Getting your first job in the UX field is an accomplishment to celebrate. You have an exciting career ahead, but don’t get too comfortable - the UX world is competitive and you’ll need to work hard to differentiate yourself.
In the UX field, understanding the design process is only one small part of what makes a designer successful. For this reason, employers may be looking for the soft skills, feedback style, efficiency, and organization you bring to your team and projects to decide whether you’d be a good fit for their team.
Here are some tips to help distinguish yourself in the industry and and set your career trajectory high.
When it comes to succeeding in your first UX job, the importance of soft skills cannot be overlooked. Here are four strategies to build your value on your new team.
1. Really listen. Being a good listener sounds simple, but everyone is guilty of losing focus in a meeting from time to time. Put effort into being present and really listening, not just thinking of what you’re going to say next. This involves using active listening skills (including not interrupting), spending more time listening than talking, and writing questions down to save until the end. These steps will not only make it easier to build your products, but will create alignment and understanding with stakeholders and reduce ambiguity, which will be valuable to your team’s overall performance.
2. Ask questions. When you are new to the field, you may be nervous to ask questions and appear confused or uninformed. Instead, be vulnerable enough to get curious and fully understand the task at hand. Take your curiosity even further to discover the “why” behind a project requirement from a stakeholder in another discipline. Often the direction of a project is not set in stone, and you may be able to provide valuable feedback from a user perspective to enhance the experience. Finally, lean on experts in the field like developers and business stakeholders to inform and improve your design perspective.
Take your curiosity to the next level with these pro tips:
-Ask stakeholders to sketch the design they want to prevent misunderstandings.
-Ask stakeholders how they’d explain it to a customer to understand their needs in the simplest terms possible and reduce technical jargon.
-Maximize your time by reading meeting agendas ahead of time to prepare your questions – this will make it clear you’ve done your homework and are coming to meetings ready to really engage.
3. Build relationships. Strong relationships build empathy, respect, and make the design process smoother and more efficient. This means that if you are working for a large company with siloed departments, it may be even more important to bud relationships and connect face to face. If you are in a meeting with someone you don’t know, always introduce yourself. You never know how friendly connections may benefit you and your company down the road.
4. Trust your intuition. Make sure your design decisions solve user needs. This may conflict with stakeholder requirements, so try to align these requirements with what actual customers and consumers will need from the technology backed by research and industry trends. Get curious about what user and business needs are being solved, and try to address both.
Gathering feedback from stakeholders is a crucial part of any design process. Stakeholders not only help designers understand business goals and constraints on a project, but can clarify the broader picture beyond a focus on user needs. At the same time, designers must convey the importance of user needs in order to maximize a project’s potential. Here’s how to balance both while swaying your stakeholders to consider your designs:
1. Educate. Not all stakeholders will have a design focus, so clue them in to the importance and relevance of user needs. Problem-solve how to align these needs with a stakeholder’s design focus or story.
2. Do your homework. Get to know your stakeholders and try to anticipate their concerns and questions. Understand how your design might impact the marketing team from a revenue or key performance indicator (KPI) perspective. Describe a business metric so your stakeholders will get a better sense of what your designs are trying to achieve. Whatever you choose, making it easier for stakeholders to relate the impact of your outcomes to their domains will provide more context, streamline decision making, and will empower them to provide more feedback. And if you receive push back, get curious about the business goal they are trying to solve and how else this can align with your design.
3. Prototype your ideas. To help stakeholders better understand your concept, bring it to life through a live prototype. Have them focus on the key elements by using their phones or computers to interact with it. This way you won’t be bogged down by step-by-step questions. If stakeholders still won’t budge in their thinking, prototype their idea also. This way you can demonstrate the differences in real time (and perhaps sway them toward your design).
Sometimes the biggest challenge in design is finding time to design, so it’s important to work efficiently. Here are four tips to help you work smarter, not harder:
2. Have design kick-off meetings. This step may seem obvious, but is often overlooked in the planning process. Be sure to get stakeholders to the table early so key pieces like Application Planning Interfaces (APIs) are not overlooked. This will prevent miscommunications and missed opportunities – not to mention cut down on time spent re-designing.
3. Find a balance between design and meetings. Your time is precious, so be mindful of whether or not you need to be part of a meeting. Get curious about the goals of the meeting and why you were invited. You may be more useful in providing feedback when projects are further along. Instead, be ready to provide your expertise when it’s most needed instead of at every opportunity.
4. Learn shortcuts. Utilize tools like sketch and command shortcuts to accomplish tasks like renaming or creating art boards. This will save time and simplify your creative process.
The UX industry is constantly evolving. To stay relevant, it’s important to adapt to new technologies. Here are three tips to keep growing your skills.
1. Commit to daily learning. Spend 10-15 minutes every day learning something new related to your field. Podcasts like “99% Invisible” are great for talking through the thought process of how things are made, chrome extensions like Muzli by InVision can inspire you and provide customizable news articles, and daily newsletters from Sidebar IO can be great for UX inspiration.
2. Stay on top of design trends. Learn about new technologies and get a head start on upcoming interface changes. Try listening to the worldwide developers conference or utilize Google I/O to discover what their new operating system will be and how it may impact your designs.
3. Do things outside of design. Take a walk, snap a photo, or dance in your living room to spark inspiration. You never know when something outside of the design field will influence your work for the better.
As a designer, you will inevitably work on a multitude of teams and carry many projects at once. This means projects can be complex and involve short timelines and varying requirements to meet the multidisciplinary needs of an organization. Here are four tips to keep your projects as organized as possible.
1. Keep files and folders clean. Other designers may need to decipher your art boards and labeling or work on your projects, so stay organized to make the design hand-off easier. Create clear naming conventions that are understandable and keep layers clean. Your team will thank you.
2. Have work prepped and ready. Stakeholders in your organization may want to preview your progress on a project, so have files neat and ready to view while working.
3. Take notes. Avoid forgetting important details by taking notes in feedback sessions. Stakeholders will appreciate not having to repeat themselves, and you will not overlook important details.
4. Take photos of sketches (even the bad ones). Create a folder in your Google Drive to collect your evolving ideas. This will be helpful in tracking your design process.
I hope incorporating some of these strategies will help you stay organized, efficient, and ever-growing as a designer and a team member. Good luck in your new job!
For more tips on success in the UX field, check out the full Brownbag presentation by Melissa Kark below:
Melissa Kark is a UX Instructor at Lambda School. She has nearly a decade of experience in the marketing and UX fields, and is a freelance UX designer when she's not teaching Lambda School students how to design for global audiences. She lives in New York City. Connect with Melissa on LinkedIn.