I’ll be presenting “From Application To Portfolio: How To Get A Great UX Job” at the SoCal UX Camp Saturday, June 1. Heckling is welcomed and encouraged.
I’ll be the one wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts.
The address is:
Cal State Fullerton, Garden Grove Center
12901 Euclid Street
Garden Grove, CA 92840
It’s sold out, but there is a wait list.
The users want it. The numbers show it. But that feature that proved so useful, it might be get implemented in 2014 — if ever. There might be a lot of reasons: The CTO doesn’t have the right team in place or may dislike the designer that designed the feature, the CEO wants the color red, or product is going after the wrong priorities. All decisions that are at expense of the user (and long term, at the expense of company profitability).
Design in large organizations isn’t for the faint of heart.
Leisa Reichelt talks about the political or organizational struggles many designers face within their organizations in this great post:
Many times I’ve suggested a design approach only for the in house designer on the team to literally pull the design from their desk drawer or computer and to tell me how they tried to get the organisation to go this way two, three, maybe four or five years ago. They tried and tried, had no success, and filed the design away so they can get on with the work the organisation deemed acceptable or appropriate. It’s kind of depressing, and almost embarrassing when my main role is to advocate for work that was actually done years before I appeared. And sometimes it works.
Politics and egos are the main reasons that great design goes awry – either it is never presented (because presenting it is a risk to those egos and would be not wise politically), or it is presented and dismissed, or it is presented and then changed such that egos are not wounded and the politics are in tact, the design integrity is hardly a passing consideration.
“So why should I understand what a product manager does?”
It’s because 60 to 70 percent of what Interaction Designers do has a direct correlation in skill set to the Product Management job description. Outside of pricing models and a few other business methodologies, good Interaction designers can easily act as Product Managers in many environments.
Great product management and product design is the crossroads of minimizing risk and maximizing value.
With the advent of the user experience process, it can be argued that many Interaction Designers are better trained in Product Management than the Product Managers they work with. Product Managers are trained in business theory and have to learn how to build and project manage a product; Interaction Designers are trained in the process of building a product and connecting it to engagement and business value.
It has many commonalities with great user experience — we push the boundaries of great design and technology while mitigating user adoption risk. That’s why learning how to act as almost a “second Product Manager” can be impactful: your influence can go much further than just the interactions because of how much you should know about the product development process.
It’s about showing everyone that great product design isn’t about control or dictating direction, it’s about impact and process related results. It’s about a team that where everyone can be a product owner and be part of the process. It’s about changing the dialog from management to team oriented results.
We can turn conversations from the worthless “make the button blue” threads to “what you are trying to accomplish” within context of great product development. Defining that context is the best result any Interaction Designer can deliver for their organization.
Repeat after me: no service is ever free, you just aren’t paying for it.
When designing any product, the most likely goal is to make money. Some designers think user experience is some altruistic pursuit that’s funded by a magical non-profit money machine. Unless you work for a non-profit where you are trying to save the world, that’s wrong.
If you’re working for a startup with investors or a larger business that’s bringing in revenue, everything you do should lead to the almighty dollar, whether it be user acquisition, engagement, or the most direct way, a direct conversion. Designers design for goals, and what you are solving should meet the goals of the company.
Know the user journey inside and out, and figure out what you can do to get that user to convert to something tangible. Establish user goals that are directly related, and work with the product manager to make sure those goals are reflected in the product roadmap.
The last thing that an Interaction Designer should ever think is that they are the most important person in the organization.
Companies are very complex places where User Experience is but one part of the larger machine. Your wish list is prioritized with the wishes of sales (more features!), marketing (features they can talk about!), and engineering (features that don’t cause the system to crash!).
Pick your battles and ask yourself the following questions when pushing any feature:
If you take an iterative approach to design, you can learn more with smaller steps than with giant leaps. Remember that every minute you spend on a feature it’s costing the company money. If you ask developers to build it, it costs that multiplied by the number of developers on it. If it’s a feature that is half baked, you’ve wasted precious time and money.
In other words, pick your battles wisely.
Interaction Designers should never end their thought process at how the user uses the application.
What User Experience designers should be doing is talking to almost everyone in the company and figure out how the complete service works, from customer service to accounting to engineering. The best opportunities are usually outside of your job description.
The best example is customer service: representatives on the front lines are some of your best allies. Ask them questions over lunch or a couple of drinks, and learn their jobs. Sooner or later, you can propose solutions that make their lives easier.
Many times, those solutions are what I call “two-fers:” you can solve two pain points at the same time.
At one job examined at the customer service process and figured out low-cost ways to improve the process by including more help text before customers asked questions. Emails dropped 25 percent over a month, and revenue went up. It the end, we had happier customers and cut overtime to zero by providing better solutions.
The best thing about the three legged stool of Product Management, User Experience and Engineering is the healthy conflict it generates.
Conflict generates passion, viewpoints, and eventually results in better solutions if handled right. You can turn that conflict into an advantage and control the conversation. Here’s how:
Have a beer with the engineers to understand their pain points. Ask them questions about implementation, and think about solutions. Have a beer with the Product Managers and ask what they are trying to get accomplished. Ask them questions, and learn their pain points.
Then you can be white knight that rides in and saves the day because you can propose the solution that meets both the goals of product (profitability and engagement) and engineering (stability and less complexity). You can facilitate and negotiate. This process builds trust not only in the UX process, but the product management process as a whole.
Product development can be the Tower of Babel, but great designers can be the Babelfish of any organization.
Every once in a while, I slip into UX Speak, which is code for using jargon thrown around at clients for processes and terms that we purposely make hard to understand. Ethnographic research? That’s studying users in their environment. User Journey? That’s that pesky user lifecycle thing. Wireframes? Personas? Use Cases? It goes on and on.
We should be speaking in the languages of the people we are working with. Engineers want to hear engineering terms. Product Managers want business terms. Everyone wants a common language to speak about the common goal.
We should define that common language for them.
Set the common thread of communication by describing the business in language everyone can understand, and evangelize that in every corner of the organization. Gently correct users during the product definition process, and you’ll be amazed how quickly context will be understood.
Great product leaders create one path that everyone can follow, and that’s as simple as defining where the path starts.
Ownership means that you care.
The biggest difference between being an Interaction Designer and a Product Manager is exactly this: Product Managers are product owners — they are where the buck stops, and are ultimately held accountable for every decision.
They are also responsible for being a leader, and getting buy in from the organization. If they can’t build support with soft skills, no amount of mandates from the CEO will save the product. Everyone from the programmers down to the customer support will ignore the product manager (I’ve seen it, and it’s ugly).
If you show ownership in your work, you’ll fight for what you think is right, and will put your job on the line if you think a way of think. It means taking chances, not playing it safe. It means making decisions that you own, right or wrong. It means taking responsibility for all calls, good and bad.
Great Designers and Product Managers get people excited about creating great products without the need of a title, and should be able to explain holistically how the decisions made contribute to the long term success of the product.
That may mean making decisions that may seem counter intuitive in the short run, but if they can describe their vision, that all important buy in can be an important asset in product success. Evangelism in any field is a great skill to have, and if you can cover more than just the UX role, that makes any team an unstoppable force.
One request I made when I started the new job was to include Product Design in the title, because I believe a) you can’t expressly design User Experience, and b) User Experience is everyone’s responsibility.
There’s another divergence in UX: in-house versus agency. The goal may be the same (usable product or website), but how you get there varies mainly because how you have to communicate product design. I’ve worked on both sides, and my approach to how I get things done is very, very different.
In the agency world, wireframes are deliverables. In the product world, they’re wasted time and money if you can communicate your ideas quicker using a whiteboard, prototype or anything else.
Increasingly the best designers of our time are not working for agencies, but for in-house teams at startups and tech companies. I think this is an important shift, not just for where the work is done, but how the work is done.
Looking back at the ideas espoused by the UX community, I find their relevance to my work winnowing by the year. Many of the practices seem forged in the fires of consultancy. Advocacy is a repeat theme in UX writing, but is borderline irrelevant when working for a product- and design-centric organization. Similarly, when you have internal stakeholders who understand the design process, you don’t need to worry about constantly building consensus. Deliverables like lengthy specs, comprehensive wireframes, and pixel-perfect PSDs are all artifacts from a time when risk-averse clients needed to enforce progress and limit variability. Inside of a product company, these efforts waste time, create politics, and mask responsibility.
Cathy Wang (@cathycracks) is a designer that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting virtually (hard to pin her down — she’s from Vancouver, lives in Milan, travels a whole lot). She works in the field of Service Design in the real world. As UX Designers, we should pay attention, because this is something that can greatly expand your influence. Read on.
Have you tried explaining to people what you do as a User Experience Designer?
Now try to imagine what you would have to say if you were a Service Designer. People have often asked me what I mean when I say “I design services.”
If you are in an agency or consultancy environment, you might categorise service design as part of user experience and/or experience strategy. If you come from a product environment, service design might vibrate more to what you consider as product management and business design.
In a nut shell, service design is delivering a designed experience onto different levels of actors with a more holistic approach in mind. Let me elaborate on that.
Design for touchpoints, not just people.
Service design is about designing for the intangible and connected touchpoints between all the involving actors and factors. Each one of these actors and factors is considered a service touchpoint.
Services are made by people, delivered by people, served to people.
An actor can range from who enables the service, to the person whom the service is delivered to. When designing a service, you need to consider more than just the end-users:
The customer service person in a store or on the other end of the phone line is an actor in the service ecosystem. It is part of customer experience; when designing a service, we should be looking at how this person provides the service. Designing a good service should give the same emotional delight for the receiver as well as the person giving the service.
Hey, giving should feel as good as receiving right?
When designing an interface or software, requirements and specifications come from the technical restriction and feature sets. When designing a service, the requirements often follow the use case flows with forks formed by different actors and overall organisational structure.
The factors build up the components of the service. Designing a service means everything in the service cycle is taken into account. We are designing more than the normal technology interfaces that we encounter. There are business processes, organizational process, physical interaction and sometimes even marketing strategies to be taken into account.
When you call your telecom provider to get support. Many components of the service come together to successfully enable the service provided to you. The backend system, the auto authentication system, the call assignment system etc. It’s important to design overlooking all the involving systems as a whole even when you are just designing one of the systems.
Yes and No.
As a UX designer, you are probably asking yourself: Why am I not doing that?
As a product manager, you might be asking yourself: I thought I do all this all day already.
The real question to ask might be: How can I integrate this into my work more?
We are creating more businesses opportunities
Being a UX designer, your passionate designer heart might say: “I want to make the world a better place one web page at a time.” But really, the ultimate goal in our business-oriented world, is to create more business (in most situations). Added values like enhanced user experience and easier processes basically contribute to more business, either in the short run or the long run. (If you are the lucky few that gets to design only for wellness, kudos.)
Designers, it’s ok to be business oriented. It pays the bills at the end of the day.
Don’t look at a business as just one rigid structure with a one-dimensional lens. The revenue of the business and the core business offerings might be more than what meets the eye. Ask these questions:
Study the full service journey, from the organisational structure to user journeys. Know all the points where the service reach. Be open to alternatives, it doesn’t have to be a solution that relies only on design. (or even design services that your agency don’t normally do.)
We are always on the same team. Product managers are not your enemies. Don’t put the invisible “evil client” hat on your client. You are designing a design solution that’s fitted to your client. We, as designers, design for people. Clients are people too.
Approaching the client knowing that you are on the same team. You are a consultant that is dropped into someone else’s product/service cycle to help them achieve something. Do your job. Help them achieve what they can’t achieve in-house. (This of course applies to consultancy designers.) Don’t just design the window frame, open a new door for them.
There are many gaps that companies need help on but don’t know where to look. (In agency talk: there is a pile of money left on the floor that no one is picking up.)
When I was asked “What kind of agency do you want to work in?” I answered: “I want to work at a place that aims to take away a big chunk of Accenture’s business in the next 5 years.” I am not saying that UX designers should become consultant alligators. (big mouth, big teeth, short arms). The convergence of strategy and design is the way the industry is heading. Design thinking is applied in all spectra of industries and job functions. UX designers need to step up to fill the gap.
But really, the true reason behind doing so is to better help solve the problems. As designers, we solve problems. Now we just need to step up and look at a bigger realm.
None of my experiences appear officially on my LinkedIn profile or my resume, because what I do is much more than what I do professionally. But each helps me in the day job more than I could ever admit, because while it’s not relevant to design, it is to the process to creating amazing things and seeing the big picture.
I don’t tell many of my friends about some of them, because it seems overwhelming and I’m a fairly private person, but when I meet other people that have also taken unorthodox paths in life, there’s a certain kinship that is wonderful.
Each experience brought me something different and varied, and each had it’s own unforgetable moments: from a shake machine catching on fire, to photos that seem to capture something other than reality, to driving down the Harbor Freeway and seeing the rightful anger of 1,000 neighborhoods glow in the night.
Each I’ve took pride in and I’ve grown from.
Each has helped me learn from my mistakes.
Each has helped me leave a legacy at places I go, friends I meet, and places I have worked.
Now’s the time many designers are graduating from college. That’s great — we need more designers in the field — but it’s really, really hard to break into.
I’ve written about this a lot (read my Career Guide, I have about 40,000 words there about this and probably should publish a book), but I still get the occasional email asking me questions about how the process works, where to download a resume template, and if we actually get to do the complete UX process (The answer: “No, we don’t, especially in startups.”).
So, before you email me and I make fun of you over the phone or Skype, here’s a few questions you should ask before you hit the send button.
Yes, awesome. You have something to show on your first interviews!
If you haven’t, you’re already a year behind of most your classmates. Some have been working on startup ideas or coming up with neat little websites that do things.
Many students spend time during their Bachelors and Masters programs working as interns to learn the craft of interaction design. They might have been working on something during school (the best idea is to turn a school project into a potential startup).
Remember, the job search isn’t fair. If you don’t put the effort in moving ahead of your classmates, your path deserves to be much, much harder. You have to make your own luck, and that’s through hard work.
That’s where you put all those projects you did at your internship. When you see how thin the portfolio is, you’ll be motivated to do more work.
The portfolio shouldn’t be cute or show too much of your personality (they aren’t hiring you for your like of cute flowers). What it should show is your line of thinking, soup to nuts in a project so they know how you think.
Behance is good enough for most people (Every time I talk about this, I bring up LaiYee Lori’s portfolio, because it’s amazing), and most of us just want the design to be clean.
Do you know how to do front end coding, can design simple graphics in Photoshop, or know your way around Visio? Those are the kind of questions that you’ll be asked at any interview or first job interview.
We honestly don’t care about the super cool science project you did; we want to know how you built it so if there’s something than you can do we can’t.
Most of older designers will be looking for interns that know how to code up a page because a) we hate doing it, and b) some of us don’t have that in our skillset. Frankly, there’s a serious shortage of front end developers right now, so if you can pick up that skillset before you graduate, you’ll have an advantage over every single designer you are up against. You have a whole summer to learn it!
I will gladly give that work to them because they can build interactive prototypes that are perfect for doing usability testing.
And, if you’re smart enough, you’ll get to do the testing too.
I did mention both of these are perfect to put in your portfolio, right?
If you’re applying directly through them, it gives you about .41 percent chance of getting the job. That’s right around a 1 in 260 chance.
You’re better off buying lottery tickets or responding to one of those Nigerian scams.
All that work you do to pretty up your resume may not work — some applicant tracking systems present only a text only version of the resume on the first display (they have to download it to see the real deal). This is the first impression the recruiter gets. It may work for smaller startups because they usually accept resumes through email.
The better thing? Stalk people on Twitter or at events and become a personal referral.
I encourage you to find companies on LinkedIn that you want to work at, find out who works there, and find them on Twitter. Or even better, go to a something like Jobvite’s job board, where you can see the connections you may have at the company. Invite them out for a coffee.
Being a personal referral works: Those people that apply for jobs through personal connections or recruiters have a 10 percent chance (or better) of getting hired.
You probably aren’t going to be hired into an organization and get to develop Facebook Home. you’ll be a wireframe monkey or doing research that may (or may not be) used. Don’t expect to get something at Twitter. You can apply, but don’t bet on it.
The employers have the upper hand, and once you realize that life becomes much easier. The competition for those jobs is intense, and best if you actually know somewhere there.
Even better, look at companies that are boring, and see if they are interested in internships. Reach out to companies without a program. They might create one for you. Go to any meetups for these companies (and ironically, not the UX ones) to talk to recruiters and hiring managers.
If you’re lucky, the work might be interesting, but the reason you intern is that you gain valuable connections in your profession and learn who the process is different than the ideal they teach in school.
Don’t be. Don’t give up. You have an amazing path ahead of you: read Christina Wodtke’s post for more education of how you should craft your career.
User Experience is a meritocracy — we want to see what you can do. Find the right place, and you’ll do amazing things.
Twitter is a great resource for User Experience information and engagement with professionals in our field. I also think it’s invaluable as a professional branding tool. One of the groups that has embraced this most are user experience professionals.
I have a list of people that I respect and follow to retweet their content. The list I have is literally called Stuff I Follow. It’s not all UX types — some of them are personal friends — but it helps me keep up to date on what’s going on.
Yes, I play favorites. Yes, this may promote people I like. But it’s my list.
Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:
Shape your user experience career. Please read this before asking for career advice.