Lessons learned as a Junior UX Designer

In my first couple of years as a UX Designer, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing people. I’ve worked in organizations large and small, old and new, and I’ve learned a lot about my responsibilities in this role.

These are some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first few years…

Understand the importance of validating your instincts.

I vividly remember the first time I learned this lesson. After landing my first design job, I was excited to get to work, and one of my first projects was well underway. Product had decided to change the scope of what would be part of our initial release, and I believed we were cutting out some key features.

I immediately went to vent to our Lead Designer about what had happened. I told him how I felt and, much to my surprise, he didn’t agree with me. Instead, he questioned my perspective.

He asked what information or data I had to inform my point of view, and I realized that I had none. My reaction was emotional, and I had not considered that there may be justified reasoning behind the Product Owner’s decision.

This moment has deeply affected the way I approach design. There is validity in a designer’s instincts, but it’s important to understand that we are here to serve user and business needs. I was uninformed, which is one of the worst positions to be in as a designer. I look back on this moment now to remind myself to learn as much as I can so I can make informed, rational decisions.

From “Talking to Humans.” Photo credit Tom Fishburne

Roll with the punches and appreciate small victories.

Sometimes, as designers, it’s important to understand that we might not always get to work on the most beautiful and usable products. We must accept that there will be situations where other departments’ priorities might supercede our own.

Being able to gather data or learn more about your users could also be considered a victory, even if you weren’t able to act on those insights. I’ve worked on projects where a solution never materialized, but the lessons I learned helped inform my other work.

So let yourself be happy when you implement small, meaningful changes! Not every project needs to be transformative, and not every design needs to be Dribbble-worthy.

Not every design needs to be Dribbble-worthy.

Embrace the cross-functional nature of user experience.

This is what truly made me fall in love with User Experience. In this role, we get to be the connective tissue between so many parts of the software development process.

I’ve been able to work with Support, Sales, Software Deployment, Product Management, Engineering, IT and Marketing in many of the organizations I’ve been a part of.

As UX professionals, we need to embrace the cross-functional nature of our role; and reach across organizations to create the best possible experience for our users. This responsibility is on our shoulders, and we need to own it.

The product team shares responsibility for the whole experience, we need to own it!

Learn from your peers in Product and Engineering.

User Experience Design is changing. We are expected to branch out into disciplines that were previously on the fringe of our responsibilities. I’ve found that I’m most valuable to my team when I work closely with Product and Engineering to understand their perspectives.

Learn about what differentiates your product from the competition. Be informed about the limitations and benefits of the technologies that your product is built on top of. Leverage this knowledge to build experiences that solve user needs and business challenges while keeping engineering limitations in mind.

I learned how to code in college. I’m not going to tell you that you have to learn to code. But, above all else, it’s important to be able to empathize with your engineers. If learning how to code will help you achieve that goal, then you may want to consider it.

I’m not going to tell you to learn to code. But it’s important to learn enough to have empathy for your engineers!

Improve your storytelling skills.

One of our responsibilities as UX Designers is learning our users’ stories and bringing them back into our organizations. We use these stories, along with quantitative data, to inform product decisions and build experiences that are useful and usable.

In my time as a Junior Designer, I had to improve my storytelling skills. Learn details about your users; what their motivations are, how they approach the task at hand, and how a problematic experience can affect them. Build empathy in your organization by telling compelling stories based on in-depth research.

Designers frequently ask, “How do I make (insert title here) care about design?”

Does this sound familiar? Want to make it happen? Then learn how to tell captivating, influential stories.

There’s plenty of stories out there. What’s the best way to tell yours?

User Experience Design is a unique discipline. Its cross-functional nature makes every project seem like a new adventure. I look forward to seeing where our discipline is headed, and what type of challenges are on the horizon.

I’m always excited to hear people’s stories from throughout their careers. Leave a comment below with a lesson you learned when you were first getting started!