10 Things I’ve Learnt as a New UX Designer
I’ve now been working in the UX field for 6 months, and it’s been a fascinating and exciting journey. I mentioned in a previous post how I entered the world of UX/UI design in my 30’s, and now that I’ve properly wet my feet, I wanted to share some of my learnings.
Everybody loves listicles (anyone else a Buzzfeed fan? — My next blog post will be a quiz “Choose your favourite cupcake frostings and we’ll tell you what kind of designer you are!”), so with that in mind, I thought I’d tell you about 10 things I’ve learnt in my first 6 months as a UX designer. Here goes!
1) Pick your battles
“Love may be a battlefield, but the workplace shouldn’t be.”
It’s important to follow the principle of ‘Give and Take’ when working in teams. As much as you love all your ideas, the client may not agree with them all or perhaps some are extremely time-consuming to build. So my advice to you is to pick your battles. If one feature is really important to the integrity of the design, pitch your flag on that mountain top and fight for it. But then also be prepared to compromise in other areas. Is that custom-designed calendar really integral to the design, or could a developer use a material design component instead? Compromising on some features also allows you to fight for the really important ones, without appearing to be a Design Dictator™.
2) Justify every design choice
“Don’t just use your eyes when designing — use your noggin too.”
Design with intention. And by that, I mean have a reason for everything you do. If you decide to place the menu icon in the top left corner, have a reason for that choice. It may be that it’s an industry standard, and that’s a perfectly good reason. Just make sure you know the standards and can justify your choice with other examples or design systems.
Recently a client questioned the layout of a screen I presented and wanted to move in a different direction. Once I was able to explain my reasoning and why I had made that choice, the client understood and was happy to keep the screen as is. If I had designed that screen so ‘it looked pretty’ rather than thinking through each decision, I would not have been able to explain the design to the client.
3) The best solution isn’t always the flashiest/trendiest
“Need something round to get you from A to B? Just use the wheel bro. Don’t reinvent it.”
Nowadays we’re inundated with beautiful designs on so many platforms — Instagram, Pinterest, Dribbble — and it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to incorporate these trends into every design. But while that soft gradient or glassmorphic icon may look modern and clean now, in 6 months it will look dated. Aside from this, these trends don’t always take usability into account, and certainly not accessibility. Consider sticking to tried and true design principles on 90% of your work, and perhaps incorporate 10% of the fun, flashy stuff. Just like a seesaw, it’s all about balance.
4) Developers are your friends
“Life’s just better with friends”
The concept of the Designer vs Developer battle has been long documented, but to be honest I don’t really get it. Some of my closest friends are developers! But seriously, having a good relationship with the developers in your team is extremely helpful — especially so if you’re fairly new to the world of code. As mentioned in point 1, you need to pick your battles. Being able to have open conversations with developers about the complexity of your solutions and what’s actually possible is invaluable. It will allow you to design feasible solutions that can be implemented in a timely manner.
5) Real life doesn’t often mimic what we studied
“Get ready for a rollercoaster ride of emotions”
We are taught that design is an iterative non-linear process. But when you’re working on a conceptual project during your studies, it tends to follow a pretty linear process. Yes sure, you might discover something during your research that causes you to re-examine the problem statement, but by and large, you’ll move forward in a straight(ish) line.
But real life is not like this. Real life laughs at your straight(ish) line. It mocks your 5 step plan. This was very clearly illustrated to me with my most recent project. A client approached us wanting their platform to be re-designed and made mobile-friendly. So we had an existing website that had taken years to create, the challenge of improving the usability and overall look AND having to conceptualise mobile screens. Throw in a less-than-ideal tech stack and a limited timeframe and budget, and you’ll understand my initial panic. There was no possibility of conducting research or analysing the content of each page. Instead, we had to do our best and almost work backwards to create a solution.
In the end, we created something that met the brief. It may not be the same solution we would’ve created if we had been able to follow the design thinking process step-by-step (and it certainly wasn’t the same solution we would’ve created had we been involved from Day 1 of the build) but it was a huge improvement on the existing website and fell within the budget and deadlines.
6) Communication is a huge part of the job — you need to sell the customer on your solution
“Time to put on your salesman’s hat!”
This ties in with point 2, justifying your design choices. Creating a fantastic solution is not enough. You need to sell this solution to your clients and stakeholders. If you’ve followed the principles set out in point 2 your task will be easier, but you’re still going to have to communicate the strength of your designs. When we’re working on a project, we might spend 2 days debating and discussing the layout of a table or side bar. We’ll talk through the various pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, before settling on a design. The clients don’t know about this, and probably don’t want to know about it. But you’ll need to eloquently explain what you’ve done to them, in a way that they can understand it. Don’t just throw jargon at them and expect it to stick. Instead, put yourself in their shoes (and empathising should be something we’re all comfortable with) and concisely and clearly explain your choices.
7) Rejection of a design is not a rejection of you
“You’re still awesome, even if your design might not be”
We design things that we’re proud of. We’ve put lots of thought into each colour choice, font size and icon. And when you’re that invested in a design it’s easy to feel attacked when that design is rejected. But it’s extremely important to recognise that a rejection of a design is not a rejection of you, the designer. While we base many of our decisions on industry standards, personal preference is still a large part of a decision being chosen. And personal preference is just that — personal. It will differ hugely from person to person.
8) You will often need to advocate for UX — many people do not understand its importance.
“You gotta fight… for your right… to improve usability!”
UX is still a relatively new field, even if it’s been around for a long time under different names. Because of this, some clients may not appreciate the role it plays in creating an elegant solution. Likewise, many may confuse it with graphic design. So, an important part of your job will be advocating for UX and explaining its role to clients and stakeholders. But taking the time to get your stakeholders on board will save you time in the long run. Giving them the knowledge to understand what you do and why you do it will help them appreciate the intricacies of user experience design and get them understanding its importance.
9) Collaboration with other designers is priceless
“Teamwork makes the dream work”
As a newbie in the field, I’ve found working with more senior designers an invaluable learning experience. Often, I would find myself completely stumped on the best way forward, and just talking it through with someone would help immensely. Or sometimes after puzzling over a problem for 3 hours, I’d show it to another designer, and they would immediately know the answer! The important thing about this industry is to remember that we’re always growing and learning. Just as people change and evolve, so does UX design. Having someone you can speak to and bounce ideas off of is so important. If you can find a mentor or a more senior designer to connect with, I really recommend it.
10) Know your UX toolbox
“Channel your inner Bob the Builder”
As designers, we have multiple tools at our disposal. Different techniques and methodologies to choose from. Being a good designer means knowing these tools. Being a great designer is knowing which tools to pull from your toolbox for a specific project. I was recently working on a technical analysis (an evaluation of the scope of work needed to complete a project) and was advised to do a competitor analysis. This was a perfectly reasonable request and could have been very useful in many cases. However, after having spoken with the client and having delved into exactly what they were looking for, I realised that a competitor analysis wouldn’t actually provide much value. So instead of just carrying it out, I took a squizz in my metaphorical toolbox, and instead recommended we move forward with another technique. Not only would this provide me with better information to undertake the technical analysis, but it would also save the client time and money. So aside from knowing your tools, work on knowing when to use each tool.
These 10 items are just the tip of the knowledge iceberg I’ve been exposed to, and I look forward to sharing more with you in the future.
Is there anything you feel I’ve left out, or any other great tips for new designers? Please let me know or drop a line in the comments.