That’s right, like most of you out there, I have been on a constant quest to have the most incredible job title ever, ever since I decided I wanted to be a Designer over 25 years ago.
I had it all planned
When I first decided I was going into Graphic Design, my career plan looked roughly as follows:
- Junior Designer
- Art Director (At this time they were the Design team’s boss, but that seems to have changed in some places)
- Creative Director
- Open my own design agency and the sky was the limit!!!
At that young age, this seemed like a solid plan and I was pretty convinced nothing could stop me.
My actual career evolution went more like this:
- Assistant Graphic Designer
- Art Director
- Senior Art Finalist
- Head of Digital Creativity
- UX Designer
- UX Lead
- UX Strategist
As you can see, it was a bit more of mixed evolution! And what the list above doesn’t show, are the complexities of each of those positions. I felt I needed to show my value and wanted to solve every problem. It was a good learning experience, but I suggest trying to focus as your career evolves.
Moving beyond the titles
Unlike all my previous plans, when transitioning fully into a UX career, my focus shifted. Along the journey of my “education” into the concept of thinking and designing for the user’s of products, I began to care less about what title I would or wouldn’t have. My main objective became about creating better products for those people, discovering their pain points and solving their problems.
I remember when I was offered my first UX Designer job, I was asked what title or position I wanted to be categorised, to which I simply answered:
“You can choose the title you feel best suits the company vision, I just want to be sure I’m going to be focusing on the user’s needs.”
I was lucky that the company understood my ideals and hired me. Since then my title has changed a few times, but for the first time, my career was more focused on what I wanted to do rather than what I wanted to be, which brings me to my next point:
What career/position to choose
In recent years there has been a growing interest in Design related careers and companies looking to innovate, suddenly all want to add UX, Design, Research and other positions to their roster.
We also see a lot of designers changing their positions to try and chase the new craze and be valid in this new age of design.
Career sites are overflowing with design related positions:
- UX Designer
- UX Architect
- UX Researcher
- UX Strategist
- UX/UI Designer
- Interaction Designer
- UI Designer
- Product Designer
- Service Designer
- Design thinking expert
- Visual Designer
And even more interesting mixes such as:
- UX Developer
- Design Thinker
- Head of experience
The list goes on, I couldn’t remember all of them. The point is that there is no shortage of possible positions. If we then look at the descriptions of positions with the same name, the actual role and responsibilities vary so much that one never knows which direction to turn.
The search can be daunting and the proof is in the fact that forums, social channels are full of designers asking advice on how to decide which direction to go. It’s probably the no.1 question I get asked by student, so how does one ultimately decide? Chasing a job title has become even more complex.
My 2 cents
When deciding our career, we have everyone asking us “What do you want to do?”, as if by answering that question will solve everything. I can say with all the confidence in the world that most, if not all of us, have no idea what/who we want to be in 5 years, much less 20 years. Many of the choices we make at that point in our life are based on our current ideals and impressions that we have of certain careers. I also guarantee that who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow.
When I started working, I wanted something that would help me consolidate my need to be creative with my desire to be able to pay the bills. I was divided between Graphic Design and Photography. Graphic Design was cheaper to get up and running. Life helped me make the choice. For others, they would have found a way to set themselves up as photographers. The way I was at the time, just didn’t make that possible.
Some simple question to ask yourself:
1. What kind of a designer do you want to be?
When asking this question, I want to understand if they see themselves as a more visual designer or a more data driven designer. Are they more out-of-the-box designers, or by the book? Do they understand the motto that form follows function?
I’m not making any judgment with this questions. I feel it’s really important to identify in what spectrum they see design, it will make a difference in direction of the career.
Many feel that UX Professionals look down on visual minded designers, but in my experience, sometimes a pair of a visual and a data-minded designer can be an incredible mix as each can focus really well in different parts of the experience. I’ve seen it help each get better at their craft.
At this point, I’m also not expecting to define a job title or position, that comes later.
2. Where do you currently stand in reaching that goal?
Identifying how far we are from our goal is important, but it’s also to get a clear understanding of what your starting point is, so that you have a baseline comparison of where you started.
If you tell me you want to be more data driven, but you’ve never learned or practiced looking at data or interviewing users, then it’s clear that’s where you need to focus to reach your objective. The same goes if you want to be more visual but have never designed any visuals.
The good news, if you want to be a “fullstack” designer, there are tons of opportunities as almost everyone is looking for exactly that… the harsh truth that I’ve learnt from myself and other professionals, most of us in a fullstack position will almost always feel like we’re not putting out our best work. It can even feel like you’re producing work that’s good enough to just get by. I’ve seen this happen in most cases unless you work without deadlines.
3. Are you ready to fail and learn?
It’s a question that seems to be popping up a lot with Lean and Agile methodologies, but the truth is that you will fail a few times… maybe many times. It’s actually a good thing, if you actually learn from those failures.
I’ve often made plans, even if it’s in my mind “I want to be in position X in 5 years”, “I want to transition careers in 2 years”, but when push came to shove, almost all those plans had an extra year or more on top. Prepare yourself to keep pushing forward, even when it seems like all hope is lost. When I say to keep pushing, I don’t mean to keep doing exactly the same you’ve been doing, you will need to keep adapting, because chances are, you’re not doing something right, or you haven’t learnt a skill as well as you though.
During the journey, ask for advice often and listen to that advice. Find more than one avenue of advice, because different people have had different experiences. Even this article will help some, and probably do absolutely nothing for others. I’ve accepted that and so should you…
The simple truth
At the end of the day, the job title doesn’t matter one bit. I know product designers who in truth are visual designers, I know UX Strategist that do the same as Service Designers and I know UX Designers that only do visuals.
Rather than focusing on the title, look at the job description. Do the roles and responsibilities fit with your experience and ideals of what you want to do? Even if it’s not exactly what you want, could it be a stepping stone to the job you ultimately want? Will the job help you build invaluable experience in an area you’ll need for your dream job?
I’m going to let you in another secret, in most cases, companies often aren’t sure what they’re hiring for or what will really be expected of the candidates. They were just told that they had to have a UX Designer, but don’t what that is, or why they should have one.
Guess what, you can also interview the company. That’s right, never go to an interview without questions. Remember that your next job could help you on your journey or be a nightmare you will never forget, so try and understand the company vision, their culture and what exactly they expect from you. By understanding the clarity of how they describe your job, that can give you a very good idea if they are ready for what they’re asking for.
Some examples of questions I’ve asked in the past:
- If I’m hired, how will you measure my success in the first 6 months?
- What is your process and approach?
- How is the team I’ll be working with structured?
- What recent projects are you proud of and how was the process to reach the solution?
- How does the company approach work/life balance?
If the fit of everything seems to, go for it. Even if there are 1 or 2 points you feel don’t exactly fit, but that they’re not a major deal breaker, go for it!
Even if it isn’t exactly what you thought it would be or decide on a new career path, the experience you have will usually be very useful in the future. If there’s something in the company that you feel needs to change for you to be happier, try and make those changes, but remember to analyse why they are the way the are. You don’t want to fight a pointless battle.
At the end of the day, design titles will keep exploding from every corner. Make your choice on what you want to do and the company’s vision.
If you’re chasing the titles for fame and fortune, or because it’s the latest trend, you might make it, but you’re not building a scalable career plan that can evolve and adapt.
Look at the title of Web designer. 10 years ago, everyone wanted to be a web designer. Now people almost seem insulted to say they used to be web designers and it’s a position that has almost become extinct. Equally, strictly visual designers chasings UX careers will probably feel very frustrated because everyone keeps asking about their experience with users and data.
Working in something that you are passionate about and believe in produces amazing results. It also helps you feel like a more accomplished professional. Look beyond the trends to the core of what’s going on and base your decisions on that.