You don’t need to know everything about UX

“You don’t need to know everything about UX”.

I find myself saying this to other people quite often. You don’t need to be a specialist in all possible verticals within User Experience Design.

And you probably can’t.

A lot of people are starting in UX just now. The high level of attention our discipline has been getting, and the increasing awareness around the importance of designing intuitive, efficient, easy-to-use experiences, ended up bringing a wave of new professionals to UX Design in the last few years.

But UX is huge.

And it overlaps with a number of other disciplines.

The Disciplines of User Experience, by Dan Saffer

It doesn’t take long for newcomers to realize how wide User Experience Design can be, and how as UX Designers we wear many different hats within a given project. It’s quite common to see the UX Designer involved in a project from the kickoff meeting all the way through launch day — and in most cases way beyond that: tracking, improving and iterating new versions of the product after launch.

Throughout this process, there are hundreds of meetings, hallway conversations and decisions being made that will have an impact in the user’s experience — and sometimes they involve strategists, data analysts, visual designers, copywriters, brand designers, technologists. The UX Designer is usually involved in each one of these conversations, in each one of these phases, advocating for the user’s interests when the team is about to make a decision that will impact the experience. Through this process, it is important that UX professionals have enough vocabulary and technical knowledge to be able to engage in healthy discussions with other disciplines — and help shape those decisions before it is too late.

Once their first project is finished, a novice UX designer can start to feel overwhelmed with the breadth of technical knowledge needed to design and build a digital product.

But sometimes, all the exposure to other areas can lead to anxiety.

How am I supposed to learn about each one of these tangent disciplines (tech, metrics, strategy, copywriting, branding), while still performing the tasks that are expected from me as part of my UX duties (interaction design, information architecture, usability testing, etc.)?

The million-dollar advice

You don’t need to learn all of it from the start.

A lot of people get overwhelmed with the amount of information, jargon, and technical details surrounding UX. This sounds obvious, but it has to be said: choose a more specific place to start from.

Understand your natural abilities as a person, and start from there.

  • Do you enjoy talking to people and feel comfortable doing that? Start moderating user research and user testing sessions.
  • Do you prefer designing simple, innovative interactions? Start with wireframing and sketching.
  • Do you like numbers and feel comfortable speaking to that? Start getting involved more closely with analytics and metrics.
  • Do you like to write and appreciate how the choice of words can impact the user’s experience? Start partnering with a professional copywriter to learn from them.
  • Etc, etc, etc.

But make sure you choose a starting point.

Don’t force yourself to learn everything at the same time. You will end up in a loop of anxiety that will only accentuate weaknesses and knowledge gaps, not your strengths.

If you don’t have a particular preference, that’s fine too. As time goes by, you will start to familiarize yourself with the multiple disciplines within User Experience and will naturally start leaning toward one area or another. Keep an eye on that, and set yourself goals of diving into specific UX verticals one by one.

The good old “generalist vs. specialist” dilemma

  • A Generalist knows a little bit of everything. From interaction design and usability, to being able to articulate with clarity the UX strategy, to knowing how to apply design thinking methods to a project, and someone who can also plan, run, analyze and apply user research insights into the design process.
  • A Specialist might decide to dive deeper into one or two of these verticals, and learn everything they can possibly learn about that area of focus. Specialists are more common in larger companies that have a large UX team and can afford specialization.

If you’re interested in reading more about generalists vs. specialists, and its advantages and disadvantages, check out this article from UX Matters:

But even that choice between Specialist and Generalist is not something you have to make on day one.

Give yourself time.

Try different things.

You don’t need to make that decision today.

You don’t need to learn all of it now.

No one really knows everything about UX. At least not in depth.

Don’t feel guilty for what you don’t know.

Be proud of what you know.

“The person who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” — Chinese Proverb

See you in the next post.

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