Advice for a career change into UX

Often I’m approached by Kiwis wanting to make a sideways leap into UX and always try to help out via either introductions or advice. They usually ask about qualifications, what they can study to give them a leg-up, or where they might fit into the vast spectrum of what UX has come to stand for.

…and I can empathise with them completely.

UX is hoovering up talent from many adjacent disciplines and the job market has become a lolly scramble, with dozens of mysterious job titles and areas to specialise in.

Who wants to be a designer?, when you could be a Multi Channel Experience Architect?*
*Actual job title as advertised in 2012

In 2006, as UX was becoming ‘the new black’ of design, a brave usability company** in London hired me over candidates who must have looked waaaay better on paper. Following my instincts, I shut the doors on my design business to explore this new world.

It was sink-or-swim …at the deep end. I was the only person in the agency who didn’t have an MBA, masters or PHD in design, HCI, research or psychology.

The gamble paid off for both of us, and over the years I’ve always tried to mentor others. It feels good to help and usually takes a phone call to get a feeling for where the person is at – what they are excited by, so I can make my advice relevant to their situation.

Invariably people ask about studying, qualifications and their CV…

I’m clearly biased towards experience and ‘soft skills’ rather than qualifications and believe that people buy people, not a folio or CV – these should open the door for you, but it’s the story you tell once you’re in the room that matters.

You’ll need ‘case studies’ – examples of projects you can talk people through – explaining the process, the steps and logic behind it.

Try to cover these:

  • What the challenge was?
  • How you addressed it?
  • What the outcome was and how it benefitted the business / customers?

And bonus points for these:

  • What you learnt / would do differently next time?
  • How you see yourself applying what you learnt to projects for their clients.

These project stories are a stage from which you sell the skills and experience you’ve gained…

…but the person you’re talking to will see past the methods and techniques to ask themselves this question:

“Am I comfortable to put this person in front of our most valuable client?”

And if you’re lucky, this one too:

“Which project could I put this person on tomorrow and know they’ll be a good fit?”

Where you are at? …Where you want to be?
UX skills and activities run a spectrum from Research & Exploration at one end, to Design & Evaluation at the other. Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist? or a T-shaped person? Push the skills and aspects of yourself which you’d like to build on, but express the areas you’d like to move into;

If you want to do interaction design, cranking out page layouts then your CV / Folio should show that you can do this.

If you’re more interested in researching customer behaviour, improving customer experience, understanding the flow of a customer through a system, then your CV / Folio should have some sort of example of the process – this might be a journey map or photos taken when you were in the depths of your process.

I sometimes point people to this excellent set of slides

…Assembled by a guy who has recruited dozens of UX practitioners from across the spectrum into agency roles or as freelancers. (He was also hired by the same brave company)

Give back.
If you’re well into your career and have anything to add, know of any courses or study options, please add them to the comments below, or mail me and I’ll add them to this list.

**The company who bravely hired me was Flow Interactive, who are now part of Foolproof, Europe’s largest UX agency, (I was once told) and whose sister company in South Africa have been absorbed by PWC.

12 thoughts on “Advice for a career change into UX

  1. Rochelle Livingstone

    Great advice/post Nick. As a young person with a strong passion for creating better interactive experiences for users, no related qualifications, and making that leap into the UX field, you’re spot on that people should be buying people.

  2. Nick Post author

    Zef! … are you suggesting UX is just some sort of fad which will come and go like myspace or space-invaders?

  3. Nick Post author

    Rochelle, Thanks for being the latest person to inspire this blog post. You’re in a great position to contribute to this industry and a strong user advocate from your work in customer experience at an ISP. A great starting point.
    Now to find the right doors to knock on…

  4. Mal Jago

    Nick, good article and loved the UX is the new black.
    I would add that NZ in general is rated highly for UX and in design in general. Us Aussies could learn a thing or two around why you guys fight way above your weight.

    I work as BDM for Different in Sydney and maybe as I come with a degree in stubbing my toe that your article resonates with me.

    We have started running training courses for clients to teach our methodology, as the more people that understand and practice CCD the more work we will all get.

    Government here is also looking for service design to help solve some of their problems, which is refreshing as a tax payer but comes with massive challenges.

  5. Bruce Russell

    I certainly agree that in general qualifications are over-rated. That said, as someone who has been offering a qualification for some years at CPIT (Grad Dip Info Design), I have a few ideas about what a qualification should teach students. And not surprisingly, its exactly the kind of stuff you mention. Our focus is on teaching problem analysis and research, and solution design. Periodically we’d get beaten up for not teaching Adobe Acrobat or some other tool. And our reply has always been, any fool can learn to use a tool, but a useful team member is someone who can understand what is needed and design a solution for that. Sometimes Acrobat will not be the answer, but all too often qualifications focus on teaching pat answers rather than how to frame the right questions.

  6. Anna

    Thank you for this post, it really does uncloud me morning. I have been confused about this space for a long tim. I’m a multimedia designer and I’ve wanted to make usable designs, that feel good to use… now I can give it a name.
    Where to from here?

  7. Pingback: Ethnography unpacked with Nick Bowmast | Peter J Thomson

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