Keeping It Real About Entering UX
Guest Post by: Chris Stair, Intern
A little over a year ago I decided that I wanted to work as a User Experience Designer. About three weeks ago I made the step from my web development being a cute thing I did on the side to a full fledged commitment when I landed this internship with Lis. The next step was of course to quit my regular job so I could work at this stuff 24/7 (accomplished today at 1:30). A lot had to happen before I got here.
Keeping it real, I’m not a genius, I didn’t even feel terribly comfortable around computers before starting on my tech sprint (they were portals through which I could stream movies). It was a roundabout journey, marked with many pitfalls and digressions. There aren’t many colleges that offer degrees in user experience, and there aren’t very many entry level positions in UX. I’m assuming it’s because of the power UX designers wield over layout and productions in the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle). So getting into UX is a little bit like getting into Mordor; you need to wade through a swamp and you meet some interesting characters along the way.
After I had concluded that I wanted to be a UX designer and nothing else, I casted about for something that I could UX design. There was nothing, so I was lucky when my mother offered to pay me a grand to split amongst my friends to redesign her site. My friends are programmers, so all the aesthetic decisions fell on me, which was both stressful and enlightening. I didn’t know anything of real value going in except that I was willing to work for every penny. In retrospect, after handing out most of the money to my friends I think I worked for around 1.50-2.00$ an hour. That willingness to just jump regardless of money has paid off tenfold.
A few months after finishing my first website I got another website job from a close friend. It’s taken me several months, but eventually I got to the point where I settled on a good CMS (WordPress) and a good hosting service (AWS) and the site is practically writing itself now that the hard parts are done. That site generated the lead for my current internship, and while I didn’t know enough to accomplish it at the beginning, I spent at least 40 hours on Lynda.com and Youtube learning everything I needed to. Knowing that it would be both longer and slower than I wanted was something that I had learned from the first website. Knowing that there was no quicker way available was another bit of Zen picked up by banging my head against the wall the first time around.
However, like I said, the internship started three weeks ago. I’ve read four books, looked at countless wireframes, brainstormed a concept into a sound information model (which I then put together in the shabbiest of fashions) and set up a contact list for my own personal professional development. I totally had a Zen moment when I realized that the user interface, site design and logo are all subordinate to the system, and that one probably doesn’t need to consider the specifics of the interface until after developing a sense of what the user will want. It stretched my mind. It’s also the kind of realization (and experience of vertigo) that I never would have gotten from reading a book.
So if the internship is so great, why isn’t everyone doing it?
Honestly, that’s a question for you, readers, that’s right, you! If you’re an expert, you probably know that you didn’t get a degree in UX in school, but you also know everything you need to know to be a successful UXer, so why not do the philanthropic thing and take on an intern? They would learn so much for every minute of attention you give to them. Lis has been showering me with support to the point where I just quit my job because I have goals in the field that I can reach with her help. It’s also the only way the field is going to grow, because it’s one of the few ways that someone from a different background can join your ranks. If you don’t have time or room for one, at least go on ohours.org and chat with a few, unless of course you want the field to stagnate, rot and die.
And for you newbies, go get an internship, go design a website, go mess with apps! I’m clearly no expert, but it worked for me. The actual nature of the project is secondary to the crowd of people you’ll find yourself with, the work is secondary to what you can learn from doing it, and convince other people you can do for them. It’s not fast, it’s not easy, but when you have the experience it doesn’t go away and people like a self made person. It doesn’t take that much time on a weekly basis, even if you’re just reading, you can pat yourself on the back for being productive and laying the foundations for a successful future. You can only hope that the professionals have actually read the paragraph above and are willing to share their process.