The core theme of User Experience (UX) is people-centered design. As a practice, it emphasizes the importance of understanding the needs, wants, and limitations of the people you are designing for. Another pivotal component of a successful UX design career also involves another type of understanding, a personal one of where you are in your UX career journey and where you want to go.
The UX design job market is vast, with many specialized positions requiring various qualifications and types of experience. With this, prospective professionals looking to get into the field have quite a daunting task at hand: deciding next steps.
It's important to consider that the path forward in UX is much like the path and reasoning for getting into UX - everyone's is unique. Because of this, special emphasis must be put on the need to decide one's future career ambitions in the industry on an individualised basis.
Here, we will review a few key factors in the process of planning for ongoing development and success in UX or UI.
In determining where to go, it's important to know where you're starting. Knowing your T-shape is your first step on this path. The "T-shape" refers to a broad range of skills as well as deep expertise.
A T-shaped designer is a generalist with excellent design skills who excels in one area of design. The horizontal line of the letter "T" refers to the breadth of design abilities, while the vertical line of "T" refers to the depth in one area.
When assessing a career path, it is important to not only understand what interests you, but also the skills you're interested in acquiring. Understanding your T-shape can be done by answering a few key questions:
What types of work do I currently enjoy doing?
What aspects of my current or past positions do I find fulfilling?
What types of work do I see myself doing in the future?
What aspects of my current or past positions do I aspire to cultivate and improve upon?
Which skills or tools can I incorporate into my work that will help me take on new challenges, learn from them, and grow?
Moving forward, what type of work do I want to be doing? What new skills would I need to further develop to eventually get there?
The UX design field is very competitive, and even more so as you move up the career ladder. While it's not necessary to have a focused specialty at entry-level positions, once you progress, you can choose one (or none) to go deep in.
Make sure the tools and skills you learn are relevant to where you want your career to go, but understand that any experience helps show your commitment; something that will be important even early on. If there is only one thing for an aspiring UX designer to take away from this guide, it's that you should not wait to start working towards a focused area of expertise. It will only benefit your career and improve your chances of success.
The UX field is vast and covers many types of roles. While the emphasis has been placed on ranking design skills, keep in mind that any experience you have in research, writing, content management, developers, or other related fields, can all be applied to roles where you work in teams.
A great way to expand your T-shape is by learning new tools and skills in your spare time, outside of work hours. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement for courses taken in career development programs; take advantage of these if available to you.
While learning new things can be fun (and sometimes even helpful), it's also important to also have a deeper understanding of where your skillset currently is. Whether it's through self-assessment practice tests or by asking others for their professional opinions, there are many ways to learn about yourself and likewise bolster your current abilities.
If you're having trouble self-reflecting or being objective about your own skillset, ask your coworkers, clients, and friends for help. Determine whether the skill-set you want to have is right for you or if you want to improve it. Collaborate with others to extend the T in your UX career. If you find yourself yearning to dig even deeper, you may be naturally gravitating toward becoming a Subject Matter Expert (SME) and specialist in your field.
UX is a personal career path for those who choose it as such. However, the UX career path will be limited without communication and collaboration with other industry professionals.
One of the best ways to learn is to associate with others. Help yourself in gauging the industry and your UX career path by getting involved with your ambitious counterparts. Doing so can prompt great opportunities for exchange, learning and support - all of which can position you to succeed.
Whether it's through mentorship, joining a professional organization or just gauging your interest by attending meetups and networking events, keep up with the latest industry trends. It will help you identify opportunities for growth and expand your UX skillset further. This type of exposure is especially great if you haven't quite decided on what you want to specialize in, and can provide real world insight into the possibilities within the industry. Remember, a UX career path is not a solo journey it takes the help and support of others to grow.
Competing with peers can get exhausting; not just in your work environment but also on the side of continuing education. Finding out what you need to do to keep up with fellow UX professionals is critical to making sure your career path is headed in the right direction.
Ask yourself these three considerations to rank your skillset level:
How adept are you with the most up-to-date tools?
Is your knowledge of specific UX methodologies, including user research, usability testing and interaction design up to par with the constant changes in industry standards?
Is it time for you to expand your UX career path by learning something new?
Understanding the answers to these important questions can help you put your current abilities into context and compare them to where you want them to be.
A UX career path is one that has many routes to take, but it also takes work to get there. Finding your focus can help you narrow down choices and make better decisions when taking steps in the right direction. Understanding your strengths and experiences will give you an advantage when pursuing different opportunities within the industry.