People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity no matter how impressive their other talents.
Having recently conducted a search for UX candidates, I was mystified by the amount of wanna-be’s and charlatans that came calling. A steady stream of résumés poured in with claims of having “UX expertise” and “understanding of information architecture best practices,” not a single one with a portfolio to back up those claims. One of these candidates had, incredibly, even self-published a book on how to get jobs in UX. This one, unfortunately, made it through the door for an interview. Less than five minutes with this person, however, betrayed an obvious lack of skill and experience.
Where were the bright ones? Where were the ones eager to show off work they had done that proved how they could think through design problems? Where were the ones hungry to grow their careers and make a difference? Also, did these people honestly think they could pull off their charade?
It’s true that UX job boards are filled with ads full of unrealistic expectations, looking for those “unicorn” candidates with experience in research, visual design, information architecture, web development, etc. That’s not at all, however, what we presented in our ads. What we wanted to see was potential. We were looking for a combination of intelligence, experience, growth, interpersonal skills, attention to detail… These are not mythical “unicorn” skills. It’s what any hiring manager would expect in a candidate for a mid-level UX job.
Instead, the vast majority of what we got were time-wasters in search of a high-income job where they hoped to slip through, unnoticed, doing the least amount of real work possible. This is not the path for you, dear reader. You’re much, much better than that. On the contrary, your job is to make the charlatans all the more obvious. Are you able to learn from your mistakes? Are you naturally curious, with a thirst for knowledge? If so, you’re already on the path to achieving UX greatness.
This is not your typical “10 Steps to a Great UX Career,” type of article. Instead, it is a collection of principles that I’ve jotted down as my career has grown. Some of these things may be more meaningful to some due to the unique experiences that shape each person’s career, but I believe that most of them speak to a higher principle of personal and professional development. I’ve added new items to this list as the lessons have been learned. I plan to add more. I’m certainly not done learning yet, and I hope you’re not either.
- You don’t have all the answers, nor should you try to
- You belong here. You’ve got this. (an anti-imposter syndrome potion)
- Plan your career to maximize your experience
- If you’re going to spend time learning a skill that takes practice, choose one that complements the skills you already have
- If you’re comfortable, you’re probably in the wrong place
- Solving problems in a struggling company is hard, but it’s much more interesting than maintaining the status quo in a successful one
- Make time for reflection – this is where most of your answers will come from
- Don’t let others dictate your schedule. Wrestle for control whenever possible. Learn what your most productive time of the day is and protect it fiercely.
- Strive for as little reactionary work as possible
- Thinking is the hard work
- Every so often, do a deep dive on one particular interaction and examine it from as many angles as possible. Over time, you’ll develop an intuitive “vocabulary” on a wide range of design patterns.
- Make and use checklists
- Respect engineers, but don’t always believe them when they say they can’t do something
- Be bold – take risks
- If you’re going through a period of intense pain, you’re probably in the middle of learning the things that will make you great
- As soon as you become arrogant enough to think you can define how to become a great UX designer, you’ll discover a huge mistake you made that makes you look like a wanna-be charlatan.. 😉