It was a warm September afternoon, not 3 months ago, when it happened. I was sitting on the back patio with legs propped up, laptop perched on thighs, filling idle moments with pointless busy work and minding my own business—when all of a sudden, I got an email that changed my life.
It wasn’t an emphatic love letter, a sad note from a family member, nor did it contain millions of dollars in lottery winnings. It was a promotional email. The kind you’re suckered into when you sign up for an event, then bail on that event because you’re an optimistic introvert who always thinks you’ll have the courage to go to these kinds of things, but in fact always ends up being “just too tired” that day and cancel, but you continue to get those emails and never unsubscribe because it really was an interesting topic and you’ll probably go to one of their events someday.
It was an email from General Assembly, a for-profit bootcamp-style school that offers various training programs tech, and it was encouraging me to make a career switch into UX design by taking their 10-week immersive course in Denver. And it came at the perfect time. Recently laid off from my agency job, back from a backcountry excursion in Canada and feeling refreshed, not wanting to go back into marketing and wondering what the heck to do with my life—I was ready for something new.
UX design? I know* what UX design is and never been particularly interested in it… but, this email makes it sound so C O O L.
*And by know, I mean I know how agencies I’ve previously worked for had faked it
Work in one of fastest-growing fields, it said. Learn a lot, really fast, from actual experts, it said. Blend empathy with usability and design, it said. Guaranteed job placement within 6 months, it promised.
Somehow, inexplicably, in a matter of minutes and for absolutely no reason at all—this damn email had me hooked.
I started to research: what is the state of UX design right now? (good, real good); what is the future of UX design? (promising, needed more than ever); what is the demand for UX designers in Denver / Boulder (a lot, and growing); what even is UX? (so much more than I thought it was).
YES. This was a thing. A thing I could really get into. I was getting somewhere. I was excited.
But wait. I’m not a designer. And I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be one.
It was in those moments, fluctuating between intense curiosity and that all-too-familiar feeling of getting carried away with something you know you’ll never do, that I found what I didn’t know I’d been searching for.
In The State of UX in 2018 report, I came across something called UX writing.
UX Writing? Well hey, I’m a writer. So I looked it up. What the heck is UX writing and should I do it?
I found out that UX writers write something called microcopy for digital products. They have the tough job job guiding users through a process, form, app, website, etc. with as much clarity as possible AND in as few words as possible. Sometimes they get to do it with humor and wit (!). They usually work on the product team, alongside UX designers, and presumably (for this part was less clear) go through a similar user-centered process to get microcopy that actually works. And my favorite part — where content marketers and copywriters are generally trying to persuade users to do things (my previous world for 7 years), UX writers are trying to HELP users do things.
So they basically solve word puzzles. They create technical poetry. And their #1 objective is to be helpful and useful.
This is what I’d been waiting for. I wanted to write and create more, but I didn’t want to go back to copywriting and marketing. I wanted to be part of a collaborative team but didn’t want to go back into project management. And I wanted to be part of an industry that had a promising future solving interesting problems.
Literally minutes later I’d applied to General Assembly’s UX Design program. I had no idea if that was the right thing to do—from my preliminary research, it didn’t seem like there was instruction in UX writing anywhere, so maybe this was the next best thing? Besides there was no harm in just applying, right?
A few short weeks later, here I am, halfway through my course and loving it. Every user interview, affinity map, wireframe, usability test and every chance I get to test my UX writing skills.
In class, we only covered content strategy for about 2 hours, but:
- I’m reading everything about UX writing I can get my eyeballs on, including Kinneret Yifrah’s fab book, Microcopy, The Complete Guide
- I’m talking to as many people in the field as I can—UX writers and designers—from all over the country to get some practical knowledge and advice
- And I’m absorbing every atom, molecule, organism, template and page of this super instructive (and super expensive) program
Because the UX writer demand in the Denver / Boulder area is still small (but growing!), I fully expect to get a job as a UX designer after my program is up in January. BUT I’m not mad about it. In fact, this path feels so right, such a perfect synthesis of of all different things I’ve done in my career so far—journalism, copywriting, marketing, project management, operations, social media, photography and a bit of graphic design—that whatever is in store for me next, I’m here for it.