Monika: empathy is a key for a successful UX designer

interviewed by Ugnė Kryževičiūtė

Meet Monika — UX designer. We met with her to talk about UX design and her career path.

What does UX mean and why is it important?

If being technical, User Experience (UX) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product (a website, APP, etc.). Or to put it more simply — it’s about making a digital product more usable by humans.

UX is important because it aims at fulfilling user needs and providing positive experiences that keep users loyal to the product or brand. Additionally, a meaningful user experience allows you to define which customer journeys on your website are most conducive to business success.

What’s the difference between UX and UI?

UX and UI (User Interface) are closely related and both crucial for a successful product. UX focuses on how something works and how people interact with it. Meanwhile, UI focuses on the look and layout.

For example, when designing a product or some part of it, a UX designer would think where to put specific elements (a button or pop-up table) while the UI designer would decide how these elements should look like.

What got you interested in UX design?

Both of my parents are artists with wide talents — from painting to design to fashion. So I grew up in a home that reminds of an art gallery, and creativity was always around me.

But in school I was determined not to become an artist — I was very interested in psychology, yet in the end chose to study multimedia. Video, 3D animation, graphical design were the fields of my interest, but later into my studies I found out about UX — a field that I had not even imagined existed. It was shallow glance at first, but I continued learning about UX by myself. Youtube was my main educator.

I quickly became fascinated by UX, the logic behind it and the idea that you can predict how users will interact with your product. What will they do, what will they click, how much will they scroll? How to encourage users to act in certain ways and what decision process should they follow? So many details and complex questions. And that was it — I knew UX is my field.

UX combines my studies, previous interest in psychology and the creative environment I grew up in. All my small passions into one.

What did it take to get your first job in UX?

While finishing my studies I started looking for a job in UX, but all my applications for these roles were ignored. I had no direct experience and my portfolio from previous work or study assignments was slim. What I lacked in experience I tried to show in motivation. I asked my friend to write a short paragraph noting what why she thought I would make a good UX designer. I tried my best to express her insights in my motivational letter when applying for the next open position.

Motivational letters not only help to understand if the job you are targeting is really for, but they do increase your chances of getting one. Motivational letters really make you stand out as actually not many people write them — a fact I learned later on when working on a platform for job search.

From your point of view, what qualities are the most important for a successful UX designer?

Attention to details, curiosity, the ability to learn quickly and keep oneself up to date with the latest design trends. And it’s not just about following trends, it’s understanding the principles. Beginner UX designers sometimes lack knowledge about UX rules, the do’s and don’ts. Or understanding of different scenarios and problems that your future users might encounter.

To anyone interested in exploring UX design I always suggest to try doing a creative project. Something simple — a login form, or a hotel booking flow. These tasks help to understand what UX design is all about and evaluate if this kind of career path is for you.

If you want to pursue UX deeper, it’s worth going through guidelines and resources, such as Google Design Resources, Material UI, iOS guidelines. And of course you should read books, look at best practices, go to meetups, etc. Basically anything that helps to better understand the principles and rules behind UX design.

Does UX require coding?

It’s not essential, but definitely helps. Understanding how coding works makes communication with developers much easier. But for a UX designer it’s more important to focus on understanding user needs and experiences rather than just being an “amateurish” developer.

And what about empathy? Does a UX designer need to be understanding of potential users, or does this empathy come with time?

Of course, a UX designer has to be empathic and think of how people from different backgrounds would behave. Some say that by working on UX design they learn to be more accepting that not everyone thinks the same, and more understanding of others in real life as well.

But at least for me it was quite the opposite — I’m the type of person who wouldn’t get frustrated when someone does things differently. I actually welcome that and try to reuse the insights gained in future projects. I try to create designs that would be intuitive enough for people to understand in an instant, especially those who are less tech-savvy.

What should someone major in to become a UX designer?

* Human-Computer Interaction

* Psychology

* Computer Science

* Design

* Informatics

However, while it’s helpful, it’s not essential to have a major in these fields. Many people who succeeded pursuing careers in UX are self-taught, myself included.

What are your responsibilities in the company you work at?

After hearing out about initial design ideas from a client I follow up with additional questions and discussions with the Project Manager. The investigation part follows afterwards and includes analysis of competitors or similar solutions. I seek to understand what has already been done and what can be improved. Once my design part is done we get back with clients and further refine the chosen solution.

Not all UX designers have to communicate with clients, but personally I’m happy for having opportunities to do so and understand their needs more directly.

Do you encounter difficulties when your design ideas are too hard to realise technologically?

Not really, as I had gained some programming knowledge during my studies and it helps in understanding what is achievable. However, it is sometimes challenging to estimate how my ideas would fit within the client’s budget.

How the UX designer job varies between companies?

Some companies create apps for themselves and sell their products to consumers. UX designers there normally work within the same team as developers. As our company has several clients, we don’t have such teams and usually I don’t know who will be developing my designs.

In some companies separation of responsibilities is not so clear-cut and UX designers also do UI. In others the scope of focus areas is extremely narrow, with clear differentiation between UX researcher, UX copywriter and UX designer.

What are some projects you have recently worked on?

One is Interwar architecture — a website dedicated at helping people learn about Lithuanian architecture and architects in the period between World Wars.

Another one is also related to heritage — the 584 km website is a digital guide around Lithuania based on the concept of linking nature and military heritage sights into one travel route.

I also worked on the CHRG.network project that allows electric car owners find suitable and available places for charging their vehicles. And for charging station owners as well — to list and monetize their stations on one platform. It helps both user groups meet different needs, and requires a lot of intuitive UX design.

Vilnius Girls Code — is a community which is dedicated to women in IT to share their experiences and knowledge, to educate and learn, to inspire.

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