Things New UX Designers Should Know Before Entering the Workplace

Posted 3 months ago by Alana Brajdic

Whether you’ve graduated from a short course or a degree, when you first enter the workplace you’ll learn 100 times more than you’d ever imagine. Sure, you’ll learn more techniques and practises, but the soft skills you’ll pick up are just as valuable. You’ll learn more about yourself, others and how to deal with certain situations (think office politics).

“When you first enter the workplace you’ll learn 100 times more than you’d ever imagine.”

For the past year I’ve been keeping a list of things that I’ve learnt. I soon realised that I wished I knew these lessons from the start. In attempts to extend a helping hand to my fellow UXe’rs out there, I wanted to share my learnings. So here are some things I’ve learnt since working as a UX designer in the corporate world.

Designing Ways of Working

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Don’t be afraid to say yes.

Don’t let the fear of the unknown deter you from taking on something new. If the chance to work on a new project comes up jump at the opportunity to get involved. Even if you don’t know much about it or it seems too complex. Taking on challenges will allow you learn new things and grow as a designer.

Don’t jump into using Sketch straight away.

Always take a step back and do the necessary research before even touching wireframes. I know this is an obvious one, but it’s easy to forget sometimes. The discovery phase will make your life a lot easier when you start defining and designing.

Get feedback often and as early as you can.

Don’t sit on screens for too long without showing your team mates or users. Another person’s feedback may push your design in a completely different direction. Never get attached, you might like the design, but the design isn’t for you.

When going into a critique, be prepared.

Regardless if its a casual or formal critique, a person has made time in their busy day for you. Have the courtesy and show them designs and screens that are open, organised and ready to go.

Don’t be afraid to say no.

You might be given an impossible deadline or a workload that will be too much. It’s ok to speak up and voice your concerns. Saying no is far more respectable saying yes and then not being able to deliver. You can’t do everything and you can’t please everyone.

Something will always come up last minute. Think on your feet and be adaptable.

At some point you’ll need to drop everything you’re working on. You may need to redesign something else or get a different piece of work out that wasn’t planned. While we take steps to avoid this, it’s always a possibility.

Don’t be afraid to put your foot down if something critical is being overlooked or written off.

Sometimes things can get overlooked by accident or on purpose. So it’s in your best interest to stay above things even after they’re signed off. If you see something that you know isn’t right, speak up and make it known. I’ve stopped things completely happening before because I made noise about it. If I hadn’t, it would have slipped through and make a huge negative impact.

Work with developers early to discover all edge cases.

Doing this will save you a lot of headaches later down the track. Get the developers involved during the design phase. They’ll be able to inform you about what every edge case could be. It could also bring up possible limitations and opportunities. Design solutions for these before a handover occurs.

Think and plan first, then prototype for testing.

Before building anything, take a moment to think about what you want to get out of the testing session. If you’re lucky enough to have a UX researcher on your team, chat to them about what the best method may be and write out the user journey with them. Following a plan, will make your life easier and save you a lot of time.

Stakeholders might try to give you the solution rather than the problem they want to solve.

A project should always begin with a problem or a goal, not a solution. If a stakeholder tells you what feature they want, push back and find out why they want it. Use research and quantitative data to find the best solution for the problem. If you can prove it and show evidence, stakeholders will change their mind and get onboard.

Team and Culture

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Choose your team, not just the company’s name.

I can’t stress enough how important the people you work with are. People often fall into the trap of choosing a company based on it’s name looking good on their resume. Soon they realise that the processes and culture isn’t that great, so they fall behind. Surrounding yourself with good people who care about design as much as you do will help you learn, grow and become a better designer. For me, I want to do the best job I can to support the team and help them shine as well.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, but try to solve it for yourself first.

Don’t suffer in silence if the answer is a quick question away. But, before you ask, take a moment to think about the answer. Can you solve this on your own by doing a quick search? People will appreciate that you’ve attempted to solve it on your own first. But if you’ve exhausted your options, just ask!

Find a person that you feel comfortable asking ‘stupid’ questions.

In my team we have a “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” policy. This is another reason why team is so important. There’s some questions I definitely wouldn’t ask in front of a stakeholder, however I’ll ask my teammates later on in private.

Organise team social events and have fun.

Work hard, play hard and celebrate your achievements. Group outings are a fantastic way to strengthen the bond between teammates and build friendships. Just don’t do anything too stupid.

Working with others

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There will always be that one asshole in the workplace.

Assholes will be assholes, but look at the bright side. You’ll discover how to interact with, and handle situations involving different types of people. All experiences both positive and negative will add to your personal development. Just remember the line, and don’t let them get away with it if they cross it.

If a developer or major stakeholder asks a question about a design that you’re unsure of avoid saying “I don’t know”.

It’s better to say “I’ll get back to you on that” or “let me confirm with my colleagues”. This is especially important if your new. “I don’t know” may bring about a lack of confidence in you within the larger team you’re working with. If you can, deflect the question, figure it out, then get back to them with the right answer, rather than the wrong one.

Always explore a stakeholder’s feedback, even if you don’t think it will work.

Never shut down a stakeholder’s idea in a meeting. Just write it down in your meeting notes and say something along the lines of “that’s interesting, we’ll give that a go and explore it further”. Always follow through and explore their idea, you never know unless you try. If it’s really not ideal, mock it up and prove to them why it doesn’t work otherwise they’ll keep nagging you for it.

You can’t always win. Pick and choose your battles.

There will be cases when a stakeholder will make a final call on want the design will be. While you might not agree with the decision, sometimes you need to compromise. If this happens, make it clear that you don’t recommend the move, but ultimately its their call. Working with users and business is just part of the job.

Ask a few developers the same question.

Sometimes I’ll consult with a few developers. There’s been cases where I’ll get a different response each time. One person might say it can be done, while the other says it can’t. In this case, you need to dive deeper. Figure out if its a time issue, technical issue or a “it sounds too hard, so I’ll just say no” issue. Unfortunately it can happen. In reality, anything is possible, it just comes down to time and money.

Learning and Skills

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Plan a ‘hour of power’ for yourself to focus on something other than work.

No I’m not implying that you should sit on Facebook instead of working. The hour of power is a time that you’ve allowed yourself to work on something that will improve your skills. For example, you could study something you’re interested in on Coursera. Try out a new prototyping tool. Do some tutorials to sharpen up your skills. Knock up some concept designs or do some research into design trends and UI. This will allow you to stay engaged and mix up your day.

Learn about how the back end code works.

As you work with developers you’ll naturally pick up how the backend systems work. Although it’s best to take initiative and learn more about it so you can communicate better with them. I’d recommend writing down any words that you’ve overheard and don’t understand. Then google them or ask someone afterwards, thus forming a mini glossy of words as you go.

Make presenting easier for yourself by being prepared.

As a UX designer you need to be able to effectively communicate your designs. I find this easier do to when I’m prepared and have a plan. Jot down what the key points you want to say are. The order in which you’ll be showing the work and what key take aways you’re looking to get out of the meeting. Consciously think about what you’re saying and what you’re going to say next. Take it slow, relax and be clear.

This article was originally published on Alana’s Medium page.

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UX Designer @Tabcorp and Generally Creative Human Being. You can find me on Dribbble and Twitter.

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