Two people sitting with laptops and sketching ideas in a notebook.
Two people sitting with laptops and sketching ideas in a notebook.
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

As I participate in online design communities, I often see posts like these from UX designers:

Hi everyone! I just launched my portfolio website! I would love any feedback you have. Thanks! [Link to website]

Then, I see a variety of comments about the portfolio. The comments often contain unrelated and conflicting opinions. People from all stages of their design careers — career shifters, early career designers, and senior designers — all chime in. Among the opinions, I see praise and compliments like, “I like your portfolio! It looks interesting and professional.”

Unfortunately, getting feedback this way rarely yields valuable…

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

It’s an unsettling time. As of this writing, we’re grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. Like you, I’m nervous about many things, including keeping my UX job. I don’t know what the future holds for me or our industry.

A Time to Look at Your Career

When times are good, many of us focus so hard on the UX work itself that we don’t think much about our UX career. Perhaps now is a good time to sit back, evaluate our career situation, and prepare for any changes that may come.

I’ve written before about the benefits of regularly preparing for your next role. You get to boost…

Photo of a person sketching in a notebook next to a cup of coffee.
Photo of a person sketching in a notebook next to a cup of coffee.
Photo courtesy of Green Chameleon on Unsplash.

“The people who thrive, the ones I don’t worry about, learn how to teach themselves by doing.”

— Jessica Wildfire, In The Age of the Autodidact

When I was in grade school, I was a great student. I followed directions, completed my assignments, and studied for my exams. I earned mostly A’s and graduated with honors when I finished high school and college.

Then, when I started my first job in the field as a front-end developer, things changed.

Like UX design, front-end development evolves quickly. I had to learn new things constantly. No one was there to tell me…

A stone wall with the word HTML painted on it. Photo courtesy of Markus Tacker.

My friend Bryan recently asked me for career advice. He’s a full-time user experience (UX) designer who works for a large, well-funded startup.

Bryan said he sometimes struggles at work because he doesn’t have front-end development skills. He experiences challenges like these:

  • Bryan doesn’t always speak the same language developers use when discussing design work.
  • He can’t make simple changes to a hand-coded prototype. He has to ask a developer for help.
  • He has to rely on prototyping tools to build a prototype, even if a hand-coded prototype is the best approach for the project.

Although Bryan experiences these challenges…

My students arranging sticky notes on a wall at Center Centre.

Ben’s Story

I recently spoke with a junior UX designer, Ben, who’s struggled to find a meaningful UX job.

Ben’s had two jobs as a junior UX designer. At both jobs, he was the first UX designer the organization had ever hired. Ben told me about the politics at his first UX job:

The company didn’t apply much UX work to their process. They didn’t do usability testing. I thought maybe they just didn’t know what usability testing was. I thought I just had to explain it. But that wasn’t the case. The CTO received a bonus for how much software he…

Wall graffiti that says “For All.”
Wall graffiti that says “For All.”
Wall graffiti that says “For All.” Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

At Center Centre, the UX design school where I’m a faculty member, I get to review many resources on inclusivity and accessible design.

I collect the best resources I find and review them with my team. Then, the team and I apply what we learn from those resources to our curriculum. Over time, our curriculum grows stronger because it contains more competencies around inclusive design and accessibility.

Inclusive Design vs. Accessibility: What’s the Difference?

It took me a while to understand the difference between inclusive design and accessibility. After researching these terms, I now see them as two sides of the same coin:

  • Inclusive Design is the…

Aerial photo of vehicles on a highway leading to a city. Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash.

Imagine taking a long road trip with your friends. You spend most of the trip in a car getting from one destination to the other.

When you arrive at each destination, you get out of the car to explore. Then, you get back into the car and drive to the next destination.

Even though the destinations are the highlights of the trip, you get value and meaning from the drives. When you’re in the car, you enjoy the view, listen to great music, and have good conversations with your friends. You share stories and tell jokes. …

Students presenting their ideas to me at Center Centre.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with Center Centre staff and students on a fast-paced, high-profile community project for the city of Chattanooga.

Like most demanding projects, this project had action-packed days, fluctuating deadlines, and scope creep. Each day brought us a new surprise and a new challenge.

One of my students did most of the UX work for this project. One day during the project, that student moderated six user research sessions. A stakeholder and I observed these sessions throughout the day and took notes.

Around 5 PM that day, the three of us needed to debrief and…

Center Centre co-founder, Leslie Jensen-Inman, helping our students during a workshop.

I often get emails, Twitter DMs, and LinkedIn requests from UX designers I don’t know asking, “Can I pick your brain about UX?”

Recently, I received a LinkedIn message that went something like this:

Jessica, I read your blog posts, and I’d like to pick your brain. I was laid off over six months ago. I’ve been having trouble finding UX work. I have several kids, and the bills are piling up.

I go on UX job interviews, but the companies don’t hire me. They won’t give me feedback after I interview because they’re afraid of liability.

I’ve included links…

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A few months ago, another UX designer told me, “You’ve accomplished so much with your career, Jess. If you needed to look for another job, you could probably work anywhere.”

I was flattered, and I thanked him.

At the time, I agreed with him. After all, I have a lot to offer as a designer. I have nearly 15 years of industry experience, and I’ve worked at several prestigious companies.

I’m currently a faculty member at Center Centre, the UX design school. After building our curriculum and coaching students through our UX program, I have a thorough and well-rounded understanding…

Jessica Ivins

UX designer, leader, and educator at CenterCentre – UIE. I love veggies, books, and Oxford commas. She/her.

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