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Can Everyone Design? Expectation VS Reality

Getting rid of the former mindset


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Onsi Kahlaoui

3 years ago | 6 min read

I was a Product Owner. Then I became a UX Designer. The things that didn’t go as planned.

Is everyone a designer? If it were the case, then why would so many projects where developers or Product Owners have acted as UX designers need to be reviewed because they don’t meet users’ expectations?

This was the kind of question I reflected upon before moving from Product Owner (PO) to UX designer at Societe Generale.

Today I’m certain I made the right career choice, but I have to admit that my rise in the team didn’t go as smoothly as I thought. Although I’m still convinced that UX is a state of mind anyone can endorse, I now know that the job of UX designer requires reliable skills and appropriate training.

If you are about to make such as career change, I would like to share my experience to help you avoid certain mistakes and to highlight the conditions for preparing for it in the best possible way.

Getting rid of the former mindset

With a background in market finance, I spent several years as a functional expert and project manager at Societe Generale before taking on the role of Product Owner.

For 3 years I had learned to scope and challenge user needs in order to keep only what brought immediate value. As a PO, I had to know how to say NO quickly to close the door to superfluous requests and quickly deliver a first testable version. But as a UX designer, you also must be able to say YES, show more empathy with the users, listen to all their needs and make them converge towards a single solution that suits everyone.

After my first projects as a designer, I would say that the two approaches are very complementary. You must be visionary enough to push the project team to be source of proposals for a target solution, and then get them to come down to an MVP (Minimum Valuable Product) in an agile way. This is not an easy exercise to master but it is very useful so as not to generate losses in terms of budget and working time.

Spending too much time on learning design tools

Before my career switch, I was very apprehensive about doing UI prototypes with a real design software. I had experimented all the possibilities of Excel in terms of prototyping and it was time to move on to serious stuff with Adobe XD.

Being familiar with the Adobe product range, I eventually found my marks easily with most of the features. However, I realized that the expression “pixel perfect” was not a metaphor. A UX designer must be ultra-demanding on his prototypes to reflect exactly what is about to be developed.

Over time I understood that mastering XD or any other similar tool is a prerequisite but that it is not the most important thing in the prototyping phase. To validate UX concepts with project teams, you must focus on the information architecture first, something that can be done with tools as simple as pen and paper.

It may be a mistake to rush too quickly into high-fidelity mock-ups that users will become attached to and that it will be difficult to break afterwards.

When prototyping, the designer must also consider the psychological aspects of human-machine interactions. Concepts such as color hierarchy or negative space structure the design of a page. I know from experience that this kind of aspect is not often considered on projects that don’t include UX designers.

A Design System needs to be learned too

The Design System unexpectedly took most of my training time. While in theory I understood everything that was explained to me on this subject, in practice I had to learn the right reflexes to apply the right components in the right place.

Moreover, on my first designs I tended to be over-creative to make my prototypes as attractive as possible by getting a lot of inspiration from patterns seen elsewhere.

In this type of situation, a mature design system allows you to frame your creativity by offering the right components to apply and/or combine in different types of use cases. It’s not so much about making pretty interfaces but more about having consistent interfaces that fit the users’ needs and that are technically feasible. It gives designers strong foundations in justifying their design choices to project stakeholders.

If you want to know more about our design system, check out this article: how we grew a Design System at Societe Generale.

Coding does matter

I spent more time than expected learning how to code properly. During my preparation I had followed tutorials on the subject, and I had the impression that I had well improved my skills. After my first phase of IT specification, I decided to learn to speak the same language as my developers to make sure that my prototypes were well understood. To do this, I really had to strengthen my coding skills, especially in HTML.

Today, even if I don’t consider coding to be a “must-have” for a UX designer, I can say that it is very important, at the very least to guide and challenge developers when they implement a design. Being able to test front-end elements live also allows you to limit or extend your creativity in the prototyping phase, in the same way as knowing the backend technical constraints.

The importance of User Research

I was already spending a lot of time following design trends before my career switch. With the switch, I thought this was even more crucial for the position. In real, on projects, I realized that it wasn’t necessarily about doing like the big players, and some use cases needed more targeted research. You must identify the top players in a market on the same line as what you are trying to build.

Regarding user tests, I know how tempting it is to skip this long phase which can take time and whose project sponsors don’t always understand the interest. I am convinced today that this stage is key for the design of services, having experienced myself how a prototype that seems perfect to us can be completely changed after testing.

Same goes for web analytics, which is key yet often pushed to the bottom of the service backlog. The UX designer’s role also includes making project teams aware of the importance of metrics to follow their product usage after implementation.

Conclusion

So we were wondering if everyone can design. I will answer that everyone can adopt the design mindset simply by being interested in the subject and applying basic guidelines that can be found on the web.

That said, can everyone be a UX designer? I think that becoming a designer is possible for anyone with a creative mindset and loves problem solving. My story proves it in a way since I am working in UX design today, even though I didn’t even know this acronym a few years ago. Nevertheless, to people thinking about transitioning into UX design, I’d like to emphasis the need for adequate training. First to convince yourself that this job is for you, and also to avoid finding yourself in trouble once you are hired.

Here are some recommendations in terms of “self-training”:

  • 🏛️ Start by going through the following resources to familiarize yourself with the basics of Design Thinking and UX concepts:
    > Introduction to Design Thinking (interaction-design.org)
    > Design principles (lawsofux.com)
    > Usability heuristics (Youtube)
    > Design patterns (interaction-design.org)
  • 📚 Explore a maximum of resources on the UX topic (blog articles, books, podcasts…). If I had to recommend only one book, it would be “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug, a book rich in practical advice and examples for beginners.
  • 💻 Try as much as possible to find concrete material to work on. You can build your portfolio by trying to go hunting for needs in your entourage, or to register for UX challenges such as those proposed by Adobe. For prototyping, Adobe offers a free version of the software Adobe XD, along with tutorials and templates in order to learn easily.
  • Stay alert when surfing the web. Try to understand why the interfaces have been designed in such a way and how you would do differently if they don’t meet your needs. Basically, think UX all the time and find yourself problems to fix!

I hope this article will be useful. If you have any similar experience or advice to share then I’d love to chat about them!

This article was originally published on the Medium blog of Societe Generale Design

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