The field of UX design is constantly evolving, and keeping up to date with best practices, tools, and processes can sometimes feel overwhelming! It’s important to remember that while solo and small-team UX Designers may need to be generalists, you don’t need to be an expert in everything in order to do good work for your team and your clients.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years as a user experience designer. Put in less charitable terms—I’ve made plenty of honest but painful mistakes. But making mistakes is how you learn and grow. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and don’t feel too dejected if your experiments fail. That’s what an experiment is!
Since the variables are constantly changing – new hardware and operating system user interface patterns, new insights into user behavior and preferences, automated design systems or trendy patterns you’d like to try out – it’s inevitable that some of your efforts will succeed and others will fail. But rather than just end the blog post here, I figured I’d provide five quick lessons I’ve learned in the process of growing as a UX designer in the hopes that they might be useful to other user experience designers!
Filter out the noise and focus on what matters
If you’re a user experience designer flying solo or in a small team, you’re going to be a very popular person. This is a nice thing because you’ll likely get to touch on many aspects of each project, and may even have the opportunity to dig deeper into other projects around the office.
There’s one specific danger to this that I’d like to highlight. In a generalist role, you may be tempted to become a comprehensive source of information on every project you touch. Resist this urge! Remember to stay focused on the practical work that needs your special attention and don’t allow yourself to commit to unrelated projects when you don’t have spare hours to burn. Doing this will allow you to better establish and manage expectations, and prevents you from burning the midnight (and weekend) oil — or worse, burning yourself out.
It doesn’t matter how many times you promise yourself that you’ll work all night and over the weekend for fun. Ask yourself how you’re going to feel about it when you get home that night!
UX Design Research
Research can take a year, six months, four weeks, or several days. That may sound blasphemous to anyone who primarily focuses on conducting user research, but when you need to move quickly, it’s absolutely possible to acquire useful user insights in a short amount of time. You won’t be able to compress a full research schedule into just one week, but you can adapt your processes to hone in quickly on the most relevant questions and get feedback much faster than you might think. (I’m reluctant to share an 18-year-old blog post, but this one is a classic.
It’s worth it to establish research plans for several lengths of a project. Make sure you don’t spend time reinventing a plan every time — no client is the same, but good preparation can make it much easier on you and your team to plan and execute research studies.
Related: Why UX Is More Important Than Ever
Ask for help
You interact with basically every department. You have to wear a lot of hats. But you only have one head. So remember to ask for help when you need it. Whether it’s advice from others who are more knowledgeable (at your company or beyond, in one of the many public slack groups or extra resources if you know you’re too crunched to get a project across the finish line in time. You might be able to do 12 jobs, but you can’t do them all at the same time. Make sure you’re not greedily hoarding work for yourself just because you enjoy it!
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Developing strong processes is very important — they’re going to help you do better work faster and with fewer risks. But remember not to lose sight of your short-term objectives while you’re at it. It takes a different kind of thought process to engineer large-scale processes than it does to crunch out two hundred screens, states, wires, and visual elements, and switching between these contexts isn’t easy. Make sure you’ve budgeted enough time for both kinds of thought so you don’t let process get in the way of the work.
Sometimes you’re the tortoise, and sometimes you’re the hare
Since we’re talking about process: just like with research, it’s important to define several types of processes for getting the work done. Some projects will require rapid turnaround and inspired leaps of intuition — many others will naturally lend themselves to a slow and steady pace, structured around in-depth consumer preference testing. Every client project will be different, so get comfortable operating in both types of situations.
These are just five lessons that help me stay focused on designing exceptional user experiences. But even though five is usually good enough to capture 80% of high-level user feedback, there’s nothing wrong with getting more information. In the follow-up to this blog post, I’ll run through another five lessons that have helped improve the quality and speed of any user experience project. See you next time!