Erik himself has played a crucial role in building that community as a founder of the popular Conference. “I wanted to make sure that I personally was making broad connections that went beyond where I worked, as well as highlighting the work that is being done in the that is on par with work happening in places like San Francisco and New York,” he said. Getting involved with UX organizations and founding the UX Conference was also a way of tackling an issue in the region — designers aren’t concentrated in one area, unlike bigger cities where they’re in close proximity. “I was really interested in creating virtual density, connections on a human scale that lead to collaboration, jobs, and mentorship,” said Erik. It’s working, too. “People really look forward to UX, they make it their one conference to go to,” said Heidi.

Advice for designers considering the Midwest

If all of this is starting to make the Midwest seem like a viable option for a UX career, you’re not alone. Erik mentioned that some people are starting to move back to the region after careers in Silicon Valley, and that graduates are considering staying.

Being a potentially less obvious choice for talent creates lots of opportunity, said Heidi. “The Midwest feels like it’s at a disadvantage in the talent war, so that’s an opportunity for people to negotiate harder. There are a lot of great companies that are starting to build their competency and need great people to do so.” Seeing the opportunity and using this to craft a career and lifestyle is a fantastic possibility, she added.

Erik cautions that while there is opportunity, it’s important to find mentors. “There are a lot of jobs available, but often you’re the only designer in an organization or in a team. It’s crucial for junior designers or anyone coming back to the midwest to find people that are doing good work and can provide support and guidance.” This all comes back to advice the others gave as well about finding ways to connect to — and invest in — the UX community.

“Even for me, when I decided to invest in this community, it really opened my eyes to the breadth of impact that people are having. UX is not pushing pixels, it’s not designing software, it’s how a customer interacts with your brand,” said Karen. “There’s so much talent here, so get involved with IxDA, get involved with Ladies That UX. A lot of jobs around here that are a one or two-person team, but you can get support from the community to grow your skills.”

Go and see for yourself

Overall, the Midwest has a lot going for it if you’re looking to build a career in design and UX, and Karen, Heidi, and Erik are great examples of what’s possible. As with anything, it’s not all rosey, so the best way to understand design and UX in the Midwest is to explore it for yourself. As Heidi puts it, “Try to find ways to visit the cities here. The Midwest doesn’t get a lot of press, and so people can have preconceived ideas of what it’s like to be here.”

For ongoing tweets and insights into design life in the Midwest, check out the Twitter accounts of designers Karen, Erik, and Heidi.

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