People with Unconventional Backgrounds Can Find Success in UX
Without any formal training in user experience (UX) design, I landed a job designing a platform for a business that brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue. Following this opportunity, I was accepted into a prestigious design school. In any other industry, this would sound like a lot of good fortune, but in UX it’s the norm. Why is that?
While most people take all of the software we use today for granted, it’s important to remember that these tools have only been readily available for the past 20 years. More importantly, they’ve only started to become user-friendly in the last decade or so. This is due in large part to the rise of UX design. The recency of this practice is one of the reasons most UX designers are able to break into the industry without formal training.
However, there’s another reason UX practitioners tend to have very diverse backgrounds, and it’s hidden in the word design. As a result of the impact of graphic and industrial design, which preceded UX, we’re primed to think that UX is a highly artistic or technical endeavour. While it can be both artistic and technical at times, UX's use of software as a medium means that it evolves faster than either of its predecessors. As a result, it’s very difficult to become an expert because you’re constantly racing to learn as quickly as the industry moves — and it moves extremely fast. This might sound overwhelming, but the major upside is that there’s always an opportunity for someone to jump in. More importantly, since the industry’s always changing, it rewards people who are inherently curious about the world and bring a fresh perspective to the table.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen accountants go from bookkeeping to working in design at Google in just six months. I’ve also seen undergraduates with a graphic design degree try and fail to break into UX for years. This might sound odd but once again, in UX, it's actually pretty common. The difference between someone who breaks into the domain and someone who doesn't is effectively rooted in three things:
- A willingness to put their ego aside and respond to feedback
- An ability to communicate with creative, technical, and business people alike
- An innate curiosity about the world and an ability to translate mundane observations into actionable insights
You might be surprised by the lack of technical skills on that list, but the truth is that they aren't essential. In fact, going back to my story of how I got started in UX, I originally graduated with a degree in marketing and had taught myself Photoshop so that I could make a few logos and flyers. When a startup hired me to do data entry, my Photoshop skills were the reason I was promoted to their marketing department. However, it was the casual conversations I was having with the company’s technical leaders about ideas for the product and marketing tactics that eventually convinced the CTO to give me a shot at designing their platform.
If you’re reflecting on your own career and wondering if your experience would be relevant, I assure you it will be. It may not be apparent from your job title or your day-to-day activities, but as long as you have a passion for technology and identify with the three qualities listed above, then I assure you, you will find a career in UX.
I'm really excited to announce that I will be teaching the new Concordia Continuing Education UX program starting January 2022. You can register for it here.