UX is having a moment these days. The term seems increasingly ubiquitous both within the tech sector and even outside of it, and more and more designers are positioning themselves as digital design evangelists.
As a discipline though, UX, or user experience design, has actually been around since the 1940s, when machines began to become more complex and just more prevalent in day-to-day life, though the term began to be associated with computers specifically in more recent years. Today, UX can mean a multitude of different things to different people, but the official definition is broad and encompasses more than just an application’s look and feel. When it comes to digital applications and websites, UX covers all aspects of a user’s interaction: the visual layout, site structure, organization of content, overall usability, accessibility and graphics - in short, everything.
It’s a multi-disciplinary field that takes into account sociological and psychological principals, cognitive science, and graphic and industrial design, and it requires a unique skill set: a highly analytical and inquiring mind, and the eye of a designer to make sure the end product provides users with a useful, intuitive and enjoyable experience that they’ll want to repeat.
This video sums it up nicely!
The outlook for careers in UX is positive, as even very staid, traditional companies seek to provide their customers with at least some requisite digital experiences, and more nimble, innovative organizations aim to differentiate their products in a crowded marketplace.
A senior UX designer working for Calgary-based startup RallyEngine, Lauren Moggach cut her teeth on the job, designing digital experiences before many companies even had dedicated UX departments and schools offered UX-specific courses. Here, she shares her thoughts on what it is, what it’s not, and what it takes to be really, really good.
It seems like UX is everywhere these days, and that a lot of designers are branding themselves UX designers. Do you think that, in some instances, there’s a misunderstanding about what UX actually is?
It’s exploded in the last 5 years. Not many people understand what it is. People think we’re making something look nice, but UX designers really don’t like being told to ‘make it pretty.’ There are so many steps we go through before thinking about colour, for example.
UX is designing a user’s whole experience of a product. One of the best and easiest examples that comes to mind of course is Apple. Your experience of an Apple product starts when you walk into an Apple store. Everything in the place has been purposefully selected with the aim of getting you to feel something very specific.
How would you describe what you do as a UX designer?
I think of it as being similar to architecture, where you’re creating the blueprint of a website - mapping it out. UX is a lot to do with strategy, research and analysis. A lot of UX teams have a 4-5 step process: research, or figuring out who your users are, and their needs, as well as your competitors; rapid prototyping, which can mean anything from sketching on stickies to going into a design software to wireframe; design; and testing, which can sometimes happen once a rough prototype has been built. It’s a process, for sure, and it’s iterative.
How did you get into the field? What was your progression like?
I studied graphic design at George Brown College’s School of Design. Years later, I worked for an agency in Toronto, Klick Health, as a senior designer, working primarily on digital projects. It was the first company I’d worked at that had a dedicated UX department. I got introduced to their processes, and worked with their UX director and team. Everything I learned, I learned on the job through collaboration.
What’s been the most exciting or complex UX project that you’ve worked on?
I worked at a company called Vintri, and worked on a product that had multiple different users at multiple different stages. Creating a useful and intuitive experience out of that was very challenging. I was the only UX person on the project, and I really had to stick up for myself and defend my work and opinion to a larger team of developers.
Do you think there’s a certain combination of personality traits that make for a great UX designer?
I think you have to be very analytical and want to explore and research. You need to be curious. To be successful at it, you have to have a strong voice and be comfortable backing up your opinion with solid facts to all your stakeholders: your clients, your team, and so on. You also have to be flexible and adaptable, because timelines and budgets shift, and tech changes. One of my favourite quotes is “digital is never done.” Things are always evolving. It’s a lot to keep up with.
What advice do you have for people interested in starting a career as a UX designer, or those looking to make a career change?
It’s a competitive field, but do it! There are a lot more colleges and universities that offer UX-specific courses these days, including courses in human psychology. But explore online courses to get a taste of things first.
Build your network. It’s all about who you know. But, also, you’re
only as good as your last job.You can know all these people,
but if you’re not producing quality work, no one will hire you.
My business has exploded over the past few years because I
put the word out to my network, and then followed up with
work that I’m proud of.
In addition to working, you’ve got your own business. How do you balance it all?
It’s really hectic, and my iCal is my best friend! Multiple to-do lists and a whiteboard at home also help. Playing sports and time spent in the mountains with friends is definitely how I find my balance. Also, having good people in my life to vent to!
What advice do you have for someone who wants to strike out on their own and set up a freelancing business? Any tips?
You do need to be careful who you trust, though. The service you’re providing is of great value. People tend to belittle creative work, and UX is still evolving as a recognized profession. Avoid doing spec work. Volunteering your skills for charity is great - but don’t get into the habit of doing work for free and devaluing your skills.
The field of tech is constantly changing, and so quickly. How do you keep up to date?
Social media is my biggest informer - especially Twitter. I follow UX leaders within the industry to see what they’re saying. Attending Meetups, keeping up with colleagues in the industry, online articles and news - these are all ways to keep up with things.
What’s been your proudest career accomplishment so far?
I redesigned the shaw.ca website homepage, and because it’s such a high-visibility page across the company, I was invited to give a talk about the project at our quarterly town hall. So getting to share the project process with 50 peers was a highlight for me. Public speaking is so nerve-wracking, but it was rewarding to get up there and do it and get such a positive response!
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