Making It in UX: New User Experience Designers Share Lessons From the Field
Every industry — from tech, to finance, to retail — needs user experience (UX) designers. These master problem-solvers work to create on- and offline experiences that put users' wants and needs first.
Harnessing skills like user research, wireframes, and prototyping, UX designers have a unique perspective when it comes to understanding the interactions between users, business goals, and visual and technology elements. For companies, their work fosters brand loyalty and repeat business. For consumers, it means frustration-free online experiences, intuitive mobile apps, efficient store layouts, and more.
When you have the perspective of a UX designer, "you start to see design gone wrong everywhere," says Beth Koloski, who teaches the full-time User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) course at General Assembly's Denver campus. "You stop blaming yourself for not understanding badly designed software." She says she admires when someone gets design right because she knows "how incredibly hard it is to make something easy and seamless and actually get it out into the real world."
Today's UX designers come from diverse backgrounds, like graphic design, art direction, web development, business, and more. In Denver in particular, the industry has blossomed over the past five to 10 years, Koloski says. "There are now so many great events and groups here, and they're full of smart, kind, generous UXers," she says. "You can easily find a UX-related event three nights a week."
The same is true of countless other metros, and Koloski recommends checking out UX meetups to help get into your local scene.
So what does the future of UX design look like? Koloski says that while many today think of UX design as experiences that exist on screens as websites or mobile apps, budding designers should think bigger.
"The next wave of UX needs will be for those who know how to design beyond the screen," she says. "There will be a need for designers with expertise in all the other communication mechanisms: voice interaction, sound design, haptics — heck, maybe we'll start to see designs that utilize taste and smell!"
At GA, Koloski is cultivating the next generation of UX talent. Her first group of students — the Denver campus's first graduating class in the program — completed their 10-week intensive training last fall and are already using their skills in full-time UX and product design roles at local tech companies like Zen Planner, Effective, and GoSpotCheck.
Meet a few recent graduates below, and get tips and insights from their career-transforming UX journeys.
"I listen a lot more before making assumptions."
For Allie Williams, diving into UX design was a way to utilize two key skills — helping people and digital design — that she used in her previous jobs. "UX seemed like the perfect path to be able to combine past skills and also work in new industries," says Williams, who worked in overseas community development, then in the fashion industry. "You also get to wear a lot of hats, from research, to sketching, to building prototypes, which keeps it from getting boring."
After graduating from GA, Williams landed a UX designer job at Effective, an experience design agency in Denver. She's currently working on a project with a financial services provider to redesign the company's web and mobile experience. "My specific role entails design validation and research, so I get to utilize all the practices I was exposed to in UXDI: research, usability testing, wireframing, and synthesizing data."
Learning UX skills has had an impact on Williams's life outside of work, too: "I listen a lot more before making assumptions," she says. "So many times in research or testing, I had a hypothesis about what a user might want or need, only to find out it was something completely different. It was eye-opening, and it's made me more aware as an individual that we are all so different."
"UX principles can make or break an idea."
Jay Telles has worked in advertising and design for 18 years, living in Brazil, Georgia, and New York before landing in Denver. "UX design was always part of my work but never the main focus," he says. "Projects became more rewarding for me and the client every time I included UX principles and strategies to the design process."
He also realized that UX design works better as a group effort. At GA, he dove into collaboration, developing interpersonal soft skills while building concrete UX and teamwork skills on client projects. Telles credits GA's career services program and the support of his classmates with helping him land a new role. "I was able to tailor a resumé and portfolio for the UX industry, expand my LinkedIn network and showcase my work to UX professionals in the area," Telles says.
Now as a UX designer at Zen Planner, which provides member management software for fitness centers, Telles says, "I apply my UX skills to every project. I collaborate with other teams in the company, most of them composed of non-designers, through UX strategies and exercises to improve our products."
Telles says he now sees UX design everywhere, in everything. "When I see a product or a service that lacks or shines, I immediately see how much applying UX principles can make or break an idea," he says.
"Once you bring clarity to the problem, you're able to find different solutions."
Danielle Gardner started her career as a business analyst and then a project manager at a software-as-a-service company. Having a background rooted in research, data, and problem-solving was a natural fit for transitioning to UX design.
"Now as a UX designer I feel like I approach everyday problems in a different light," Gardner says. "Whenever I hear someone complaining or trying to implement a solution, I try to dig in deeper and find the actual problem. Many times once you bring clarity to the problem, you're able to find different solutions to address the issue."
Gardner is now leveraging her UX design training in a new career as a product designer for GoSpotCheck, which provides execution management software. "I'm introducing design thinking to the organization," she says, referring to the human-centered principles designers use to tackle challenges. "Instead of just focusing on the features they want to deliver, I am trying to bring insight into the real problems their users have and how we might be able solve those."
Her advice for landing a UX job? Leverage your past experience. "You may be new to UX, but calling out soft skills you have like communication, client relations, or project management, is also important to companies," she says.
Gardner also recommends sending quality applications to serious prospects rather than applying for every possible job, then preparing adequately for those interviews. "I learned as much as I could about the company and their employees, and was prepared for questions and design challenges," she says. "That set me up for success."