How to stand out as a future experience designer?
July 23, 2021 5:55 AM   Subscribe

This fall I'll start studying to become an experience designer (yay!), coming mostly from a web dev/e-com background. I want to better understand what companies look for in an experience designer, so I can start taking appropriate actions to improve my chances of landing a great job in the future. What are the things I can do (skills, tools, activities) in the next two years that will wow future employers and recruiters?
posted by Foci for Analysis to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is not yet a highly codified field. The best thing you can do is undertake projects - outside the classroom - that demonstrate your skills at designing experiences. Academic credentials are not yet the driver of interest in a candidate. Find some artists, a theatre company, a collective, a nonprofit to do projects with and build a personal portfolio. Use the study to inform your work, not the other way around.
posted by Miko at 7:20 PM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's not clear to me if you're going to be a party planner (experience!) or work in software user experience (UX). On the assumption it's the latter, Miko is right, prepare a portfolio.

I'd love to work with a UX designer who brings:
* Good user journey and workflow mapping -- for simplifying the path to a complete transaction with a user
* Good layout and wireframes -- for making it easy for users to complete each user journey
* Good data collection and analysis for A/B testing of variations in design -- for asking the right questions about user interactions that support making reasonable and useful, not arbitrary, changes
* Good team coaching interactions -- pitching your wireframes and guiding correct implementations of user workflows

An excellent candidate would have war stories for retrofitting these things into existing team processes and existing software or infrastructure. Like Miko says, find somewhere to do it, to which I'll add: you won't emerge fully-formed and hopefully you'll find space to grow by doing it wrong and learning from mistakes.
posted by k3ninho at 4:04 AM on July 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I guess portfolio building is key here (software UX) and similar to that of a web dev.

I am thinking that full-blown sites won't necessarily be the end results of the collaborations, that you can approach organizations to implement aspects of the UX life cycle. But then again, selling this to small orgs might be difficult when most people expect a site or app as a final product.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:01 AM on July 24, 2021

Ah - if you were talking about the software/web space that would be helpful to know. I was speaking from an architecture/design perspective.
posted by Miko at 6:37 PM on July 24, 2021

Best answer: I look for people with research experience using a variety of methods to understand users and contexts of use. Show me than you can design an experience for someone other than yourself. I also want to see that you understand when it is appropriate to use different methods. This includes both generative and evaluative methods. A lot of recent grads come without hardly any experience except projects they've tested on families and friends. Someone who can show me how they've designed for a user group very different from themselves will stand out. For example, what if you were designing a financial app for retirees, or a learning module for children, or a community engagement site for a cancer cause.

Miko is right about looking for opportunities to build a portfolio. Not just because it gives you more material to showcase what you can do for prospective employers but also because it gives you exposure to challenges and constraints that come with real client projects.
posted by amusebuche at 7:15 PM on July 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’m a UX designer - started out in web/marketing work and I’ve gradually moved over to software design. I work on SaaS systems now.

To echo folks above, I look for a good portfolio firstly. It’s best to try to work on real projects, but I don’t mind a bit of speculative design work when I’m reviewing portfolios. What I’m looking for is evidence of a structured approach to work, a good variety of different solutions and, if possible, evidence of some results from the real project side of your portfolio.

However, I also look for curiosity and attitude - there are a lot of candidates who produce the same three column rounded icon Squarespace website designs for every task, or who never try to think outside their own worldview, or consider accessibility, or do anything other than make pretty, minimalist web designs. People who are proficient with XD or Figma or the rest of the Adobe suite are very, very common. People who can actually speak to a bunch of people about what they need, filter out biases and precedent, consider multiple perspectives and technical limitations and navigate the interpersonal politics that (unfortunately) are often the deciding factor of what actually gets built and still produce high quality designs? Those people are gold dust.

And that’s before we even get into project management methodology and learning the technical underpinnings of what you’re building so you don’t give project managers and developers migraines on the regular. But that can be taught.

The best way to learn how to build websites and software is to go and actually do it - the portfolio will take care of itself if you get involved in actual projects. And the process of dealing with the actual projects above will give you a good taste for what it’s like to earn a living doing this kind of work. I’m lucky, I love it, but not everyone does when they encounter the real thing.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:02 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry about not specifying that this is about user experience design.

Appreciate the solid advice about portfolio building here. I've already gotten a couple of ideas on how to create meaningful portfolio work while learning the field.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:11 PM on July 26, 2021

Best answer: Hello, I am a UX/UI designer. The biggest thing I didn't know about UX job searching before I started is that the size and sector of the company you're applying to can make a surprisingly big difference in terms of expectations for a resume/portfolio, especially once you get past entry-level.

Smaller companies or places where the UX department is relatively small, they are usually looking more for generalists who can wear a lot of hats. I think your web dev background will make a huge difference here—to be able to do UX research tasks, design work AND front-end development is a great combo for these types of roles. If these are the types of jobs you're going for, including different types of projects and showing off a range of skills will be a good thing in your portfolio and resume, although if you have a special interest or skill set, you should definitely play it up.

Big tech companies, on the other hand, tend to have HUGE UX departments where there can be and often are UX teams for individual products who perform highly specific tasks. The big companies are nearly always looking for specialists in one facet of UX design, usually "research" and "visual design" being the two main camps, but there are more (UX writing is a growing one). If you're interested in going for these types of jobs, you'll probably want to tailor your resume and portfolio to showcase your primary skill set first and foremost and include other types of projects sparingly. The big companies are not usually looking for well-roundedness, to the point that it can actually be a strike against you in an interview if you give off the impression that you prefer variety and might not be a good fit for such a narrowly focused role.

With your web dev background, I think if you wanted to have two versions of your portfolio that you could send depending on which types of jobs you're going for, that might not be a bad thing if you want to keep your options open.

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:16 PM on July 26, 2021

Response by poster: That's such a good point, helloimjennsco! I might have to decide what area(s) I want to focus on career-wise earlier than I thought. No point doing portfolio work if it steers me in an unwanted direction.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:27 PM on July 26, 2021

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