Why did I study UX design if I don’t plan to be a UX designer (how did I do it and what have I learned)?

For the last half a year I took on a new challenge. I decided to figure out what is UX design all about. Not a unique decision, given how many people daily engage on this learning adventure. The only difference is — most of them are either contemplating or even executing a career change. I am not. Yet, I still wanted to study UX.

To set the scene: I am an IP lawyer, mediator and writer. I have several successful and satisfying projects going on (personal buddy: wise friend for rent and Wynants Writing), in other words, I am not really in search for a new direction in my professional career at this point in time. So why did I spent time on it, how did I approach it and what have I learned?

Simon Sinek is strongly encouraging to always start with “why” and I cannot but agree. “Why” is the best possible motivator and the stronger your “why”, the more likely it is that you will follow through. So what was my “why”?

I was curious. Sounds somewhat simplistic, doesn’t it? Perhaps. Still I was. I was curious to see how great products are made, I wanted to discover the thinking process behind creating a wow-effect. I was curious to find out if seamless, intuitive, pleasant and appealing designs have anything in common. I wanted to get a glimpse of this uniting trait that makes us, customers, fall in love with certain brands. That was my starting point. However, once I got into it and began my learning journey, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this fascinating domain.

Further I will share my “how”: where exactly did I search for information about UX and how did I approach my learning process. I don’t think that I will tell anything new to somebody already familiar with the UX field, but for the ones out there, who are just contemplating the idea of starting his or her quest for UX knowledge, my steps might be useful.

To begin with, at this point in time I haven’t invested any money in learning UX. Not that I don’t see the value in paid courses. Still I am convinced that if you are generally able to focus, persevere and filter out useful information, you are able to master basically anything; and definitely UX.

Thus, my first step in learning was a free 7-day course by Career Foundry. This is a very basic, introductory e-mail course. What is great about it is that it also contains links for further reading, and they do have some really interesting reads out there.

Having immersed myself in reading various materials around UX, I came across two more awesome platforms: UxMastery and UxMag. Basically, if you diligently read everything which is available on the three resources mentioned, you will already get a very good feel about what is UX, how does it differ from UI, what particular aspects of UX interest you the most, where your personal skills would better fit, which tools and approaches work for what and what are the steps of the process.

Nevertheless, rapidly I felt that I have a lot of “flesh”, yet I do lack some “bones”, some structure if you will. My search at forums and discussion groups for the best free course, which could give me this starting structure, rendered a reference to edX micro-masters in UX design. This is a set of 9 short courses which in sequential steps cover both principles and process (research, concepts, wireframes, prototypes) of UX research and design. This micro-masters is offered by the University of Michigan and if you don’t go for a certificate (paid option), it is free to follow. For myself I found that it provided exactly what I was searching for: some structure to put together bits and pieces of knowledge that I have already acquired.

Finally, if you search on YouTube for UX design, you will find a nice playlist compiled by poopface86 (yeah, you read it right, but “poopface” did a really good job, despite the name). There are some inspiring TED talks and useful open lectures on the matter — I truly recommend you to have a look!

So there you have it: three main websites with great articles, one very good basic course and a bunch of captivating videos.

Don’t get me wrong, all this didn’t make me a UX designer, but it did give me a very good basic understanding of the matter! Then again, as I have discovered, UX design to a large extent is about common sense and a set of transferrable skills (which personally I have acquired elsewhere)… And this brings me to what have I learned in these couple of months that I am busy with UX. In the following couple of paragraphs I want to share my main personal take-aways.

First of all, a whole bunch of skills necessary for being a successful UX designer are quintessential in literally any other professional field. Take problem-solving as an example. UX design process broken down to four main interconnected steps is about: (1) framing the problem, (2) exploring the solution space, (3) finding a good solution and (4) refining the solution. Those are problem-solving basics, applicable everywhere. Without rightly formulated problem you cannot get down to business neither as a lawyer, nor as an engineer, nor as a doctor. Any solution starts with formulating the problem in a right way. Or better, trying to figure out what exactly is the “right” problem.

To illustrate this. You might have heard that famous “elevator example” described in the book by Russel Ackoff (“Systems, Organizations and Interdisciplinary Research”). There was an apartment block, whose manager started receiving complaints about an elevator. People were complaining it was too slow. However, before jumping to the costly and complicated solutions like installing a faster elevator or a computerized system, or alike, the manager decided to explore the essence of the problem. Guess what, after having figured out the actual problem, the solution found was cheap, fast and efficient. The problem turned out to be not so much that elevators were too slow, but the fact that people were just too bored to wait. Solution? Mirrors in the lobby! Everyone loves to see themselves, you know. Coincidence or not, but there were no further complaints about the speed of the elevator, even though nothing was done specifically about that. Elegant solution due to… problem framing at its finest.

But back to take-aways. Likewise, in order to succeed in UX one has to ask a lot of “why?” and has to be able to transform business goals into small digestible ideas. Wait!… Isn’t that what is also needed to succeed in marketing, business development or sales? It is. These skills are also of a fundamental type. As are storytelling, critiquing, presenting and facilitating (likewise needed for a UX designer). The only indispensable UX skill one can probably do without in other professional fields is sketching. However, it is still handy to have it under your belt, whether you do UX or not.

The bottom-line is that UX skills are highly practical and applicable in other professional fields. That means that even if you don’t plan on actually becoming a UX designer, you will highly enrich yourself if you study it. Above all, it’s just plain interesting and a very dynamic field!

IP lawyer, mediator and writer. I harness the power of words, feel their essence and use their capacity. Passionate about art, wine and coffee.

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