Some harsh truths for UX Designers
Six things nobody warned me about working in the UX industry
I love my job. As a UX Designer, I get to help teams build wonderful digital products that have an impact on people’s lives. It’s a fun and rewarding role, so it’s no wonder the number of designers like me is set to grow by a factor of 100 over the next thirty years.
UX design is also an in-demand skill, which is bringing loads of new talent to the field.
It can be easy to get caught up in the hype around UX design. It seems too good to be true, right? However, there are downsides which I feel it’s important to talk about.
I have more than five years of experience in the field and looking back, there are some harsh truths I learned the hard way. I think it could be useful to share some with you.
These are six of the things I wish someone had told me about being a UX Designer when I first started.
It’s not all about the user
Often, someone will ask you to design something that doesn’t make sense. You may need to add in a feature that users haven’t asked for. Or maybe you’ll have to ignore a glaring usability issue to work on something else. This can be frustrating, and it’s happened to me plenty of times.
The person making decisions on what your team’s going to work on cares as much about the product as you do. But they have diplomatic decisions to make. They’re thinking about both the user needs and business needs, and sometimes these don’t match up.
And unfortunately business tends to come first. After all, profit is the lifeblood of your business. Your salary’s got to come from somewhere, right?
I’m not going to lie, it can hurt your self-esteem when this happens. It can feel like you’re the only one who cares about the user needs. But know that your work is appreciated!
The best way you can help your team when this happens is to get your head down and do the work. Being reliable is important and you shouldn’t let your personal opinions get in the way of that.
There’s no such thing as a UX process
As a designer, one of the first things you learn is the design thinking process. Which exercises you should use when, or what the final outcomes should look like. It all seems so straight-forward, to the point that UX case studies tend to look the same.
The reality is that there’s no strict rulebook for designing something. Yes, there are best practices, but it’s up to you to judge whether a task needs them or not. In my experience, to be a successful designer means you need to be adaptable, and get comfortable with doing things differently.
Likewise, the tools you use to get the job done aren’t important either. Junior designers often ask me whether they should be using Figma or XD. It doesn’t matter. You could be using Microsoft Paint and still be a great designer.
Each time you start a new job or project, it’ll be different to everything you’ve done before. You’ll have to pick up a new way of working.
Clinging onto tools and methods because they’re familiar or “the best” will get you in a lot of trouble. To be a great designer, you have to learn to be adaptable.
You’ll have to design with others
When I look at designers’ case studies, they’re almost always about new products. They start with an open green field of possibility and narrow down to a single MVP design. As the sole designer, they had total control over the process as well as the outcomes.
In reality, this almost never happens.
Teams that build products have people from many departments, and each member has their own objectives. As the designer, you’ll be juggling needs and requirements coming from each of your team mates and trying to find the balance between them all.
When you’re part of a team, someone else decides what you’ll be working on. It’s then your job to bring the team’s vision together. To do this successfully, you’ll need to let other people get involved.
After all, design is for everyone. Remember, you aren’t an artist, you’re the lightning rod that channels everyone’s chaotic ideas into a final design.
The sooner you come to terms with your role as a team player rather than a rockstar designer, the easier it’ll be for you.
Most of your work is going to be boring
Every job has boring admin, and design is no different. There’s a lot of important work you’ll need to do that has nothing to do with being creative. Things like preparing for reviews and tidying up your design system are part of your job too.
Realistically, you’ll be spending a small part of your time doing the fun stuff, and a lot of time supporting your team. But that’s what you’re there for.
You’ll pick up random skills
When you first start out, people may ask you to work on some pretty random tasks. As someone with design chops, you’ll inevitably pick up tasks that aren’t strictly UX related but need a designer’s input.
At first, I was annoyed when this happened to me. For example, I’ve been asked to make PowerPoint slides, which at the time felt patronising and a waste of my skills. Looking back now though, I’ve learned a lot of random things in my career from picking up odd jobs like this.
Being someone who can wear many hats is valuable to both you and the team you’re in. Having a wide skillset will make you a stronger designer, which will give you an advantage when it comes to applying for your next role.
You’ll need to advocate design
For those of us in the know, it’s obvious that design is important. We’ll share things amongst ourselves that prove that focusing on design is valuable and profitable. But we aren’t the ones that need convincing.
The people who make all the big decisions in your company probably won’t have the same value of design as you do. Odds are they’ll have a background in finance. This means that the way they judge if something is working is by numbers and metrics, not feelings and customer satisfaction.
Persuading non-designers that what you do is important can be difficult. You’ll need to prove that your design choices are not only making the product stronger, but that they positively affect the numbers your CEOs are looking at.
I enjoy what I do for a living. The designs I create are impactful and I make things easier for the people on my team. Just because there’s some parts of the job that have surprised and challenged me along the way, it doesn’t mean that I love my work any less.