … of where they find pride. A lot of people want to be involved in the wireframing but they don’t understand what the wireframing means and how it’s an expression of design thinking, for example.
Luke: Cool, it’s often said that ‘the best way to learn UX is to do it’, but what aspects of UX can’t be taught Patrick?
Patrick: System design and acknowledging patterns, I think patterns and information. I don’t think that can be taught. Like, any of the reasons why I’ve really enjoyed this job and I feel I’m successful at it, is that I’m able to distill systems into objects and patterns. I see patterns in everything I don’t think that’s something that can necessarily be taught at a very high level. Some of the soft skills are a little bit challenging for us because it involves a lot of times you have to disagree and commit. Where you disagree with the concept, but you still have to follow the business needs, and that’s actually a really hard skill to teach. The visual design step is really, really tough like, visual design is under UX and either you have it or you don’t. Does that make sense? Like spatial design, like information design. For example, there are a lot of illustrators out there that do visual design but they don’t understand the structure of a page for example.
Luke: You were talking before about how UX as a field had a very broad range of skillsets, but if people don’t necessarily have the visual skills what sort of things could they head towards?
Patrick: Content strategy, UX research, information design because they can still sketch that out on a page. Information architecture is an art form in itself and it’s one that a lot of teams are missing a component of which is taxonomy, which is understanding how information is structured (there you go) and what’s another one… prototyping. If you have a programmer background or interaction design that’s huge.
Luke: Jen asks:
“I find it difficult to overcome the hurdle of not having five plus years of experience in UX, how does one get their foot in the door without years of UX experience coming from a visual background having several uses in that field?”
Patrick: Yeah I’ll use the example of like one recruiter that I talked to, I actually wrote an article about it on my blog “How to get into UX” and it was Mary Guillen, I think her last name is, she gave me a call and we outlined what we thought the steps were to break into this field at a non-designer. She followed them step by step and now she is a web producer that does this experience where she directs a team at an interactive agency. And I didn’t actually write the article until after the call with her, but when I looked back it totally made sense. A lot of times what you can do is work at a company, and a web producer says, “Hey, I’m a project manager,” and as you work there you get more and more involved in the interactive process. Prototypers is another, account manager at an agency is a huge one, product managers—sometimes they can make the shift. If you’re a programmer and you can make the shift, it’s actually pretty easy.
Luke: Here’s a related question… Sorry, Matt?
Matt: I was just going to add to that and talk about my own experience that I came from, I did work as a programmer for a while and then as a visual designer and moved across and I think a lot of people get hung up on this idea, that I’m going to find a UX job, I’m going to be a UX specialist and that’s going to be the job that I get and I’ll do everything right and I’ll get that job … and I just think you need to work towards this stuff and you need to be working in a role that may not have UX in the title. Just kind of dip your toes in, and do bits and pieces along the way where you’re working on web projects. You’re involved with the team, and you can put your hand up as stuff appears and like Patrick was saying make your way and shift sideways. We talk about this a little bit in the book, right? There are a bunch of ways you can get exposure and experience working on a web project. You can volunteer, do some usability testing, and, you know, put your hand up to have a crack at wireframes and move across that way. I see a lot of people really hung up on getting that perfect UX job right out of the gate and I think you need to look at the long-term.
Patrick: Yeah this happens. Can I add to this too?
Patrick: So I’ll give you an example. The way that I broke into the field was I was a print designer. I actually volunteered to work for a political campaign doing all the direct mail and all their branding. At the time I didn’t know it but it turned into the most expensive U.S. congressional campaign in 1994. The guy that was the campaign manager went out and started an internet company and said, “Why don’t you join?” That was 95. I did a lot of side projects to learn more about the web and look where I am today. When I interviewed interns for Apptio, I’m frankly sick of seeing just school projects. Because I have not gotten anywhere easy, I need to see people that make the extra effort to do projects outside of school. We recently hired an intern, he not only did school projects but he also had illustration capabilities, kind of along the lines of what you’re doing right now Matt. He used to be an architect, and he went out and did a whole bunch of side projects being paid very little and illustrated his thinking and talked about personas, talked about how he dealt with clients, and he was by far the best candidate that we interviewed—because of the side work. There’s no easy way, you just can’t expect any body to say hey why don’t you come work here, we’re going to train you. That’s not the way this field works.
Matt: Totally agree.
Luke: What about internships? What if you offer yourself to a company as an intern?
Patrick: What I tell people to do is follow companies on Twitter, follow people on Twitter, and ask them “Hey, is there an internship?” The U.S. is a little bit tricky right now because there are a lot of questions marks about that. But there’s a lot of smaller start–ups that may ask, “Hey, will you intern for free?” You just got to have your spidey sense about if that’s useful or not. If you try that, or if you do the Startup Weekend stuff … there’s a lot of opportunities to learn more about the field. And a lot of it is kind of following the templates to show “this is how UX is done.”
Luke: Makes sense! We’ve got quite a few other questions coming in here, thanks every one for having questions. We’ll see if we can rip through a few.
“I’m a service designer looking to work in UX who understands design process but I don’t have any portfolio which showcases my UX skills apart from my academic projects.”
Patrick: Is she working full time as a service designer?
Luke: I don’t know. Maybe Suma if you can clarify?
Patrick: Like the process and the personas and all the research … you could actually use that as your portfolio because there’s a lot of, I really like the field of service design and I think there’s a lot of value in showing your thought and how it applies to your company doing web projects.
Luke: Michael also asks a related question:
“I’m currently working in a full time role not directly in a UX area. How can I get the correct qualifications in order to land my next UX job?”
Patrick: What’s the full time job title?
Luke: Michael, what’s your full time job title?
Patrick: Yeah It really depends on the job title, how you would go about that.
Matt: He said ‘designer’.
Patrick: Web designer?
Luke: Graphic designer, yeah
Patrick: Graphic designer. Print?
Patrick: So does he work at a place that’s doing web stuff?
Matt: Should we try unmuting Michael so he can join, actually come into the conversation if that’s okay to?
Luke: Are you with us now Michael?
Michael: Yes, hello!
Patrick: So if there’s another designer working on the web stuff, actually do some research and figuring out the persona, what are the scenarios for the website that you guys are doing and actually use that to develop your portfolio.
Luke: Are you with us now, Michael?
Michael: Yes, hi.
Matt: Does that answer your question or do you need to go deeper there?
Michael: Yeah, I’ve been working in the public sector, information design and information architecture
Patrick: Oh my, yeah so you shouldn’t have any problem then, because if you can show some of the taxonomy stuff and the side architectural stuff that your doing in your portfolio piece, that’s pretty powerful.
Luke: What about Michael’s qualifications?
Michael: Thank you.
Luke: So we recently published an article on UX Mastery listing a bunch of degrees, why is it that people can get some form of accreditation? What are your thoughts on academic qualifications in UX, Patrick?
Patrick: Being the college dropout three times, there are very few schools I look to like Carnegie Mellon where I think the value is absolutely there, like the University of Washington here. They’re actually trying to orient themselves, the problem they run into is that their education is good, but they don’t have the right profile for the kind of stuff I need. And so I actually look to the side work to see if they can develop the skills to be an interactive designer.
Luke: So Michael, have you had any experience where you’ve been asked for your qualifications and told it was a roadblock?
Michael: No not really, but for my future career path I’ve been looking towards a communication design post graduate.
Patrick: You know what you can do, you can email me on the side and contact me off my blog and I can probably answer you a little bit more directly.
Matt: I’m pretty sure that Luke and I can help you out there to because we actually know Jeremy who runs the communication design program at RMIT which is, I assume, the degree that you’re looking at so. I’m sure Jeremy would be more than happy to take a few minutes and have a coffee with you and chat about the course and see if it is a good fit for you or not.
Michael: Ok thank you.
Matt: No worries.
Luke: No worries, Michael.
“How did you manage your UX process in an agile environment for example.” [loud laughter]
Patrick: I get this asked a lot, I like Agile okay … so a little back story. I use to work for a magazine company as a print designer we had magazines going out, four magazines to five magazines a week. My whole life runs on weekly sprints cause I worked in a lot of publishing places. I just view Agile as a series of checkpoints, and always building to those checkpoints. So it’s okay to spread research out over four weeks, but the two week sprints, it says this is what it looks like now it just allows you to course-correct. I don’t get as fearful as Agile as most other designers because I don’t know what the problem is. I was doing Agile in 2001, actually I was doing it in 1995 before we knew it was Agile, so I don’t see the big deal.
Luke: Yeah, and can you make a quick comment how Lean UX relates to that?
Patrick: So I’ve actually done a few projects in Lean UX philosophies. I was doing Lean UX in 2001, basically you do a very minimal idea you start showing in front of users and you keep moving forward. There was a particular case study out of the Eric Ries book about Lean Startup where they’re actually doing the product process for the customer, totally non-tech. It was around let me think about this, they were helping consumers select menus to cook for their family, and they would actually go out to the home and ask the customer a whole bunch of questions and then go out shopping for them, and they learned a lot about the process and the pain points and it helped develop their product. It was totally by hand.
Luke: Very good. Rachel asks:
“What are the most important qualities you look for in a UX candidate?”
Patrick: There’s the soft skills, I’m actually looking for quieter designers. I’ve had the experience of hiring the extrovert designer to find that it’s actually detrimental to the process because they don’t listen enough. I look for people that listen, I look for people with soft skills. They’ll stand their ground on certain ideas but they know when they have to shift, they’ll back off of it. There’s this matrix of hard skills around seven different skills, and actually if I get three of them, then I’m pretty happy. And I look for system design—a lot of process. I want them to be able to adequately breakdown an idea into smaller pieces but can put that idea back together and show a larger concept.
Luke: Cassandra is asking a related question:
“Thinking about presenting that in a portfolio before a resume, how do we wow a recruiter or a hiring manager for a UX position?”
Patrick: It’s back to that rule … basically I’m looking for step-by-step thinking, having nice formatted wireframes helps, but what I’m looking for is a very methodical process of the way that they designed it, and I’m also looking for research. Like Mia tweeted this last night: “If you don’t understand the user goals, how can you design?”
Luke: So you’re putting those two together to tell the story of a project, wireframes, change in process.
Patrick: Yep, and a lot of it is a way to tell stories. One project that I did I use it as an example a friend of mine that runs a chiropractor practice out in Long Beach, California. I show the home page, I share the wireframes
Matt: This is Bob, right?
Patrick: Bob the chiropractor. Everybody is going to go to him. I set the home page, I talked about the persona, talked about some of the research we did. I did it all for beers and reduced rent on a condo he was renting to me and we put together the website and we were getting 8% conversion rate. We made one single change, or a couple of changes, and it went to 12% overnight. All I did was show the home page and tracking page and it’s an incredible story.
Luke: So that would be very interesting to see put together in a portfolio! It’s something I haven’t done in the past, but this last month or two as I have been researching all this stuff for UX Mastery, I’ve been getting my head around a lot of that, thinking about portfolios and the different ways people prove certain things, it’s fascinating!
Patrick: Yeah, it’s really fascinating.
Matt: I think that was the point that I felt I could justifiably promote to the world that my role was “UX designer” and not just “web designer” and that’s when I felt like I refined my process to something that I could rely on. So if you don’t have a process, then start thinking about it and start learning from other people’s process and start working on what you can rely on to be methodical in terms of getting a good result.
Patrick: Yeah a lot of the UX work I do, quite honestly, like you guys can see it behind me in my apartment like everything is at a 45° angle, like I have this certain UX process that I’ve done over and over again because I know it works, and it’s by getting data, getting validation, talking to users, understanding the different groups of users and designing against it and I just keep using it and it works. And I change it every once in a while but once you have that process and pattern down it actually makes it a lot easier to sign and commit on “this is what we need to do.”
Luke: We’ve got about 15 minutes to go—a few more questions and then we might have to continue the conversation in the forums. Britney asks:
“My background is user acquisitions, marketing and research I have a Master’s in sociology and I’m planning on getting a Master’s in human computer interaction starting this summer, do you think that it’s necessary because of my background? I don’t want to take on debt if I don’t have to.”
Patrick: Where does she live?
Luke: Britney do you want to chip in?
Patrick: You could probably get a job right now with your background doing research and some of that stuff. The HCD background might help you learn how to do wireframing and understand information architecture that might be the one area you’re missing.
Matt: Worth mentioning a bit about establishing a network too, we talked a little about Twitter, going along to a bunch of meetups and meeting other UXers in the industry, networking is going to be valuable or just as valuable than trolling job sites. So you want to open up as many job opportunities as possible and starting down this path to make sure you have that degree and then applying yourself is one way to go about it. But if you feel connected and you’ve got your finger on the pulse about what’s happening in your area and you know who’s who, that’s where the gold opportunities come from.
Patrick: I’m going to pump up my Twitter feed. If you go to my Twitter page @usabilitycounts on Twitter, I have a whole bunch of designers characterized in metropolitan areas and regions of the world that you can go follow, and I actually find that meetups are okay but I actually have built better relationships with people off of Twitter. I’ve gotten a lot more information and then when I was local to them, I would say “Hey, let’s have a coffee”. There’s actually a community that I’m involved with, I’m involved in it with Matt, I’ve met a lot of people out of the group and it’s awesome because you get to establish that personal connection which is better than a meetup.
There’s another thing I want to mention about the whole networking thing, there is a study by a sociologist by the name of Mark Granovetter and what it shows is that 60% of people got jobs in what they call a weak tie, for example I’m friends with Matt, Matt is friends with Luke. I ask Matt “Hey you know any good designers?” and Matt says “Luke is a great designer” and in my world, Luke is a weak tie. So if you network a lot and find people of different, not just designers, people of different skill sets, then you actually have a better chance of getting a job. A famous strategy for this is instead of going to meetups where the designers are at, go to meetups where developers and product managers are at, and I guarantee you that you be one of only a few designers there. Like, one of the interns that we brought into Apptio. I met her at a product camp, not at a UX event.
Luke: Patrick in Galway asks:
“I’m working graphic design and print, I want to move on to UX. I think he has one day per week working for a UX company to get some experience, should that be alright or should I try and do a longer bulk of time in graphic design skills?”
Patrick: Why don’t you start doing it now? Because I’m a former print designer, and see how it goes. I think it’s a good idea.
Luke: So, one day a week would be enough to get value from that?
Patrick: Yeah, and then you can start doing side projects too that kind of play around too.
Luke: Allison asks:
“My current job title is digital designer. During my work, I create wireframes and develop some user interface design for apps. Does this qualify as user experience work?”
Patrick: Yes, absolutely any day of the week and then what you can do is ask them to change your job title so it’s closer to interaction designer or product designer or UX designer.
Luke: Karemba asks:
“Do you think a background in psychology can be helpful in UX when dealing with highly political company cultures?”
Patrick: Every day of the week, yes.
Luke: Psychology is a big part of both designing a user experience, and facilitating and running things too, cause you have to understand how people learn, teach, and communicate.
Patrick: A little background on HCD—Human Computer Interaction—a lot of it is related to pilots that during WWI and WWII. They couldn’t figure out “Gee, why are they crashing?” and so the US Army and the US Air Force actually did a lot of work in that area and that was the beginning of work around HCD. Also there’s a lot of talk about how Henry Ford, for example, figured out how to make assembly lines more efficient, based on the work done with lithium processors, and looking at how people use technology, even though it’s not computers it’s very relevant to our field.
Matt: Have you ever worked with a psychologist on your team Patrick?
Patrick: One of the people I have on my team she has a researcher background, yes … she talks a lot about mental models and that kind of thing, yeah.
Matt: A friend of UX Mastery, Jodie at Symplicit, a Melbourne-based consultancy that is doing very well and Jodie is a former behavioral psychologist who tried to get into UX and they’re doing great work and that’s a bit of competitive advantage for those guys.
Patrick: Absolutely, and looking back I wish I knew more about this field. I’m a little bit older. I had a job before the internet but I wish I knew more about some of this in the more formal fields.
Luke: Very well I think we’ve got time for one or two more questions. Sorry to everyone who we’re not going to get to today.
“I was previously a UX designer at my company but I realized I would add more value as a product owner so I’ve since transitioned my role into that direction. I’ve been a product owner for about four months now and do really enjoy it seems like a natural fit for a former UX designer, I’m still very passionate about UX though. If I was to look for a UX position in the future would my experience as a product owner be an advantage or a disadvantage?”
Patrick: As a former product manager and program manager, sure. I actually have toyed with the idea of going back over to product management because I think having a UX background over there is very powerful and there are many-many UX designers that are making the transition over to product management because we tend to identify better with the users than some of the people that have been in that role.
Matt: I’m giving a talk at a product manager meetup here in Melbourne. Later this month actually—it’s called Product Anonymous, so if anyone’s in Melbourne come along to Product Anonymous and the product mangers are interested in the UX. There’s a lot of product overlap between the two roles. There’s stuff we can learn about marketing and market validation, and there’s a lot that those guys can learn from UXers, like visual thinking and user research compared to market research. So I think there’s a lot of overlap, and I think there’s a lot to be learned from both fields. It’s going to help your UX career by being a product owner, definitely.
Luke: Very good! A final question from Ben, who asks:
“Thanks Patrick for spending time to chat. Do you think it’s more of an advantage being either a generalist or a specialist?”
Patrick: It really depends. I live in Seattle and Microsoft is here and Amazon is here, and one of the problems I have – not with Amazon so much but with Microsoft – is they have a lot of specialists. So I have a generalist UX team. (We can take a few more questions if you guys want to) I have a generalist UX team and so I find specialists a little hard to hire and it goes back to the seven disciplines that I hire against. I usually tend to look for people that have a least two maybe three skill sets. They call it a T-shaped skillset. For example I have a visual design background, and I tend to go more towards visual architecture and interaction and so I have more of a generalist skill set then some of the people and the area I’m actually weakest in is research. Real quickly if you’re in places like Seattle or San Francisco, specialist roles are harder to find in places like the Midwest and other areas of the world, then, outside of London then yeah it tends to be more of a generalist because most places can’t support that role, and once you really, really get your job then you’re a traveling consultant.
Luke: So there’s something in being hired for your soft skills, and your ability to learn deeper skills on the job?
Patrick: Yeah. It’s a little bit hard. I’ve worked with designers that were brought in without a lot of the hard skills, and it’s an uphill battle because a lot of managers come in and they’re like, “Why did they hire this person?” and it’s great that they have the soft skills, but then at one point or another you have to perform on the job so that’s kind of tricky.
Luke: We’ve got 2 more minutes. Maybe we’ll try to squeeze in one more question.
Patrick: You can keep me after 3, as long as we’re not getting out of here after 4.
Luke: Cool. Tyler is asking:
“If you could choose one book to be your UX bible what would it be?”
Matt: I have a suggestion…
Patrick: UX Bible for what part? For learning UX, or for breaking into the field?
Luke: I guess it would have to include everything to be a UX bible of everything!
Matt: Learning, he said.
Patrick: Well the Get Started in UX book gives a really good overview. The one book that I have been recommending lately has been Russ Unger’s UX Project Guide. And another one, Kelly Goto has this wonderful book called Web Design 2.0 that was published in 2004 that I actually still recommend today. It has a really generalist view of how to do web projects in the end, and it actually includes a little product management stuff, and I’m not saying that because she bought me a drink, but, you know, I actually like the book a lot.
Luke: Well we’ll dig that out and provide a link somewhere for that.
I think we’re out of time.
Well, thank you very much, Patrick. That was an amazing set of responses to those questions. Thanks also very much to all the webinar attendees for great questions and for joining us here today.
Just quickly, Patrick, can you let us know where we can find you online?
Patrick: So, again, I run a blog called usabilityaccounts.com which is where I have a UX career guide about 45,000 words. You can also find me in your guys’ book ‘Get Started in UX’ out from UX Mastery. I also run a Twitter account called @usabilitycounts—big surprise. I run the uxdrinkinggame.com, and you can find me on Facebook at usabilitycounts (you’re seeing a trend) and if you’re actually in the Pacific Northwest I’m generally available for coffee when I can find the time.
Luke: That’s very generous of you!
How about you, Matt?
Matt: My name is Matt, and along with Luke we contribute to UX Mastery. As we’ve mentioned a couple of times throughout the webinar we do have an eBook out called ‘Get Started in UX’ which we’re very proud of, and Patrick is one of our feature interviewees and we think that it’s a very good overview on how to launch and shape a career, so please go and check that out. And I’m on Twitter as @mattymcg, which is a nickname I’ve had for Years even though my real name doesn’t have a ‘Mc’ in it, but please hit me up on Twitter.
Luke: And you can find me – Luke Chambers – posting articles on the UX Mastery blog (uxmastery.com). I also hang around in the UX Mastery community forums at community.uxcommunity.com, and my Twitter handle is @lukcha. I’d love to help by answering any questions you may have about today’s webinar.
If you’re looking for more practical advice about getting started in UX, like Matt said, our latest eBook is going to be excellent for you. There are links on the website for that now, and come and ask us in the forums.
And finally, we’re going to email all of you a link to the audio/video of today’s webinar. We’ll see if we can chase up a transcript as well. I think that is about it. We’re two minutes over.
Thank you again everyone for joining us.
Patrick: Hey can I give a shout out to some people that tweeted during the event?
Luke: Sure, please.
Patrick: So Jen Blatt, Jolly Zhou, Brittany Vanheuten was there , Simon Cratford, Chris Klasser, I think he was in the event thank you all and Oscar, and Clare thank you for all the interesting questions during the event.
Matt: And thanks everybody for getting up on the weekend too. Know that your personal time is very important and we really appreciate that you’ve taken the time to join us on this chat and thank you to Patrick for giving up your Saturday afternoon.
Patrick: Yeah you’re interrupting my whiskey time!
Matt: Thank you everyone. See you guys.
Luke: See you in the forums!
Patrick: See you.