Inspired by a couple of articles about coding and UX, and a Reddit thread about how to get into UX, I thought I’d write up a blog post about how I got into UX. UX is a broad field, and UX skills are certainly in demand – though some company’s expectations are out of control.
My path into UX design was a bit circuitous. I didn’t study IT, web design or human factors. There’s lots of good courses in those areas, and a specialisation in human factors or human-computer interaction (HCI) would definitely help. My UX practice draws more from my background in journalism and editing – so a focus on content and copy – as well as from my experience in marketing and academia.
I work in a creative agency, working on clients such as Google, Schweppes, Westpac and Sanitarium. Working in a creative agency is a bit different to working in a UX consultancy or as a UX architect within an organisation. You have to work on different clients, different brands, and different platforms.
My UX practice involves everything from content strategy to field research, to business strategy and gap analysis, rapid prototype development and iteration, market research and customer experience design. Customer experience is a parallel field to user experience that has grown out of marketing. A knowledge of this field will serve you well if you are looking to work in a creative, digital or marketing agency. Human factors or HCI will probably suit a UX consultancy, a usability consultant or a software startup.
I work closely with strategists, designers and developers to deliver the user experience, and such I have to understand everything they do as well as my own field.
Of course, I don’t understand it to the depth that they do. I can’t code particularly well. But I have a good knowledge of how code works, and what we can and can’t do. I’m not a strategist, but I can think strategically. I need to be able to speak everyone else’s language, well enough to be understood.
The more you know about the people you’ll be working with and their professional field, the better. Studies in anthropology, ethnography or psychology are great for developing a user research/product development UX practice. Journalism, editing, literature are good for content strategy or microcopy focus. A solid understanding of content and copy will serve you will as a UX designer in a news organisation. It may also help you in a marketing/customer experience design role.
Outside of studying at university, these are the things that I’ve found helpful.
- I worked as a current affairs editor (video and online) for several years. This was useful for learning workflow, writing, editorial and content strategy.
- I worked as PhD researcher / academic for several years. This was useful for learning how to run a research workshop. It was also useful for learning how to run productive meetings.
- I worked as a social media producer for WWF / Earth Hour for a couple of years. This was good for learning social media strategy, microcontent and CMS management.
- I ran numerous blogs, news websites and online projects for friends and community organisations. This was great for learning how to run workshops, learning how to sketch, manage ongoing UX improvement and iterations.
- I studied technical drawing in high school. This was good for learning how to sketch paper prototypes.
- I spend a lot of time online, reading widely (lots of UX blogs, design blogs, literature / academic blogs, comics) as well as reading books. A Book Apart offer great design and UX books, as does O’Reilly.
If you are considering a career in UX, I would suggest reading as much as you can, then try applying it on actual projects. Find a community group and volunteer to help them update their website. Intern at a digital or design agency. Hang out at a UX consultancy. Volunteer for usability testing (UIE periodically ask their email subscribers to volunteer for testing in exchange for access to training webinars). Sketch up a software product prototype, blog about it, engage with other designers and refine your idea.
It’s a good training exercise to review your favourite websites and think about what you’d change to make them easier to use. But always remember that UX is about getting the best experience for the user within the bounds of the project scope, the budget, and the client expectations. UX is about communication and compromise. Once you’ve learnt the principles of good UX, get out there and get your hands dirty.