Just over a year ago, I decided I wanted to be UX designer. It was everything I loved, problem solving with a mix of data, design and empathy. I already had over 14 years of professional experience as a Designer half of which were in Digital. I was also head of a small digital creativity department in a corporation and had built the department up over the years, so I had quite some baggage going into this journey. My personal life was pretty well packed with friends and family which limited my free time. How was I going to move into a field that I only had limited experience in.
Before I go into details about my journey, I feel I need to point out that I am known as a naturally curious and resourceful person by friends and co-workers, which has helped me to constantly evolve and develop professionally and personally, so my journey might not be the best for others.
As I’ve always done in the past, my first resource was the ever faithful Google. I began searching high and low for UX resources.
My search yielded some incredible results and some not so incredible (not all that is online is good). I found blogs, sites and archives that had pages and pages of information. At first it was quite daunting, but as soon as I began to dig in, I found that most touched on similar points. The more something was repeated, the more that would be a concept or resource I would consider as important.
I began making little sketches and notes on ideas, concepts and techniques and discussing it with colleagues as much as possible to get more points of view on the matter.
Head bustling with content and theories, I needed to discuss it with people who understood more on the matter. Professionals who could steer me in the right direction and help me to understand more difficult points.
The first thing I did was begin a search for communities online and I found a group on Facebook and a few others on LinkedIn and signed up immediately. Unfortunately these groups were very limited in communication. Sure people posted great content, but interaction was minimal.
I refound the incredible world of Twitter and began work on following everyone and anyone connected to the industry. I tried connecting/networking with local UX Designers, but didn’t receive any response. I tried connecting to some on LinkedIn as well and although they’re all a part of my network, the response had been minimal.
Desperation was kicking in and I was feeling very lost. I was seeing events happening in the UK every week, I found the event in my home town called UXLX which I had just missed and would only roll around the following year.
I don’t know about other UX practitioners, but I was anxious to talk to UX colleagues. Bounce ideas of them or even learn from their expertise.
UXDiscuss is born
In my professional career there’s one thing I’ve learnt, if it doesn’t exist, find a way to create it. I wanted to connect to fellow UXers on as personal a level as possible without being limited by region. Getting to “sit down in a room” and exchange ideas.
I sent out the challenge on Twitter with the idea that I wanted to create a way to network and discuss UX digitally and asked if anyone would like to join me on this adventure.
Almost immediately I received a PM from Rob Whiting about #ecomchat and the format they had been using to discuss e-commerce. We exchanged a few PMs about the project and Rob showed interest in joining me. Now anyone who knows Rob knows that other than being one of the organisers of NUX and very active in UX community, he is an incredible guy with a library full of useful resources and always willing to help out whenever possible.
I was thrilled, I had an incredible partner and a pretty solid concept. Rob introduced me to #Slack (Thank you Rob!) and we setup a shared Google Drive folder. We quickly developed the concept, setup the website and the twitter account. We checked with the guys at #Ecomchat that they didn’t mind us using a similar format as theirs, which they didn’t, and UXDiscuss was born.
We now had weekly discussions on UX with other professionals and Rob and I quickly got into a very cooperative system, juggling the responsibilities and tasks between each other.
In between UXDiscuss Rob and I are in constant contact exchanging ideas and opinions or anything else that we feel like we want to discuss. It’s been a great experience.
With the growth of UXDiscuss, my network grew and I’ve had the opportunity to meet some incredible UXers or people interested in UX as a compliment to their jobs. Since then Jake Rogelberg had the great idea of creating the UX Designer group on #Slack which has opened even more avenues to discuss UX and ask for feedback or give feedback.
UXLX also finally rolled around and I was able to secure a 2 day pass which included a day of workshops and a day of talks. I set out to make the most of the event and made a pact with myself that I would talk with as many people as possible. Needless to say, I did exactly that.
I spoke to the pros giving the workshops. Thanks to Abby Covert and Nicole Fenton for the incredible workshops and for being so patient with all my questions (Even during lunch break… hope I wasn’t too much of a nag). I talked to the people in my workshops groups and had the great opportunity to meet UX Podcast co-founder Per Axbom who I chatted with through the rest of the event and later his partner in crime James Royal-Lawson. I also chatted with as many of the speakers/pros as possible including Josh Seiden and Brian Thurston, who gave me great insight into Amazon and Adrian Howard who suggested I buy the User Story Mapping book.
I bought 3 books:
- How to make sense of any mess — Abby Covert (Signed copy)
- Lean UX — Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden (Signed copy)
- User Story Mapping — Jeff Patton
I also bought the TNW UX course on Udemy (5 courses at 80% discount!). I started running through the courses whenever I had a free moment… usually at about 10pm in the evening.
Ok… now what?
So now the stage was set. I had done research, built up my knowledge and built up a hefty network, but that wasn’t even close to actually doing UX. I began to feel like my head was overflowing with ideas, theories and techniques, but from my own experience I knew that putting them to practice was a completely different story, but I was decided that I wanted to do UX. (Much that follows was before the UXLX event and in the very early stages of UXDIscuss)
Goals/Problem: I was handed a project for site redesign and like many previous projects I was handed a pretty simple brief on the general goals of the project, but the rest was left to me and many assumptions were made of the best course of action. In previous projects, I would unconsciously use UX techniques, but this time I decided I needed to think more about each phase and make more calculated decisions and assumptions.
Analysis Discovery: I sat down to analyse the data Google Analytics made readily available for me, with a very specific intention, finding out what users wanted from the site in question. Quickly I began to realise that certain pages were receiving more attention than they deserved whereas very neglected pages were receiving a lot of traffic. There were varying levels of consistency through the site and after a a site audit I found many “lost” pages or outdated info. A competitor analysis showed that our competition in some areas was better than us and gave me some ideas moving forward. I questioned our customer service center about and feedback they might have received and general idea of what users might be expecting.
IA, Mockups and Design: The above research gave me a much clearer picture and much of it had to be done in my free time so as to not affect the timeframe of the project. After all, I was the one that had decided that all of this was important. I organised the data into an excel document, I put together a proposed sitemap, sketched out layout suggestions for various pages and formats and put together a high fidelity mockup of what I thought the site might look like.
Since that time, UX techniques and methodologies have become a common practice and many a briefing session for projects are now a collaborative brainstorming session. We’ve become accustomed to learning from our mistakes and understanding that we won’t always get it right. We also analyse the data a bit more to see how we can improve working projects or develop new projects.
I implemented a weekly training session for my team that is open to other departments that have no set subject matter. The sessions have included teaching techniques and methodologies, exercises on how to apply certain techniques and most recently a breakdown of existing content on one or more of our sites where we analyse the IA, language and visuals.
Our team communicates constantly via GLIP (we’re divided throughout the organisation) and collaboration with other teams has increased.
Is everything perfect? Far from it, there are still a lot of UX methodologies that I haven’t been able to implement or don’t feel I have enough experience to do well just yet. Mistakes do happen and there can still be tension with other departments or colleagues. We don’t always get to implement what we believe are the best options because of time and technical constraints, company policies and a series of other factors.
But at least the mindset has changed and I get to practice more and more UX, which is a bonus for me.
With the internet and all the available information at our fingertips we might often feel like we can get all the information we need. When it comes to the actual practice we might feel like we need to move to another company or job just to have the opportunity to practice UX.
I believe that if you really want to practice UX, it’s something that can be done as soon as you want. Like me, you might have to create a lot of the deliverables/content in your free time in order to sell the idea initially, but when you have a valid argument for your decisions and data to back it up, even the most stubborn stakeholder will at least listen. UX is everywhere, even if you’re working at a local grocery store, there is an opportunity to experiment with UX techniques. Figuring how to optimise checkout lines, product placement or general customer service that gets customers coming back, all give us the opportunity to use some if not all of the common UX methodologies.
I’ve become a UX “junkie” and am constantly analysing what goes on around me, not in a nagging way, just looking and seeing how things work or people interact. I’ve also begun to take all criticism as feedback that will help me grow or evolve a project to its full potential, this has made work life a lot less stressful, so that’s a plus too.
So like me, if you feel you’ve got so much UX knowledge and need to put it into practice… do it. Understand one point though, you probably don’t know as much as you think you do and chances are you’ll be a bit all over the place initially. Learn with that experience and if possible find one or more UX pros that you can bounce your ideas off. It will help you grow in leaps and bounds.
Get UXing now! (Isn’t this is the part where I should put a link to a self-help book I hypothetically wrote? hehe )