Becoming a veteran UX Designer
How do you know when you’re ready for that mid-career promotion? Usually about two major promotions in (e.g. Band 8 at IBM), it’s the one that tells people you have battle scars, victories under your belt, and you know what you’re doing.
I created this checklist along with Chris Connors a couple years ago to guide designers asking that question. It’s purposely compact — each item could be an article in its own right. So if you see something here that begs for more explanation, just ask! (And did we capture everything? Probably not: feel free to comment and tell me what we left out or got wrong.)
A designer at band 8+:
Creates thorough design artifacts.
- Keeps designs at an easily findable, stable location, even as it evolves.
- Applies the 5 fidelities (Interaction, Data, Depth, Breadth, and Visual) appropriately based on the project type, context, phase, and audience.
- Repeatedly articulates the overall UX strategy and ties artifacts to it.
- Fluent in the typical tools: can create interactive prototypes as well as static ones.
- Can present convincingly to executive audiences up to Senior VP.
Obtains valid user feedback through evaluation.
- Employs the scientific method when conducting user evaluation. Understands application of experimental methodologies in User Interface Testing and Evaluation.
- Understands the tightly coupled relationship between the levels of fidelity and the types of evaluation possible based on each.
- Creates and executes research plans appropriate to the product, development phase, and subject matter domain.
- Differentiates between stakeholder feedback, informal user feedback, and user evaluation. Maximizes feedback from actual users. Maintains warm contacts who can provide informal feedback at any time.
- Can Identify and prioritize the areas in need of research as well as the optimal techniques for obtaining it.
Uses analytics to gain empirical evidence.
- Uses online tools and analytics to gain empirical evidence.
- Has shipped things people like and can demonstrate it through analytics.
Takes ownership of the shipped product.
- Pairs with UI developers, and creates and tracks defects, to ensure quality of delivered design.
- Design ships with little to no surprise loss of UX fidelity in the engineered product, due to continuous communication with developers.
- Persistent — doesn’t get depressed when part of a design didn’t ship.
Understands software development methods.
- Has successfully built and maintained relationships with development managers and stakeholders. Can champion the team’s ideas within the organization and beyond.
- Comfortable working with issue tracking to manage tasks and understand their relationship to the design and delivery of products, features, enhancements and defect repairs.
- Understands how to prioritize features, enhancements, and defect repairs based on user needs, business needs, and technological limitations.
- Has a highly refined eye for consistency and quality delivery and can shepherd both. Works closely with engineering and quality assurance (QA) to ensure a polished, high quality delivery.
Develops subject matter expertise.
- Experienced with the product(s) and associated strategies, and how they are used in different industries. Can articulate the advantages and weaknesses of the company’s products.
- Familiar with competitive offerings and can differentiate marketing claims from actual user experience achievements.
- When faced with a new assignment, doesn’t wait to be told exactly what to do, but jumps in with curiosity.
- Proposes to management a number of tasks they could perform in service of the goal, with a default plan of action.
Welcomes design critique.
- Can both deliver and receive useful, actionable feedback regarding work, techniques or materials. Treats feedback as an opportunity to improve rather than an indictment of their own work.
- Can diplomatically yet vigorously defend design decisions and their intent.
- Designs with intent.
- Comfortable identifying skills and gaps within their team.
- Can work with recruiting to fill identified gaps, whether the source is college or industry candidates.
- Can both evaluate and synthesize the evaluations of team members of prospective industry, college, or intern candidates.
- Can shift from evaluation to closing candidates who’ve received offers.
- Comfortable pitching the company’s design mission, challenges, and potential rewards both individually and to groups of prospects.
If you found something especially interesting in this list, let me know! If you have questions, just ask.
Jeoff Wilks is a Distinguished Designer at IBM, leading Carbon Design System and advising Cloud and Watson. The above article represents his personal views and does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
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