How to be a UX Expert

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I recently moved from London, UK to New Zealand to continue my career as a UX Designer. I was lucky to land a role working for a well-regarded digital agency, NV Interactive. Unfortunately, I started to feel a bit like a fraud.

 

I’d spent the last six years working on in-house products for a company in London where I felt really safe and knew everyone. Now suddenly I was being thrown in the deep end working alongside much more experienced designers and digital strategists. Everyone seemed to produce higher-quality deliverables and be able to express themselves much more eloquently. I began to doubt my own ability, feeling afraid to voice my opinion and wondering if I was actually as good as I had thought I was.

Luckily I made time to do some musing and realised it was probably due to a condition called imposter syndrome. It is especially common in females where they don’t feel like they are good enough for their job. Never one to turn down a challenge, I decided to research how I could really make an impact in the workplace and become known as a UX leader. These are some of my findings combined with other bits of wisdom that I have picked up along the way…

First I looked at the future of UX and what skills and experience are required by employers. A lot of articles mention the ‘The Unicorn’, someone who is a UX Architect, a front end developer, and a graphic artist. This is obviously a lot for anyone to take on particularly considering the role of a UXer tends to include elements of testing, business analysis, project management, psychology and research as well.

What’s more, many articles point to how UX is evolving into product management as the UX expert is the natural gatekeeper for the product. This led me to conclude that the title ‘UX Designer, Jack of All Trades, Master of Some’ is more apt.

So bearing in mind the versatility needed in the role, here are my top ten tips on how to become an all-round UX expert:

1. Seek out mentors and people who inspire you

Seek out people you admire and use them to bounce ideas off. These don’t necessary have to be people you see on a regular basis or even people in the same industry as you. I have lots of positive influences ranging from Jo Harley, MD of London-based Employee Engagement Experts Purple Cubed to my first UX mentor Sophie Lephinoy and to my colleague Jade Doel who is an incredibly talented designer.

2. Play to your strengths

As discussed earlier companies expect a lot from designers nowadays and it is impossible to be great at everything. Try conducting a personal SWOT analysis so you can work out your strengths and play to them. This will also enable you to brush up on areas you’re not as good at, e.g. I know I’ll never be as naturally good at design as Jade is but I am great at researching and writing.

Personal SWOT Analysis

Key to completing your SWOT analysis is to treat your career as a business and yourself as a competitive product.

3. Look for opportunities

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcom Gladwell discusses the importance of being in the right place at the right time. An example he gives is Bill Gates and how he would not have started Microsoft if he had hadn’t have been born in 1955 as the technical advances would not have been in place yet.

Although luck is part of this, it is important to actively seek for new opportunities even if it is just offering to help another department with something you know you are good at or writing a guest blog for a company you’d like to work for. Reading and keeping up-to-date with what is going on in the technology world is also critical.

4. Get the soft skills right

As a UX designer it is essential to have a rapport with all types of stakeholders and be able to stand out from the crowd at job interviews and in the office. Read up on these and try some role-playing with friends and colleagues (e.g. how to avoid conflict and negotiate). Work on those soft skills.

Soft skills for a UX expert

5. ‘Fake it until you make it’ as UX expert

This was drilled into me whilst at university by my then mentor, the formidable author Jane Sunley. Confidence and looking the part are key whether online or in person so make sure you are sharply dressed and posts, comments, etc. on social media channels are word perfect.

The saying ‘practise makes perfect’ is very astute. Read up and become an expert in whatever areas of UX you’re not sure about- if, like me, you struggle with public speaking then join Toastmasters. And remember, stay calm- what is the worst that is going to happen?

6. Have a sound business case for every decision

This is something I learnt early on when I was working in technical support. The number three has long been used by marketers to help improve communication. It is very useful to start thinking about three reasons why you did something before every big decision made both to inform communication with stakeholders and also to justify to yourself that you have made the right decision.

7. ‘Know your tool’

A top tip from Sarah Doody, the most inspirational UX blogger out there. I really struggled with a lot of the tools I now use when I started using them. ‘I’m a people person,’ I thought, ‘I don’t want to be sat for hours doing wireframes’. The good news is that all programs in the UX Designer toolkit from Axure to Photoshop to Omnigraffle get easier quickly.

The first couple of weeks tend to be horrendous and they you are sailing- just put those hours in at the start as it will massively help you when trying to express your designs and also make you look like the UX expert to your colleagues. And if it really isn’t for you, what else can you use? Find a great alternative and then use a business case to persuade your boss to let you use that instead.

8. Don’t just do endless wireframes

The French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu once proclaimed a restaurant is like a theatre; a chance for the employees to put on a show to delight customers. A website can be thought of like that too. The main purpose of UX is to build online experiences which engage and retain users. In order for that to happen speaking to people and researching are critical rather than being in a vacuum making 100s of wireframes.

9. Communication and feedback

Aim to get on well with everyone and don’t take anything personally- it is business. Very few people are nasty- it is about finding out what makes them tick so you can build a rapport. Two great books I’ve read on this are “Office Politics” by Oliver James (an old boss lent me a copy after I was struggling to give feedback constructively!) and “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.

Both give advice on how to communicate authentically. One of the benefits of getting on well with people is that there will plenty of people to ask for help and advice when usability testing.

10. Look after yourself

This sounds obvious but it is very easy to forget to look after yourself when busy or stressed. When I was living in London, I worked from home a lot and didn’t get enough exercise. I was also staying up late and drinking too much before eating lots of fattening food to cure my hangovers. This meant I was always drinking lots of caffeine to get through the day.

On moving to New Zealand, I’ve made some small changes to my lifestyle and have much more energy because of it. I now walk to and from work every day which is about an hour’s walking a day in total and is a great way of clearing my head. I also have reduced my drinking to three days a week and have replaced a lot of processed food I ate with healthier, natural options. These changes have given me a new-found motivation for life and heightened my desire to succeed.

I hope you enjoyed reading my tips. I suspect my journey will resonate with a lot of readers. What other tips do you have on being a UX expert?

Caroline White

Caroline is a Freelance UX Consultant living and working in Auckland, NZ. She loves reading and writing about UX, design and people.
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