UX | Careers
  May, 2015

UX as a career: Part 1

Hari Nallan

Why should you choose UX as your Career?

Well, I've taken this upon me to offer my bit to the fraternity. I promise that there will be takeaways for aspiring designers, budding designers, established designers and organisations.

This is first of the series and I will probably take few months to cover the entire story. Part 1 is about why you should choose UX as a career and why you shouldn't.

My background:

I'm a qualified Architect and Industrial Designer. I became an entrepreneur by choice in 2004, after a brief stint as an employee. During my post graduation (in Industrial Design), I was always drawn towards UI (at that time, UX was UI) and the company I founded (and I'm still part of) services organisations in two areas: Industrial Design and User Experience Design. My natural inclination took me more towards UX and farther from ID. Having said that, I currently play the role of CEO in my organisation, which requires me to undertake responsibilities of Finance, HR, Administration, Strategy among others. By choice, I take out some time to be grounded to Design (both in UX and ID in the same order). A lot of what I do in Design, today is faintly related to the core concepts of Design as I was taught; and more and more related to informing my clients on Strategy (and it does infringe into areas such as marketing, productivity, communication, research, innovation among others). I thoroughly enjoy what I do and have no qualms about the decisions I have taken so far. Of course, there are moments of restlessness and frustration... but who wants sugar coated life, anyway!

Let me also put a disclaimer here: By no means, I'm suggesting that you should take up UX as a career when your interest is elsewhere. I would always ask you to follow your heart and choose a career that will excite you. If you are considering UX as a career choice among other Design disciplines, you may benefit from this.

UX is the mother of all disciplines

Let's start with what the job entails: You will be needing to know a little bit of everything: in addition to Design, you will need to be aware of Branding, Strategy, Leadership, Communication, Research, Organisational alignment, Operations, Sales, Marketing and many more areas. As you grow in your career (and years as well), you will be maturing in each of these areas (all of them are very much, concerns of UX Design). I can't think of any other Design discipline where a Designer is expected to have so many competencies. This list may sound exhaustive and scary, but let me tell you, ten years down the line in your career, you wouldn't want to saturate and wonder, "what else is left to accomplish in what I'm doing"? Good news is, in UX, you would never feel that ,as there is always a new competency to acquire that would compliment what you're already doing. In simple words, you will not hit the imperative to choose management career in order to grow. You could grow in UX itself!

You will grow in your career; and will most likely be rewarded

IT is a good industry to be in. The reason is that people are always racing against time. So, the general attitude is, "you get the expertise you need, do your job well and I'll get money for you". Really, I've experienced such attitude first hand in UX career (and I haven't experienced much of this in other domains). If you are good at what you do, people will listen to you, will not butt in your domain and will make adjustments in their areas to accommodate you... and this is not a bias towards UX alone. There is this mutual empathy towards other disciplines among IT companies (for good reasons). If you see the entire game of IT, it is about inclusion, scale, reachability, efficiency, excellence, expertise... basically you will likely not have someone interfering in your job. Most probably, you will be recognised and you will be rewarded... provided you deliver on promises.

Substitutes don't suck!

There was this joke doing rounds here, in India: If you've got 2000 dollars on you, you can launch a mobile handset brand (that's the price of a return ticket + logistics between India and China). Every other discipline of Design has substitutes. If you are in fashion industry, you know that you will be managing vendors who will provide garments to your company and all you have to do is, figure ways of labelling them. If you are in appliance industry, your company most probably will Design less than one in ten marketed products (others will be shipped from China and most probably they will sell better than your design because of price point). If you are in branding (its shameful to mention, but you know how inspirations work)... there is always a substitute to original design effort. In UX, there is none. Seriously, there is none. You may talk about templates and frameworks, but to the best of my knowledge, none of these off the shelf solutions have worked with IT companies (unless, of course, you are talking about a small time e-commerce company). In fact, these templates and frameworks do a huge favour to Designers by giving them time to focus on things that are more important than UI. So, either you don't have substitutes or if you do, they don't suck!

You will be measured and tracked

You may be nervous in the beginning, but let me assure you, it is good if you are measured. I can't think of any other creative domain where the success of your Design can be tracked (before it is launched) and measured (after it is launched). Being in the connected world where a lot of decisions are taken through qualified metrics, you've got a golden chance to prove the success of your Design... and that will help you prove your credibility. What is even more interesting is that you will probably know your success factors before you venture into Design. So, basically you will not be sitting in a board meeting two days before deadline and hear someone say, "I don't like this". Even if you do hear that, you are empowered to say, "You know what, the metrics say that your users are going to like it".

You are one person everyone speaks to

The limits of UX practice are not yet drawn, and that's good news! As I said before, you need to know a little bit of everything... what would happen when you reach there is that, the stakeholders of that little bit of everything are going to seek your company. You have a Design way of looking at things and that's more real, actionable and creative. So, you will have your leaders in HR, Ops, Admin, Product, R&D, Tech, Marketing, Customer Service seek your company in improving or innovating in their areas. Your UX is going to impact one and all in some way or the other generally; and specifically, you may actually choose to impact one or more specific areas through Design. Apart from solving problems of stake holders, you will also be speaking to them in order to create successful UX. So, even if your transactions with these people are project centric, you still will be dealing with them for their inputs and perspectives on your project. It will take years for you to reach there, but no one is going to stop you from reaching there, other than you yourself.

Future is not fuzzy

Ah! How many time have you heard before, that Design was fuzzy. I too believed in that, until four years ago, I took it upon me to demystify Design in my organisation... and for our clients. I have seen huge transformation in the way UX Design activity is conducted; and today, I see very little bit of fuzziness in our discussions. Most of the decisions are informed, rational and logical. Since UX is a very recent practice, you may still land up in an organisation or team that hasn't yet matured in this and hence, you may experience fuzziness in your activities (from relevance of brief to lack of clarity regarding Brand first or UX first!). The good news is, many of these organisations are not comfortable in this fuzziness and are seeking ways and means of rationalising Design. As a practitioner, you have a chance to establish that method in your company and when you do, sky is the limit for you and your organisation. Until you establish that, enjoy the fuzziness!

You can choose a area of your nature

Another big blessing with this domain is that there are many roles that require varied competencies. As a Designer, you don't have to stick to the core if you don't enjoy it. Again, this a unique characteristic of UX discipline. An Architect, a Fashion Designer or a Industrial Designer have little or no choice than to become a Architect, Fashion Designer or a Industrial Designer. Whereas if you are in UX, you could choose to excel in Visual Design, or Information Architecture, or Evangelism, or Strategy, or Research or even part Designer part Developer... this breadth of choices don't exist in other disciplines! If you are analytical, become a UX analyst. If you are inclined to research, become a UX researcher. If you are good at influencing and coaching people, become a UX evangelist... and so on. You can actually choose a area of your nature!

You may be sitting on the board of the next big Start up

Not that it is glamorous to be on board, but if you do fancy that, let me assure you that there is a fair possibility. The latest trend in Silicon valley is that Designers are offered stakes in the company (mostly, start ups); because people do believe that if one of the owners of the organisation is a Designer, that business has got a great potential to be desired by its customers. This belief is not misplaced. In fact, for starters, Airbnb is an excellent example of Designer Owner (and everyone relates to Airbnb with its class-leading Design). There was a time when people talked about Business acumen. This time around, people are talking about Design acumen as well... and that will come naturally to organisations that have Designer among its owners. So, are you ready to take the hot seat?

Why should you not choose UX as your Career?

Well, I can't think of many reasons, but if you belong to old school and have those expectations, well, you may be up for unpleasant surprises. Here are the reasons why you shouldn't choose UX as your career.

You will not be a celebrity

Yes. There are no Karim Rashids in UX Design. As I indicated above, a good UX Design happens because of proper organisational alignment, a conducive decision making environment and collaboration among various experts. It is preposterous to attribute success of Design to Designer alone. On the contrary, there are many other disciplines in Design where you could be world famous because you love pink! If that is what you seek, look elsewhere.

UX is not a "sexy" career

I very much believe it is, however, in general perspective, it isn't. Let me tell you why: No Hollywood celebrity is going to endorse your creation, you will not be going to exotic locations to shoot your campaign, your product will not win those Red Dots and Good Design awards (few do, but I don't call them UX designed products. I'll discuss elsewhere why I think so). If you aspire to use those red logos on your website and Facebook profiles, look elsewhere.

You are on a Journey, never a Destination

The thing about Intangible/ IT/ Software product is that it is versioned. There are compulsions of time that compel organisations to launch MVPs or Betas... that means that you are not going to put something perfect out there; and that perfection comes over extended times or in some cases, never. Basically, it is a journey and you are never 100{708701dac0605f0422816697582a0c6ef95b6a40941fc32cc1bb0c17665da6c5} satisfied that you have done what all you intended.

This also means that you have to constantly improve/ upgrade yourself, otherwise you will become irrelevant very soon. It is actually so easy to become irrelevant in your organisation if you don't adapt to ever-changing environment (that includes market conditions, customer enlightenment, technology, devices etc., etc.,). You will never ever have that signature of yourself that people will accept as sacrosanct. You will be questioned even 20 years into your career and your junior designer will not take sh** like "you know what, move this button there and it will work". It will never work like that. So, if you think age should give you maturity, respect and authority, look elsewhere.

I'll be concluding this part here. If you are in UX career and if you have experienced other disciplines before you moved to UX, do take some time and share your experiences. I would appreciate authentic and candid account.

My next post will throw light upon the existing and emerging roles in UX and what you should choose and why.
Hari Nallan

Hari Nallan

Founder and CEO of Think Design, a User Experience strategist, Designer, Speaker and Educator. Think Design is a Leading Design consultancy with offices in Denver, New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru; and collaborates with visionary organisations to identify, build and materialise innovative products and services.

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