User Experience is a relatively new field. I’d be hard pressed to find someone who grew up saying “I want to be a User Experience Designer!” Everyone has their own stories about how they first got into UX, and they’re always fascinating to hear. It seems as though most people in this field happen upon it as an evolution of another career, through a library science, psychology, design, or other UX-related degree, or out of serendipitous discovery. My story is a mix of the latter two.
I’ll tell my story as a way of helping you remember your reasons for getting into this field and why you stay in it despite its challenges.
How I discovered User Experience Design
While at Penn State, I majored in Information Sciences and Technology (IST). Notoriously difficult to define, IST is a mix of computer, behavioral, and social sciences that aims to bridge the gap between the users and creators of technology. As I went through the program I struggled to pinpoint exactly what I wanted to do with my career. I interned as a Web Developer at AccuWeather, then as a Project Manager at GE. While I knew my major prepared me to succeed in a variety of careers, I felt like I was missing something that I could feel truly passionate about. I looked into dozens of options, but nothing felt quite right.
Then, while at my internship at GE, I sat through a group of presentations where people from around the company talked about various projects that they had been working on. One person talked about how she used web analytics to understand how people were interacting with the site so that they could optimize the design to make it easier for people to use. That did it for me. Something clicked. I tuned out the rest of the presentations and frantically started writing down notes along the lines of “can I find a job that lets me see how people use a website and make it better for them?”
I had taken a usability course, but it never occurred to me that it could be the focus of a career. That night, I Googled until I finally discovered Information Architecture, and later User Experience. The more I read about it, the more I loved it, and the more I knew it was right for me. The next few months were spent trying to find a company that had entry level UX positions. This was much more difficult than I had anticipated. At my university’s career fair, I talked to a hundred companies who all looked at me with a very puzzled look on their faces and said they didn’t have anything for me.
Feeling frustrated, I went up to one last table, and asked them “This might be a long shot, but do you have any roles within your company relating to Information Architecture or Usability?” and the man at the table replied “Well actually, yes, our rotational leadership program has a track with roles in Visual Design, Information Architecture, Usability Engineering, and Interaction Design.” My jaw literally dropped. A few weeks later, I accepted the job at Vanguard the man at the table had described. My career has has focused on UX ever since.
Why I remain in the field of User Experience Design
Anyone who says that UX is easy or is just “making things pretty” has obviously never tried it. Along with the multitude of factors we have to consider in order to create an effective design, our roles often meet a level of resistance within our organizations. I’ve seen the challenges that User Experience professionals have to face in an in-house environment, as consultants, and within an agency. This field is certainly not something to get into if you’re not willing to fight battles almost every day. So what is it about User Experience Designers that keeps me in this field?
- We make people’s lives better through design: We get to do something pretty amazing. We get to look at how people behave, and create solutions that make something in their life better. As Jesse James Garrett once said, “To be able to make some small part of their experience better, and all of those little experiences add up to the sum of somebody’s life… the ability to touch people in that way is really profound.”
- We’re faced with constant challenges: Challenges don’t have to be seen as a bad thing. No two design projects are the same. There is always something new to learn, new people to design for, and new business challenges to accomodate. Doing something different almost every day makes for a very exciting career.
- We work within cross-functional teams: To succeed in UX, you need to work closely with product managers, marketers, brand managers, developers, other members of the design team, and many others. While this can be hard to manage, we learn far more from working with people from different backgrounds than we would if we only worked with the same types of people.
- We have fun: How many people get to say they spend many of their days drawing pictures, doing creative activities, and getting to design for delightful, interactive experiences?
That’s my story. How about you?
What’s your story? How did you discover UX? What inspires you to stay in this field?
If you look at some of the best, most inspirational practitioners in our field you’ll see that they think of their work, not as a job, but as a calling. They see the impact of technology on people’s lives as important. They feel that good design makes the world a better place — and that bad design can make life miserable… Find your passion, pursue it and your career will take care of itself. – David Travis