September 2021
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So, it is 2016 and my manager took the gamble and gave me the cherished role of “User Experience Designer”. I had already started reading up online about User Experience Design career.

Now, searching and learning about UX Design career is like “looking for disease based on symptoms on WebMD”… the magnitude of skills and tools to learn can really drown you in worry. (at least it did for me!) .. I had started to doubt my decision for a while. Have I made the right choice here??

You have to do the User research, create Flow Diagrams and many other artifacts before you come to the actual fancy part of UX design.. the mockups.

The mockups are the point where I felt most under-skilled and overwhelmed. There are so many things to know and look out for — colors, fonts, screen sizes, etc. (Also, checking out Dribbble did not help.. at least at that stage).

But, I luckily I got a great guide to help me wade through this torrent of information. She was awesome at her work and best part understood my dilemma of “non-academically trained designer”. I learnt 2 key things here –

  • Not “everyone” has to do “everything” perfectly from the get-go. Make mistakes and learn from it.
  • You can learn and work on one dimension of UX design at a time and over time, start to understand your skill and deepen expertise on it (also, it does not have to be 1 skill too!). You create your own learning path!

Choosing my starting point

So, I decided to start my journey focusing on Requirement gathering and UX Research first and not focus on “Visual Design and UI” at the start . These aspects I was comfortable with, as it allowed me to bring my prior work skills in play. On the side, I started to learn more about Information Architecture and Wireframing.

I have to say it was the best decision at that time, as it helped me to start contributing to the team quicker and focus on my strengths.

I learnt a lot regarding conducting user interviews, where it is critical to remove any bias from your end and create probing questions. Also, on the side note, it led to increase in my typing speed, as I had to take user inputs as verbatim. This is useful in reducing risk of self-interpretation of user thoughts.

For IA standpoint, I took up a lot of reading. I loved IA more-and-more by the day, as there are so many things done here in this dimension, which are not as visible as mock-ups, but, quite a lot more critical than just the mock-ups.

Learning “how to mock-up”

One of the best piece of advice I got for rough mockups was “try to do it with pen.. not a pencil”.

As I was starting out, I realized I kept mulling over the same design idea for ages. At early stage in design, the point is to bring out as many ideas as possible. If you do it with a pencil, you keep scrubbing out elements you feel not necessary in after-thought and might lose out on interesting design direction. Hence, the pen pushes to create the version 2..3.. and onwards.

On the technical side, my first wireframe was made on Microsoft Powerpoint. Like any other new guy on the job, I tried to push and add stuff to it. I added colors… used 2 fonts… overloaded data points (it was a profile screen). Later, I learnt how each of these aspect can bias a user / stakeholder and there are different fidelity levels to wireframing.

Over time, I started to get better at it and then I moved to my first actual Design tool — Sketch. I loved it from the get-go and also was relieved. I had found learning curve for Photoshop and Illustrator was quite steep or long. So, for a UX designer, Sketch was easy tool to start, for beginners too, to build UI mockups.

This was the moment when I felt that I am going in the right direction and I can make it. But, more trials were to follow soon…

Next: Being the “User Experience Team of One”

Let me know how you structured your UX career / learning path and finding guides to help you!

(Image Credit: Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash)

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