There are many resources available for beginner UX designers to learn about the field on their own. In particular, Whitney Hess’ blog post series “So you wanna be a User Experience Designer” (part 1) (part 2) outlines a fantastic list of books, blogs, events, organizations, lists, workshops, conferences, and education references that can help those new to the field learn the ropes.
While being a self-starter and educating yourself is a huge step in the right direction, beginner UX Designers need support from their organizations in order to be most successful. There are several steps organizations can take to guide and encourage those new to the field.
Consider a rotational program
Since UX is such an interdisciplinary field, and encompasses many sub-disciplines, it is important for beginners in the field to get hands-on experience in more than one role. The best way to understand the elements of User Experience is to experience them first-hand, and the greater the immersion, the better. Rotations can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to closer to 6-8 months. Shorter rotations allow for a broader but shallower range of experiences, while longer rotations allow for deeper skill development while still gaining exposure to multiple roles. When I first entered this field, I was extremely lucky to be placed into a 2 year rotational program at Vanguard where I was able to experience three different UX roles across the organization (if you’re looking for information on this program, sadly, it no longer exists). I can personally vouch for the incredible value this type of program provides.
Encourage cross-disciplinary experience
If formal rotations aren’t an option, at least allow newcomers to the job to have hands-on experience in Information Architecture, Usability, Interaction Design, Visual Design, Content Strategy, and overall Design Strategy. Additionally, exposure to related fields such as Analytics can be very valuable in helping to gain an understanding of elements that feed into the design process. This not only helps develop a broad range of UX skills, but it also helps new UX practitioners to discover their primary interests and talents so that they can specialize in one or multiple disciplines. This ultimately results in happier and more effective employees.
As with most fields, UX mentoring can be a very valuable experience. Mentors can provide newcomers with career guidance, direction in how to approach projects or other work-related issues, and give feedback that can help skill development. It often helps to pair newcomers with more experienced practitioners to help newcomers understand how to best approach problems and work towards solutions. More formal mentoring outside of project work can help guide a new practioner’s career and help point them towards resources to help develop their skills. Also, consider enrolling employees in organizations such as the IAI that provide mentoring programs that pair experienced practitioners with newcomers to the field.
Emphasize early user research observation
Nothing helps develop user-centric thinking more than watching users talk about and interact with your product. Whenever possible, allow newcomers to observe as many usability tests as possible and/or sit in on other user research studies such as interviews, field studies, and contextual inquiries. Not only does this help develop skills on how to best conduct and observe user research studies, but it also helps new practitioners develop empathy and understanding of the specific issues relevant to your users, which will be critical to their success in designing user experiences.
Set up informational sessions with other roles
Informational sessions with other areas of the organization can help new practitioners to understand how UX ties into the other roles such as marketing, branding, business management, project management, development, other design teams, etc. These sessions can reveal how other areas currently perceive UX, how they influence or are driven by UX, and where opportunities exist to improve collaboration across the organization. Early interaction with groups across the organization can encourage UX practitioners to involve other roles within the design process and reduce UX-centric tunnel-vision.
Expose practitioners to a wide variety of projects with different business and user needs
Try not to put a beginner UX designer in a single long term project engagement that is isolated in scope and focus. How one approaches a UX project will vary depending on business requirements, target audience, timeline, and how much is unknown before the start of a project. It’s helpful for UX practitioners to gain exposure to a variety of circumstances early in their career so that they do not develop a single approach to problem solving.
Send new UX practitioners to conferences
Conferences allow newcomers to the field to not only learn about a wide variety of topics relating to UX, but also to interact with others from the field and learn from their personal experiences. Conferences are one of the best ways for those new to UX to learn both the breadth and depth of UX techniques, processes, applications, and principles by discussing them with a wide range of practitioners. Workshops at many conferences allow for idea exploration and skill development often not available within organizational training.
Reward engagement in the UX community
Encourage newcomers to interact with other UX practitioners on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or other online UX communities such as the IxDA Discussion Boards or IAI Members List to network with those in the field and learn from others’ experiences. Consider rewarding, either informally or formally, engagement in these communities to further encourage UX practitioners to expand their UX involvement outside of your organization. This type of engagement has several benefits for your organization. It provides visibility of your organization to the UX community, helping your organization solidify its place for UX thought leadership (attracting both prospective clients and employees). It also helps give UX practitioners exposure to a wide range of perspectives and experiences that others have had in solving user experience problems, furthering their ability to solve problems within your own organization.