5 reasons why you should make a career in UX
If you’re thinking of starting or switching up your career to get into the field of User Experience, you should think about the reasons why you’re looking to do so. Before we start, this is not an article about how many job opportunities there are in the field, or how you can become insanely wealthy because of how much you’ll be paid, simply because these are not the reasons you should make a career for yourself in User Experience.
Here are the real reasons why you should build a career in UX…
1. You love solving problems
This is the biggest reason that should work in UX. Whatever role you may take up in this space, whether its research, content, interaction or anything else, your focus will be on solving a problem for the people who will be using what you create, more of which we’ll come to later.
Solving a problem with design thinking requires not just the problem itself, but also a set of constraints that you have to work within. This can vary from the wishes of a senior stakeholder to the researched needs of the user, or from the existing technology which you have to build upon to incorporating the bleeding-edge of technology.
My one piece of advice around these constraints that will serve you well comes from Kaaren Hanson, then VP of Design Innovation at Intuit:
Fall in love with the problem, not the solution
Uncovering the root cause of a problem is one of the biggest challenges in user experience design, and yet it is the one thing that will truly create change for the user. By falling in love with the problem, and pushing the boundaries of the constraints, are you then able to discover the best possible solution, rather than something predefined or otherwise assumed.
One of the most prevalent examples of falling in love with the solution in my career was the “there’s an app for that” approach. Everyone had to have an app following the explosion of popularity in the iPhone, regardless of what the user needed. In these cases, organisation were so focused on a solution, that there was barely any consideration for what was needed by their users.
But falling in love with the problem means that you have to experiment. You have to try multiple things in a variety of ways until you find something that sticks, something that resonates, something that works for those people who will use your solution to their problem.
This leads us to the second reason you should make a career in UX…
2. You don’t mind being wrong
With the modern approach to iterative design, finding the right solution for the user involves research, understanding of the users, and multiple attempts at a solution combined with testing to refine the result into something that will ultimately solve the problem. This will involve a lot of creating the wrong answers by using this process.
In fact, not only should you have no problem in being wrong, you should be actively searching to find a better solution than the one you’ve already come up with. If you have a drive to constantly try to produce better work every day you turn up, there is no better job in my opinion.
Although I don’t agree with the Facebook mantra of “Move fast and break things”, I can appreciate the sentiment of continuous iteration on ideas to make a better solution for the users, just not at the expenses of breaking something for those people who may already be using a workable - if not the best - solution to their problem. But the undercurrent to that approach is that they don’t mind being wrong, and with good reason.
Whenever we design something that fails, we learn far more from that failure than we do from something successful. When something is a success, we have no driving need to go back over the factors as to why it was successful, but when something doesn’t work, we have piles of data and research to analyse and inform what we do next to make our solution better.
3. You want to learn
It’s no use having a huge amount of data that can inform and guide you in your next steps in the design process if you’re not willing to take it on board and learn from them. If you love to solve problems, then this willingness to learn goes hand in hand with that quality.
I’ve worked in the web industry for over 20 years, and if one thing is true about an industry that is so intrinsically linked to a world of technology that never stops moving forward, it’s that we must always be learning.
When I transitioned from developer to designer, the type of learning changed. It was no longer about the technical aspects of code and databases but was more focused on human beings and their needs. Regardless of the subject matter, it became more natural for me over time to be able to focus my learning on the most valuable subjects concerning the context of the problem you’re trying to solve.
Whilst it may feel like the knowledge you gain from one project can be simply transferred into the next, you must always bear in mind that every problem will have differences - even if only the slightest nuance - and very rarely will the same solution be the right thing for two different audiences.
This is also compounded by changes in the target audience of users itself over time. A solution that may have been great a few years ago may now be completely outdated with the relentless advances in technology and how we deliver our solutions to our users.
Strong opinions, loosely held
That willingness to learn is something that you will always need to keep with you, and you must be willing to accept new learnings and change your opinions as you gather more insight and understanding.
4. You’re interested in helping people
I don’t want this to sound like that clip from the Silicon Valley TV show, but it is true that you will be able to reach a large number of people through the work that you do in the user experience field, and aim to affect their lives for the better.
There is great variance in how much of an impact you can have, but the value of your work you do doesn’t increase directly proportional to the number of people it benefits. You could be working on a multi-million user platform such as Facebook, and your work may be seen and used by most of the planet, or you could be building something that helps a small group of vulnerable people in your local area. These extreme examples - and everything in between - create value for those using what you make and, regardless of the numbers.
Becoming a UX professional means that you will be in a position to help make peoples lives a little easier with small changes on a large scale, or with huge changes on a small scale.
5. You want to develop a wide range of skills
Regardless of the role you decide to take up in the sphere of User Experience – if you’re employed in a specific aspect or required to be more of a jack-of-all-trades – you can safely assume that you will learn a lot about the disciplines that surround you, both within UX and within your organisation.
The diagram below is adapted from “The Disciplines of UX” by Dan Saffer (2008) and goes some way to show the different and overlapping nature of the disciplines commonly thought of as part of User Experience Design.
I consider myself to be an experienced UX Designer, and yet I have barely scratched the surface of Sound Design, Architecture and Industrial Design. Most of my experience is in Interaction Design, Content, and Visual Design. But that does not mean that these are the areas in which I will work for the rest of my career. Depending on the project or the organisation, my focus will shift around different disciplines, and I will learn more and grow as a professional.
One thing that this diagram does not show is the importance of communication as a skill. Whether this is within your product or feature team, with other members of the UX community, with your users, or with business stakeholders, communication is one of the core elements of a job in User Experience.
Even if your communication skills aren’t great to begin with – mine definitely were not – you will develop an understanding of how to speak with the different area of the business you engage with, you’ll learn UX fits within your organisation, how members of your team interact with each other, and how to communicate the value of the work you do.
If you are a problem solver, can apply a process to solve a given problem, and can communicate the value of your work to the people around you, you already have all of the skills you need to make a start to your career in User Experience.
If you want to learn how you can put together a professional portfolio that showcases these skills to land you that job in User Experience, sign up now for my “Build Your UX Portfolio” course.
You’ll learn how to document a project in a way that effectively communicates your design process, how you came to make your design decisions, and why the work you did was of value. Join others in taking the first steps into a new UX career, or level up your portfolio with detailed and valuable case studies.