Learning how to become a UX designer and finding a role in the field is not as clear cut as you might think. Unlike the title ‘Junior Web Developer,’ a job advertisement for a ‘UX designer’ can have a number of interpretations and connotations, with different companies expecting dramatically different things. When you’re thinking about a career in UX design it can be extremely confusing to understand exactly what you’re getting yourself into, since often what companies are advertising for is not actually what they need or want.
User Experience design is still a relatively new field, with slightly varying definitions of UX floating around all over the place. The official definition of User Experience (UX), is:
“A person's perceptions and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service” (ISO 9241-210:2010, subsection 2.15). When sifting through job advertisements for UX designers, it’s important to read the small print. Due to the ambiguity that still surrounds the term, recruiters are not always well-informed about what a UX designer is, or what they actually do.
This is not the only problem. Many employers and managers feel like they need to have a UX designer on their team even if they are not entirely sure what having one on board will achieve. This is because ‘UX design’ has become such a buzzword in recent years. If you are the first UX designer at a company you might find that part of your job is simply explaining what your purpose is and why it’s so important that you’re there. Defining your role early on will make carving out your process later a lot easier than if you expect everyone to know exactly what you do (and, more importantly, why you do it) from the start.
Irrespective of the company that you end up working for, the role of the UX designer will be involved in (or managing) the process to make a product, service or website Useable, Useful and Delightful to a defined targeted user group. That process will involve User Research, Design, Testing and Implementation.
Depending on the needs of the company, your role could involve strategizing and implementing that process from beginning to end, overseeing the whole process as a team executes, or simply undertaking and owning one part of that process.
If you are working for a larger company you might be one of many user researchers, or part of the team that conducts testing. If this is the case then your role should really be advertised as such, though in many cases it won’t be. If the role is more senior you might be overseeing all of these teams with an eye on the end goal.
At a startup, you are likely to be more hands-on, which is a great way to build up your experience, make mistakes and learn fast. Unlike at a big corporation you probably won’t have a team to work with, due to lower budgets and limited resources, so you will find that you are not only in charge of strategizing your process within the larger team, but also executing each part of it, from User Research through to Design, Testing and then working with the web development team on Implementation. This can be a huge responsibility for a single UX designer, but an incredibly rewarding one when the results impact the success of the product and help the user reach their goals.
When looking at advertisements for UX positions, make sure you read the details to see that it’s a good fit to what you enjoy doing most as a UX designer. If you are someone who wants to be heavily involved in every aspect of the UX process, then a startup could be a good fit, but remember at a startup you will be shouldering the responsibility for each mistake you make and learning from scratch. If you are someone who particularly enjoys one aspect of UX design then a job at a larger company in a particular team, for example the research team, would be more suitable. You’ll also likely be in a more UX-supported environment if that team is already established. If you enjoy managing teams and looking at the whole process from end-to-end, but without being too hands-on, a more senior role in a UX team at a larger corporation could be a better match for your UX skillset.