UX – User Experience – is a relatively new profession. It’s also a role that has morphed and evolved an incredible amount over the years; it’s fair to say that the UX work of a decade ago would be unrecognisable when positioned alongside the UX work of today.
Professional ladders are hard to climb when they’re in such flux. The skills, the knowledge and the temperament that pushed you to the top of the field in years gone by may no longer be relevant. For those in the UX game who are looking to develop their careers, the waters are particularly muddied.
In an effort to gain some transparency we spoke to Katie Osborne (MYOB), Ernez Dhondy (Paper Giant) and Ryan Hofman (HotelsCombined), all Senior UXers who have been there, done that and have an intimate knowledge of what it takes to take the next step in your UX career.
So how does one get promoted from Mid to Senior UX? Let’s take a look.
1. Understand the differences between Mid and Senior UX roles
The first step is to understand what is required from those in senior roles when compared to a mid-level professional. This allows you to focus on the areas that you may need to improve in and prepare for the challenges that lay ahead.
Hoffman of HotelsCombined talks about confidence – something that admittedly comes from time in the saddle. “It’s very easy for less experienced designers to second guess themselves”, he says. “To have the ability to quickly assess and understand a problem and then confidently present that solution as a story is where your senior designers stand out.”
Paper Giant’s Dhondy agrees, saying that the ability to present is a hallmark of a Senior UXer. “I once had someone on my team who pushed for a high salary as a senior designer. But despite having 10 years of experience, this person simply wasn’t able to articulate designs well”. He also highlights the ability to work autonomously and to problem solve on the spot.
Senior UXers need to be collaborative and be willing to compromise on their design notes Osborne of MYOB. “You’ll need to develop a level of maturity. You need to understand that all of the working pieces in the design process won’t play out in the way that you initially envisioned, and that other stakeholders have their own priorities. You’ll generally need to compromise on your ‘utopia design’, which is always a difficult thing to do.”
2. Don’t believe the common misconceptions
There’s the layman’s view of what’s required of a Senior UXer, then there’s the reality. These misconceptions can hamper those that are looking to develop into a senior role, by putting the focus on irrelevant knowledge, traits and skills.
Hoffman feels that there are misconceptions surrounding just who makes for a good Senior UX candidate. “I think that in this tech driven age where 16-year-old CEOs are not abnormal, the culture around seniority is evolving. Sure, you need to have an in-depth knowledge of UX methodologies and practices, but if you’re telling me that a person with just 1 year in UX research but 15 years as a psychologist can’t be a senior, then you’re just being precious.” Don’t feel as though time and experience is the be all and end all.
Dhondy, on the other hand, has dealt with a few Senior UXers who may have been a little too inexperienced – who have a misconception of how independent a senior should really be. “Some have come in wanting consistent mentorship from leaders in the business, both in reviewing their work and answering the question of ‘how do I approach X?’ When we bring in Senior UXers we want them to be self-sufficient and autonomous.”
Osborne points to the fact that some believe the title of ‘senior’ results in people thinking that their word is law. “Often I’ll meet designers who aren’t able to articulate the reasoning behind their designs outside of ‘I just knew’. It can be a reflection of their ego, and hints that they feel as though they’re above research.”
3. Take practical advice from those in the know
So what practical advice can these Senior UXers offer to mid-level professionals who are looking to take the next step?
“I’ve worked for organisations that have valued testing and research”, says Osborne. “I’d tell potential Senior UXers to be mindful of how data and analytics can inform design decision making. Research can be very time consuming as it involves interviews and a thorough process, but it’s vital if you want to get the best results.”
“Take your time with it”, offers Dhondy. “Some designers come in – often from outside fields – and want to quickly progress. As a Senior UXer you need to understand marketing, metrics and data, and you need to know how to work well within the business and with clients.” There’s a lot to know, and you won’t be able to learn it all instantly.
When pressed for practical advice, Hoffman is quick to lay down some truths. “UX is always evolving. User behaviours are always changing. It’s a crazy world where wrong can be right. So what you need is the ability to tell great stories”, he instructs.
“Learn how to get stakeholders on side. They don’t listen? Figure out why. Learn more about what makes them tick and structure your stories around their needs. But don’t stop there. Go talk at a meetup. Teach a class. Mentor someone. Give advice. Become the Senior UXer you know you can be.”