Starting Out: A career in Design (UX)

Matthew Godfrey
Jun 25 · 6 min read

I’m Matt, Head of Product Design at Redgate. I’ve been in this current role for almost three years, where I work alongside peers in Engineering and Delivery (as part of our divisional leadership team) and report into the CTO. Prior to that, I was working as a senior individual contributor on a number of Redgate product teams.

How I got into Design

Before Redgate, I had a very varied educational and professional background. It’s worth calling that I’m one of those who does not have any formal design education, and to be perfectly honest, 25 years ago, it wasn’t obvious what someone wanting to get into User Experience should indeed study. I’m sure I could write more on the subject, but in short, I’m a big believer in experience over education and whilst a degree might get you a foot in the door, it’s your experience that will define you as a designer.

Based on my best assessment of interest at the time, I ended up taking A-Levels in Economics, IT and Psychology, which in hindsight may have been the origins or foundations of my journey into the discipline. Thereafter, I took a slight detour to acquire a Law degree and pursue, what I thought at the time, might be a successful career in the legal profession. Armed with the ability to cite and argue case law, I eventually decided Law wasn’t for me and then began a winding path back towards my early passion for technology and design.

Core components of my education.

My first real break came when I joined local government, working as a Content Strategist and then Digital Project Manager; where I was involved in transforming the council’s paper-based services to digital offerings. It was there, under the guidance of a manager turned mentor, who introduced me to the concepts of HCI and UX. More specifically I learned about information architecture, content design, content strategy and copywriting.

Whilst working within these skills/sub-disciplines, I started to broaden my knowledge of User Experience, reading as much as I could, shadowing my mentor and using every opportunity to practise some of the tools and techniques I’d learnt by introducing and applying these to the projects I was involved with. I did everything I could to expose and immerse myself in this discipline that I hadn’t been able to articulate until this point, but I had been practising (at least in part) and working towards.

Bringing all my interests together. Origins of my UX career?

After my experiences at the Council, I knew User Experience was a path I wanted to pursue further. I was pretty set at this point that this was the career for me and provided me with an opportunity to fuse my interests in technology, business, psychology and creativity. Thereafter, I spent the next few years working in User Experience and Product Design roles across a range of industries, including education and gaming before ending up at Redgate, where my first assignment was leading the design effort for our Monitoring solution.

My role at Redgate

Fast-forwarding to present, in my current role as Head of Product Design I’m responsible for hiring and growing a super-talented and diverse team of Product Designers who can support the business with its goals; delivering great products and experiences for current and prospective customers.

Furthermore, I have a responsibility to drive the practices of research and design forwards, ensuring the function has the right blend of people, skills, tools and processes necessary to support Redgate’s current and future needs. A big part of that involves developing a wider community of practice to raise appetite and understanding of the value of Design across the organisation.

I believe Design has a huge part to play in both informing and shaping the future of our product portfolio, creating memorable experiences for our customers and raising the bar for quality in the B2B space. This movement from Design being purely tactical to more strategic is something I’m hugely passionate about and I’m excited to part of.

I’ve written more about this recently in article on the role of Product Design and Design Maturity.

Tips for breaking through

For an exhaustive list of top tips for breaking through into Product Design and User Experience, do read my colleague Chris’ article on the subject, but here a few of my own personal tips on how to get started and get your first break in a design role:

1. Consume everything

When I started out I made it my personal mission to consume everything I could about Design and User Experience. This involved reading blogs, articles and books from a variety of sources to gain a breadth of understanding and to look at the discipline from different perspectives. I attended Meetups, conferences (where possible) to hear from others in the industry and how they translated academia into action. Most importantly, I sought out opportunities to observe first-hand and learn from others practising the craft.

2. Try everything

User Experience is such a broad field, covering a range of sub-disciplines from research through to visual design, such that it’s not immediately obvious what skills you should actively seek to practise, develop and ultimately master. My advice would be to try and bit of everything. It’s only through exploring the different components on the role that you’ll start to discover where your true strengths lay. In all likelihood, folks will start out as generalists and only later, through exposure and experience, decide where, how and whether to specialise.

3. Get a great mentor

As mentioned earlier, finding a great mentor is a great way to get a head start in your career and can really help in those early, formative stages as a design practitioner. This was a major leg up for me when first starting out in UX, particularly as someone who was never formally educated in the subject. A good mentor will really understand your strengths, skill gaps, motivations and style of learning; taking the time to show, as well as tell and providing you with lots of constructive feedback along the way.

4. Apply and Practise

One of the most important aspects of learning is doing. The ability to take theory and academia and apply it for real. Solving real problems for real people through the process of Design. Do whatever you can to identify opportunities to apply the tools and methods you’ve read about in textbooks to personal or professional projects. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes in the process; this is a key part of the learning process. And don’t assume because you’ve done it once, you’re done learning. Keep trying, keep iterating on your approach, find new situations and contexts in which to apply those methods.

5. Experience over education

Finally, experience will always win over education. Education will no doubt give you a great theoretical foundation to build upon, but it’s our experiences that shape us as designers. Remember that design isn’t just about the hard skills, the methods and tools we use to execute our craft, a huge part of being a designer is the soft skills of great communication, collaboration, empathy and problem-solving; which can only be honed (in my opinion) through experience with and in the service of people.

If you’re thinking about your next career move or are looking for an exciting new opportunity in the field of design, take a look at our current Product Design vacancies on the Redgate careers page.

Ingeniously Simple

How Redgate build ingeniously simple products, from inception to delivery.

Matthew Godfrey

Written by

Head of Product Design

Ingeniously Simple

How Redgate build ingeniously simple products, from inception to delivery.