HomeNews11 Valuable Lessons I Learned Working in The Real World of UX

11 Valuable Lessons I Learned Working in The Real World of UX

UX Planet — Medium | Guy Ligertwood

Sometimes working in design is a pain in the arse

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash (Nothing to do with UX but it’s pretty)

The real world of UX is a rollercoaster. It’s a grey area. I’ve done a lot of head scratching over the past four years. Some days I’ve got my head around it, others not so much.

Working with a great UX team, lots of laughs and a proper UX process has kept me on track and I’ve learnt a lot.

Here’s a few things I’ve got used to, working as a user experience designer.

“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn”

1. You won’t always do the best for the customer

“Put it in the backlog and we’ll get back to it (never)”

We hear lots about doing the best for the customer and in lots of cases we do, at first. The problem lies when we don’t get back to iterating on designs when delivering becomes more important than the experience. If we don’t iterate and improve, we are only doing part of our job.

Keep a log of things you want to get back to and push your team to do it.

2. If a HiPPO is making your design decisions your product’s screwed

“Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”

I can see you nodding and grimacing 😬. We’ve all been there, an important manager telling you what to design. The result is Design debt, which you’ll need to fix when that manager is out of the picture. Work smart to work around these folk; it’s not easy.

My best advice is to take on board what they have to say, be pleasant and design as you’d normally do. If you get cornered to do something, highlight the risks to the business if they do it.

3. Some projects will go well; others will be bloody awful

“There’ll always be projects that go to shit, it’s just bad luck if you’re the designer on it”

In life sometimes you have great days and other times you have crap ones. That’s the same with your projects; they’ll be ups and downs. Lots of factors will be out of your hands so learn to go with it. Call out the crap projects for what they are and enjoy the glory of the good ones.

4. Give yourself five years to get a solid grounding in UX

“A long apprenticeship is the most logical way to success”

This is up for discussion. There are lots of dependencies here, such as the company you work for, who trained you, your study, your mentor, your process etc. That being said you need a substantial chunk of time working with a good team with a proper UX process to gain a solid grounding. Be patient and be busy learning.

5. Time box meetings (God help us)

“Most meetings are too long, too dull, too unproductive and too much a part of corporate life to be abandoned” (Lois Wyse)

Peter Drucker (a past leader of management education) once said that meetings are a symptom of bad organisation. We need some but only go to the ones you genuinely need to. If it’s dragging on, make your polite escape. If you organised the meeting, time box it ⏰.

6. Learn from people who have backbone, disagree and commit

To succeed in life you need three things; a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone (Reba McEntire)

This statement is one of Jeff Bezos’ leadership principles I heard at a talk recently. There’s not much to be said about it but to find a design lead with these attributes is gold. I’ve had three and it’s helped me

7. It takes time to simplify things

“The letter I have written today is longer than usual because I lacked the time to make it shorter.” (Blaise Pascal)

To make something great takes time. Rush, and you raise the chance of mistakes and designing an average experience. If you’re short on time, condense your UX process of understanding, sketching, deciding, prototyping and validating. Avoid taking a section out.

8. Choose your battles and fight like a dog

“I’ve built a career and a reputation, fighting like a dog with a bone to do what is right by customers. I don’t drop the bone to make life easier for myself or my team. I don’t lie to myself or to others, and I never tell decision makers what they want to hear just to get a promotion or so that I might be liked. I’ll resign first, and I have done.” (Andrew Doherty)

Andrew sums this up well and makes some valuable points on how to fight:

  • Listen, then buy yourself time
  • Consider that you might be wrong
  • Thank them then politely disagree
  • Use data as a weapon
  • Mock it up and A/B test it
  • Don’t give up

Andrews article.

9. If people aren’t picking your designs apart you’re in trouble

“Yeah that looks amazing, love it, brilliant”

Designers are inquisitive and find things that don’t make sense to them. You want this, and you need this. Find curious people (doesn’t have to be designers) who’ll ask the what’s and why’s with your designs. Be prepared to look for these people in your company.

10. Watch out for people who love their ideas too much

“I use this product and we shouldn’t be doing it that way”

Be wary of these folk. They tend to see themselves as the user and want things done that they like. You need to take what they say on board, and design as you normally would. Their ideas may be useful, so be selective hearing them.

11. Document your projects (stories) as you go

“People have forgotten how to tell the story .” (Steven Spielberg)

As you work through your projects, take photos and notes. Add them to a document (I use a Medium article draft) in the order they happen. Documenting helps you create a story of the project and your process, and is an excellent way to keep you on track.

It also saves you trying to hack everything together later on for that portfolio.

If you enjoyed this, read some of my other UX articles:

14 Smart Habits That Will Make You a Better UX Designer
3 Inspiring Ladies Who Became UX Designers After 40
14 Uncomfortable Habits That Will Make You a Better UX Designer
13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want To Be a Successful UX Designer
18 Things I Wish I’d Known When Starting Out in UX Design
New to UX Design? Feeling Overwhelmed?
UX Writing: How to do it like Google with this powerful checklist
24 Ways to Look Like an Awesome UX Designer

Or have a read of my 20 designers, 20 questions, 20 weeks series starting with the intro article

Before you go

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Thanks to John Duncan, Huw Farrell and Levi McCusker for having a proofread and giving me ideas.


11 Valuable Lessons I Learned Working in The Real World of UX was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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