5 Lessons I Learned My First Year as a UX Designer

Alex Hughes

Our User Experience Designer Alex Hughes recently celebrated his first year at SiteCrafting. To celebrate his first year in the real word, we sat him down and made him share a few things he’s learned.

5 Lessons I Learned During My First Year as a User Experience Designer

1. No One Knows What I Do

User experience (UX) encompasses many different disciplines and fields including: Cognitive Science, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, Visual Design, Information Architecture, and Interaction Design. This leads to a tendency for people to focus on deliverables I create such as a prototype or wireframe instead of the process it takes to get there. It makes for an exciting field, but one that’s difficult to explain. In fact, I’m still not convinced my parents completely understand what I do.

But to sum it up in one sentence, I help make it easier for people to interact with technology.

2. Projects Can Be a Game of Telephone

At SiteCrafting, projects often start with UX. As a project progresses, certain aspects or reasons why you did something can get lost, or new requirements get introduced later in the process. This can turn a project into a game of telephone. The original recommendations can morph into something different.

This is why communication is key. Especially when new requirements are added, or if another team member runs into an issue that we didn’t anticipate. Throughout the project, our team meets before each new step in the process to review websites. These meetings help keep everyone on the same page and I am able to make sure that UX recommendations are reflected as the project moves forward.

3. What’s a Budget?

In grad school the only constraint was time. And if you were short on time, you could always sacrifice sleep. But in an agency, there are both time and monetary budgets that you need to stay within.

I’ve found that it helps to create an overall UX strategy for each project. I identify the important aspects of the project and make sure that what I’m working on will improve the website and propel a project forward. If the budget is tight, then I go back a evaluate my own strategy and see if there’s something I can take off the table.

4. Iterations Depend on Budget

Iteration is an important process when creating wireframes or prototypes. You don’t usually come up with the perfect solution the first time. So while you may come up with a great design to begin with, there are always pieces to improve.

However, due to time and money, sometimes you just aren’t able to iterate as much as  you want too. In my experience it’s easy to iterate while a website is early in the process. But the further a project gets, the harder it can be to change.

5. Downtime

Something I didn’t anticipate was downtime between projects. While in school, I always heard that tech jobs worked people to the bone with 60 hour work weeks. I did not expect there to be times when there was no work on my plate.

I try to take advantage of these times by developing my skills on my own and reading industry news. This way I am furthering my own career and finding new ways to help projects. My favorite resource is www.nngroup.com. Jakob Nielsen is a leader in User Experience and his website has great resources and research articles.

Even with these challenges, UX design is what I truly what I enjoy and find fun, because my goal is to make experiences with technology as enjoyable as possible, even if it means making a dreaded task a little less painful.