7 Reasons Why You Should NOT Get Into UX Design
Direct rebuttal to articles encouraging people to become a UX designer on a whim or simply for the sake of making lots of money.
I woke up the other morning and found an article awaiting me: 7 Reasons Why You Should Get Into UX Design. It is a wonderfully crafted article that may have had the best of intentions (or I hope it did) but is misleading and indicative of a larger issue in the for-profit technology training industry.
Make Money, Not Products
The article starts with a direct comment about how “you can get trained up as a UX designer without going to design school” and “did I mention that the average salary of a UX designer is approaching $90,000”. Although, these are facts, it is an awful approach. Avoiding a formal education and making lots of cash should neither be the first or strongest case for becomng a UX designer.
It brings to mind multi-level marketing schemes where they immediately tell you the benefits without exposing the upfront costs. It makes the entire article seem to me as if it was written not as a way to help people genuinely interested in a career as a designer or in the tech industry, but as an advertisement for the online training program with DesignLab who actually do a better job on their site with massaging the message to seem less like a sales pitch.
This lack of consideration to how easily people are lured into these type of get rich quick schemes is exposing the dark patterns that some of these for-profit educational institutions use to increase the size and wealth of their organizations without realizing the long term impact they have on individuals or the industry. The market is flooded with individuals who think that they can pay to play as a UX designer. I might be very unpopular for saying this, but it's a disservice to individuals who have devoted the better portion of their lives to help build the need for user experience to be a fundamental part of every company and organization with digital services or products. Many of these companies are run or founded by these same individuals which is even more disheartening.
So I am writing this as a cautionary tale of maybe why individuals considering a career in UX design might not want to jump right into a 10 week course or online mentorship and think that it will solve all of their financial problems or instantly help them attain their career goals.
7 Reasons Why You Should Not Be a UX Designer
- You want to avoid going to school or studying at an established school or university. I was a horrible student in college, but going to a four year university taught me invaluable life and communication skills that still benefit me to this day. I realize not everyone has the means or wants to drive themselves into insane amounts of debt, but starting at a tech-minded community college, grants and scholarships can help you overcome those challenges. Here in southern California, Santa Monica College has a design technology program and many talented individuals I know are currently enrolled, have graduated from, and teach courses within that program.
- You want to make lots of money with a little amount of effort. Being a UX designer is not the easiest way to make lots of money. You probably could spend as much time studying the stock market and become a day trader and make twice if not more than what most UX designers make starting out (which is usually way under $90k and is more closer to $45-$60k). The starting salary for a UX designer with absolutely no experience other than taking an online course or getting a certificate from a college is more likely to be somewhere in the $20-$30/hour range. That is great money for most younger individuals but finding a company that will take you with little to no real-world experience (your fictitious projects done in the course usually don’t count) is getting a lot tougher. Most job postings are asking for 3–5 years of relevant design experience (this means actual time working in the industry and not studying). You can get there quicker by taking on internships, freelancing or even working for the institution which you were trained at. I’ve seen students of UX programs become teachers aides and then instructors within only a year of receiving instruction themselves.
- You feel that the world needs more apps, and you want to encourage technology addiction so corporations can rake in millions of dollars. The aforementioned article remarks that people are constantly interacting with their mobile devices and an average user “checks their phone over 75 times a day”. How often do people smile at each other when walking down the street or say hello to their neighbors or interact with people in the physical spaces they occupy? This addiction to mobile devices and technology is quickly becoming a sickness within our society, especially with younger generations. When people trade in real life experiences for digital ones, they might be missing out what makes human existence so important and special. We should craft experiences around helping individuals better connect with each other and the world around them instead of becoming a continual distraction from real world interaction. As a UX designer, you should seriously consider whether you are designing products which help to advance society instead of hinder it. Its a tall order, but if none of us care about it then we’re doomed to the dystopic visions of the future from famous sci-fi writers like Orwell, Huxley, Philip K. Dick, Gibson, Bradbury, et al.
- You could help destroy lives. I have been reading Design for Real Life and many of the examples in the book point out how design has a real and lasting impact on individuals, especially those under stressful and emotionally turbulent situations. A simple design decision can cause someone to become confused, frustrated, extremely distraught or perhaps even suicidal. Following on my early point, a UX designer has the responsibility of taking into consideration even so-called “fringe” user groups. Doing so requires extreme diligence and empathy, two qualities which UX designers simply cannot have in short supply. Indeed you could “help save lives” as the initial article mentions, but the inverse is also true. If you are not ready and willing to accept this responsibility of being a designer, then you may want to seek an alternative career path.
- You think accessibility is a trend or something that can easily be achieved with advanced technology. Too often is the idea of making products “usable” or “user friendly” associated with making them “accessible”. It is important to cater to the needs of the disabled (or specifically abled), the elderly and the vulnerable but the industry is continually struggling to balance this responsibility with the needs for achieving business goals and market growth. A UX designer should be prepared to fight long and hard battles within every organization you work with to have them even consider accessibility as a long term goal and strategy. Your efforts will likely go unnoticed by the majority of users, but they very well might be extremely helpful and needed by those who might be in the minority. As we speed towards greater technological advancements, lets remember that there still are those with limited access to technology, physical and mental handicaps, and socio-economic constraints who we are continually putting at a disadvantage by not considering them or by making them an afterthought in our design process.
- You can make people you fundamentally disagree with a lot of money. Remember that if you’re getting paid a lot to do something, likely the people who are your managers, directors, executives, board members, and investors are also making a lot of money. Often you can dissociate yourself from those in the upper echelons of an organization, but don’t kid yourself by thinking that being a UX designer makes you impervious to the social and moral repercussions that your organization has on society. By doing a great job as a UX designer, you might be contributing to the spread of hate messages, fostering online bullying, or taking advantage of people’s insecurities and lack of knowledge. Many times this is done at the expense of one larger group of individuals (often your users) for the profit of another, often smaller group of individuals (usually those in charge). I’m not asking for an all out revolt against all corporate hegemony, but at the very least one should be mindful of how your work contributes to and aligns with the overall goals of the company. There are many wolves in sheeps clothing, and you should realize when, as a UX designer, you are one of them.
- You are not passionate about technology and the community around it. I have a good friend who would definitely argue against me on this point, but if you are not passionate about technology, the experiences it offers and the community surrounding the industry then why are you even doing it? I feel that having a community of people who do similar work as I do and who have the same drive for making life better through technology makes the difficult parts of working in the industry more bearable. Attending meetups, events or conferences and being a proactive member of the community should be a big part of who you are as a UX designer. It is a field of work that benefits from having access to people of different disciplines, cultures, age groups and professional backgrounds. If you are just starting out in the industry, you should immerse yourself in this community or at least venture out and see what its like to be a part of it. It might just make you a better and happier designer.
Becoming a UX designer should not be done on a whim or merely for the pursuit of higher paying job.
There are definitely a wide array of online training programs, for-profit educational companies and pay to play mentorships out there. They all have varying degrees of advertised success. They teach you the vernacular of the industry, give you advice on how to craft a half-believable portfolio and maybe if you’re lucky, some hands-on training on how to use the latest and greatest design tools available. But if you are going into these programs with little to no design or technology experience, you still have a lot of work ahead of you. I feel these programs best suit people with some background in design or technology, either self-taught or derived from more reputable institutions of learning.
I am a completely self-taught developer who went back to a for-profit design school after graduating from a four year college with an English degree and working two separate “web design” jobs. My goal in that school was to learn the basics: color theory, typography, layout, and various digital design techniques. I quit the school after meeting and speaking at length with Jaime Levy who quickly became my mentor as well as employer. She basically instilled in me the self-confidence to feel that I was ready for a UX design job because of my technical knowledge, capability to effectively communicate and passion for design. The school did not directly teach me these things, but my experiences graduating from a four year college, working as a “web designer” and as an IT manager, continual research on design and development trends, and passion for creating and improving digital products is what made me into the UX designer I am today. There was no one program or course that I could take in a matter of a few weeks to get me there. It was through a continual process of self-discovery with numerous failures along the way.
Don’t let anyone fool you into believing that being a UX designer is easy or can be achieved through a single online program or course of study.
There is no one right path to being a great designer, and I still feel that I am constantly on my way to being there. If you are genuinely interested in being a designer, start by reading some of those great books mentioned in that article, or doing research on the multitude of wonderful free resources out there. Just don’t fall into the trap of believe that it will be easy or instantly make you tons of money. Like many of the veterans of the industry will tell you, UX design is a field that is always changing, demands diligence and requires continual education.
I am sure if you’ve made it this far you have something to say. Let me know your thoughts, even if you think I am completely wrong.