The more experienced I get at this profession, the more I frequently end up doubting my competence avoiding thankless career paths during shower-time thoughts.
You see, this UX shit is hard. It’s not like you can follow a fast and clearly defined path that would guarantee you to learn all the right things in the right order and in the right moments.
Sometimes you are going to find out brand new mind-blowing stuff after conducting a battery of usability tests with users, and you are going to get so excited to share your discoveries with the whole UX team — only to later realize some UX guru in Medium has already written exactly about that in 2015.
Sometimes you will not have time, nor access to candidates who match the ideal user persona for your tests. And, of course, you will still see yourself pressured to convince the client about the design decisions you chose, because otherwise you won’t get approval to move forward, then the development team will soon stop working too because you’ve created a bottleneck in the project. And so on. You’ve been there.
So you will have to trust your own experience — which, in most cases, is not that vast, considering you have just recently changed to this UX field since it’s the trendiest, coolest, highest-paying job for designers in the last 10 years. You will also have to trust those usability and user interface best practice guidelines you find online, which in most cases do not consider broader contexts and target user particularities.
You will have to research numerous website references and to study carefully possible variations for the design concept you are working on. You’re the expert, afterall, so better be prepared.
But sometimes, it is not enough. The client is going to talk about that specific UI pattern he found out somewhere else, which is simpler than the final option you presented. And you KNOW IT, deep inside, he’s right.
Sometimes it’s simply not possible for the client to accept your design concept because of political issues within his organization. You can hear something along the lines of: “How come you’ve got the guts to present a design solution that would basically fire our entire sales department? That’s unreasonably disruptive. We don’t have enough power and confidence to take this to our executive board…” There’s no easy way to argue against that.
And when you finally start thinking you’re kind of becoming technically good at this UX/UI stuff — and when you think you are nailing most the UI patterns decision-making — there’s always room for the horse to abruptly stop and rear during full speed gallop, making you fall flat on your face and eat dust.
I’m going to tell you it happens quite a lot, actually, and there’s no way for you to know exactly when and how. UX Design is one of those creative fields where everyone is potentially capable of understanding, learning and having opinions about, regardless of any previous knowledge or background. Most often than we — UX designers “by profession” — would like to admit, regular people can offer cool design solutions we were too blind to see ourselves, because our vision has been overshadowed by years of experience dealing with similar problems, or simply because we didn’t know something someone else happened to know at the time.
Considering UX is a relatively new area to explore, its knowledge basis keeps evolving at a high pace, so it is difficult for classroom-attendance based and even online based UX courses to stay updated. Additionally, for those of us who lack patience, self-organization and money to take these kinds of courses, randomly reading Medium and UX Collective articles seems to be the best alternative. But the problem is, as I was saying in the beginning: there’s no clearly defined path for doing that.
Sometimes you are going to miss basic principles and feel embarrassed for realising it so late. Other times you will come across really advanced articles that you were not necessarily prepared for when you first read them. It’s like you have an open world to explore in a fantasy computer game and no main storyline or tutorials to guide you through your adventure. You may only find out how to launch a fireball, which doubles the damage done at enemies, after 80 hours of play. You may fail 80 attempts trying to beat some boss using your wooden short sword in the early game, and later on you try again using that fireball move you learned and end up defeating it with no more than 5 hits. Some people are OK with that, and some will feel overwhelmed and lost.
As UX Designers we need to be mature enough for dealing with lots of embarrassment and frustration. I think the best way to deal with that is to keep an “always positive, always learning, always improving” attitude. It’s not uncommon to have a design decision you thought was the best possible at the beginning of a project and then coming to the conclusion it wasn’t the best option as you learn about the client, the users and also about UX/UI in general. Obviously, depending on how late in the project you came to this conclusion, it will not be possible to review and change that decision.
The first personal example I can share is the following: when I found out about this URL after working for weeks around a featured carousel solution for the client’s new website. That URL was shared with me by a back-end developer team colleague. It kind of shook my groundings at the time, but I learned later to accept the designer should not be the “know-it-all-about-design” person. It’s perfectly fine to learn better design practices from non-designers. Actually I would say it’s quite necessary if we want to really improve ourselves as designers in the future.
The second example I can share is when I conducted some usability testing and realized people in general do not interact with hamburger menu icons. This event lead me to search and find articles like this one, and I felt a bit embarrassed about my previous design decisions after reading it, haha.
It can be quite frustrating, I must say. But UX Design, in most cases, is different from other fields like Medicine & Health Care, for instance, in which you can get a patient to die if you don’t manage medication in the exact amount of milligrams per hour. In UX Design, even though we might have lots and lots of research studies we can check out at NNGroup website anytime we want, things tend to be more in that huge gray area between black and white. We can’t and shouldn’t want to be perceived as authority in the subject matter. Instead, we should see ourselves more like guides leading the solution to solve the problem the best way we can.
In the UX Design field, we need learn to swallow our pride, to be open to new information coming from all angles and people and to always keep moving, keep learning.
Thanks for reading!