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Design your UX roadmap before starting a UX career
10 min read
Recently I did my first UX public speaking this year. Actually, my first UX public speaking of all time. When I was invited to do the talk, I asked myself, what can I talk about UX? I'm also in the early stage of my UX journey, and there are not many advanced tips that I can share at this stage.
Then I reflected on how I pivoted my career from a multimedia designer to a UX designer in a new country without local experience. I did some research and mapped out my strategy of onboarding, and it worked. I got two permanent UX job offers and landed my job at a multinational company. I shared my approach, which I called my UX roadmap on the event, and got lots of positive feedback.
This 4-step strategy is not only working for applying for a UX role but also works for applying for any tech-related jobs. I do not guarantee you can definitely land a job if you follow these 4 steps, but if you do, you will know where you are on your journey, and it will help you to keep calm when you are not there yet. These steps are knowledge, skill, portfolio and community. I'll walk through them one by one.
Knowledge is a big word; for the context here, knowledge means the principles, structures, and other high-level understanding you need to know about the subject. For UXer, knowledge here means the knowledge structure you need to know about UX design. For example, design thinking is a big chunk to bite if you would like to start your UX career.
UX is a big umbrella that covers many subjects, methodologies, methods, and principles. I don't think I can describe all of them in a single article. A great resource to check this knowledge point is the topic index page of the Interaction Design Foundation. Interaction Design Foundation is a non-profit UX educational organization which provides the best and affordable UX online courses for everyone.
For my personal experience, you can learn the knowledge by reading books, taking courses, read articles, listen to podcasts, and watch online videos. Here are a few resources I recommend if you would like to start your UX journey. I tried all these resources I recommend, and they helped me to find the direction of my career and helped me to build my knowledge structure.
The Lean Start-Up - Eric Ries
This book does a great job of demonstrating the success of user testing and lean experiments in product design. It will help you understand how UX design can be used effectively to help identify pain points and solve problems.
Lean UX - Geoff Gothelf & Josh Seiden
Lean UX gives you a framework on how to use UX techniques in an agile workplace. It is widely noted as one of the best resources on UX and agile as a working method. I shared some of the methods I've learned from the book at my UX interview, and I literally saw the sparkle in the hiring manager's eyes.
Sprint - Jake Knapp
Sprint is written by Jake Knapp, who was at Google ventures. He shows you how they use design sprints to effectively understand problems, ideate and be ready to test. Today's workplace in terms of UX strategy is probably a combination of Lean UX and design sprints, so this book is quite vital to your UX career.
Design of Everyday Things - Don Norman
Don Norman is the grand old man in the UX field, one of the pioneers and UX leaders of all time. This book was published around 30 years ago and revealed some critical principles for product design and UX design. It might not improve your UX performance immediately, but it can shape your cognition about UX design on a fundamental level. It is a book that you must read for your long-term UX career journey.
As mentioned, I highly suggest you try the courses from the Interaction Design Foundation. If you are the Jon Snow in UX (which means you know nothing about UX), then I suggest you take these two courses:
After taking these two courses, you will build a basic understanding of UX knowledge.
The courses on Nielsen Norman Group are also the top-level courses. I didn't take their courses, but I read lots of articles on their website which are really good.
My manager took the online course of design thinking from IDEO U, which is also a great way to learn UX knowledge.
Choose your courses, invest your time smartly to find out the structure of UX. It's your first step of building your UX roadmap.
Interaction Design Foundation
podcasts and articles
Listen to podcasts is a great way to learn the knowledge; you can easily find how other designers talk things about UX in the real scenario, which is super helpful for beginners. In this part, I don't want to go deep about the specific podcasts I'm listening to yet. I will talk about them later in another post.
Reading articles is another great way to gain knowledge about UX, and there're so many great articles about UX on Medium or other blogs. This is a two-sided thing: you can learn a lot by reading articles, you might also feel lost in the ocean of information. Personally, I found the UX articles from IDF and Nielsen Norman group are the best for me to learn. I'm not a big fan of Medium, but I do enjoy reading articles reposted by other designers.
Knowledge is the theoretical part of your UX roadmap, and skill is the practical part. Skills for UXer is critical. After all, you are hired as a specialist to solve the practical problems, which means the ability to use different tools or methods to do your job is very important.
In this article Assessing Your Team's UX Skills, Jared Spool shared eight core UX skills that all UX designers need to have. The article was published in 2007, even before the iPad was launched, but I feel it's for 2020! Here are the 8 core skills below, and you can check the article link for details:
Information Architecture — Almost every design today involves organizing information, whether it's an online policies-and-procedures library, product information, or user-generated videos.
User Research — As we create designs, we need to ensure they meet the needs of the user.
Visual Design — One hallmark of good design is having a strong visual appearance.
Information Design — Presenting complex information for easy interpretation is key for a successful user interface.
Interaction Design — Modern applications have moved past filling out a one-page form and pressing the submit button.
Fast Iteration Management — Today's best organizations are constantly learning from their designs.
Copywriting — Nobody likes using a design whose on-screen text reads like a 1950's Army instruction manual.
Editing — What's not in a design is as important as what's included.
If we dig those skills deeper, we will find many of them can be divided into smaller and specific skills. Take user research for example, it contains qualitative research such as user interviews, usability testing, and quantitative research such as a survey or questionnaire. After dividing them into small and learnable pieces, we can create our plan for improving the specific skills later.
Before I start my UX journey, I did some research about how to step my foot in the field at the very beginning. Many articles and tips said one thing in common: you need a portfolio with your case studies. I had many product design examples before I move to New Zealand, but I didn't been involved as a UX design in any project yet. If you want to find a UX job, you need UX experience, but also you need UX experience to get a UX job. Sounds like a typical Catch 22 problem. How about that?
My step one is to read a lot of UX case studies. After a lot of reading, I know the basic structure of a good UX case study. At first, I was easily attracted by the visual design of a case, and then I realized a UX case study is all about defining problems and use the proper design process to solve the problem step by step. The context, story, and the logic behind your design decision is much more important than visual.
Step two, I picked a few examples from my previous projects, and start to write the case studies from a UX perspective. Those case studies were all right. I mean, for some projects, I'm really proud of the visual and interaction design, some other project got a great achievement, including Apple's App of the Year Award, but I didn't have any project been involved as a UX designer. I was the product designer, project manager for different projects, but not as a UX designer.
How can I build my portfolio with real UX experience when I'm a UX designer yet?
I asked this question to some senior designers and found my answer: I can do a personal project and involved as the UX designer. It will be my project so I can go through all the design process from idea to high fidelity design. After that, I will have a project ready to go, real experience that I would learn from the process, and a good case study.
And then it came to my step three: I started my personal project from scratch, which is critical for me to start my UX career successfully. You can read the story here: Case Study of Lonely Coffee
After creating your portfolio, make sure you walk it through with other designers, recruiters for feedback.
I set up a mobile environment for user testing while doing my project
Finally, here we are the last part, community. For some people it means networking, but I prefer to use community instead. Many designers are introvert like me, and they may prefer to stay behind computer instead of have communication with real human beings. But as a UX designer, if you are more comfortable to stay at home alone, I suggest you push yourself out of the comfort zone. Attend events, conferences, meetups or other design activities, go out to meet people, talk to your users, stakeholders and team members. It's not only good for your career but also very helpful for your people skills.
You can easily find local meetups via meetup.com. Design events are also a great way to reach out. I prefer to prepare a few questions or topics to discuss before attending so that I can interact with other people with the questions I want to know answers.
If there're not proper meetups, events, or groups that you can attend offline in your city, think about starting one, or attend online communities. And you can always reach out individual person for an informational interview to ask some questions. I asked many designers in Auckland when I decided to start my UX career, and the people I asked all give me as least half an hour to share their insights and experience with me. I really appreciate those support. And when I was asked to share some experience recently about UX, I'm happy to do that too. That's the spirit of the community.
Only one suggestion: if you would like to ask a one on one catch up with other designers, or to attend a design activity, be sure to prepare some questions you are struggling. Be honest, and get the most of that catch-up.
I shared this UX roadmap on the design talk session of a local meetup
Wow, thank you for reading this far. These four parts are related to each other, and each of them contains long-term and short term goals. When you set the goal of starting a UX career, you can create goals for each part to help you find a UX job. For me, as an immediate designer on my journey to be a senior designer, I also need to improve these parts by completing measurable and doable goals. For a long journey, nothing is more important than a roadmap, right?
I hope it helps for your UX journey. If you have any questions or comments, you can easily find me on LinkedIn