Text: David Hattingh
People dig it
Before you read any further, let’s get right to it: Yes, it is absolutely worth considering a career in User Experience (UX)!
UX refers to the overall experience that an individual has when using a particular product, system or service. When considering things from a UX perspective, it is important to ask specific questions like: does the experience come naturally, is it intuitive, and most importantly, is it easy to use? This information is useful when designing websites, apps, and pretty much any piece of technology that will be used regularly. The main purpose of UX is to design with the end-user (consumer) in mind and to ensure that using the product is as easy and enjoyable as possible.
In 2014, the Nielsen Norman Group conducted a research study that asked UX professionals how they experienced their field of work. After evaluating their level of job fulfilment, the respondents scored it a 5.4 on a scale of 1 – 7. Of the total number of respondents surveyed, 17% gave a score of 7 out of 7, while only 1% gave a 1 out of 7 – a clear indication that the majority of UX professionals feel inspired and fulfilled in their jobs. The survey also indicated that while most respondents experience job satisfaction, the primary driver of dissatisfaction was that they felt they weren’t getting enough varied UX experience on a regular basis.
What should I expect?
From wireframing and prototyping, to usability testing and creating personas, there are various tasks that you could expect to do as a UX professional. Currently, the most widely recognised roles in the field include user journey research, interaction design, and information architecture (IA), with experts working across industries including IT, financial services, marketing, education, and healthcare.
Do I need a specific background?
One of the respondents in the Nielsen Norman study outlined it very eloquently: “If you are a ‘lifelong learner’, in other words, if you are paying attention, you will be able to take previous experiences and apply lessons learned from them to your new situation. That is more important to me than specific skills you might learn in school.”
A defining characteristic of the UX field is that it favours curiosity over a defined learning path. While no specific qualification will guarantee a successful UX career, a number of key subjects will see you well on your way. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Web Design
- Research Methodologies
- Computer Science
- Library Science
If you’re just starting out, a UX course such as this one offered by Red & Yellow is a great way to get a foot in the door.
“How do I get started?” you ask. A mixture of theory and practice and a willingness to learn. Reading books, blogs, and articles on UX design, IA, psychology, tech and design trends, and whatever else you can get your hands on. It is important to fill your mind with as much knowledge on topics that influence the realm of UX as you can. Consider taking short courses and if you’re a newbie:
- Practice design;
- Get an internship and;
- Find a mentor.
Apply for a job that exposes you to a variety of disciplines within the field and, if possible, start your career at a company that recognises the value of usability, management support, and has budget. As soon as you’re confident in your UX skills, you can start specialising in certain areas within the field.
If, however, you’re already employed, remember that UX professionals come from all walks of life. You can gradually work towards a position as UX specialist by simply rolling up your proverbial sleeves and doing the following:
- Run a small user test of a current project with a handful of participants;
- Redesign a particularly horrendous page of a website so that you can’t help but gain a strong ROI from higher conversion rates due to the better design, and;
- Do a mini-IA project to structure a small corner of your site in a more useful manner.
Doing small projects will give you the experience you need to take on bigger projects and will show management that they can benefit from redefining your role to specialise in UX. While starting a new field of work can be challenging, it can also be greatly rewarding.
Nielsen Norman Group: User Experience Careers, Susan Farrell and Jakob Nielsen, 2013