Perspectives from UXers
Find out what 6 UX designers think is important for potential designers to know.
So, you’re interested in becoming a user experience (UX) designer? Lucky for you, there is no one right way to get into the field. In fact, having people from all different backgrounds and perspectives allows for better innovation and creativity.
To help future UXers understand what skills, lessons, and expectations are important for being a designer, 6 fantastic UX designers at Red Hat shared their perspectives.
Whether you’re not sure if UX design is right for you, want advice to help prepare you for a career in design, or are just curious, our designers are here to help.
Note: Content designers created the graphics. Please do not pass any judgment onto the featured designers.
Meet the designers
Name: Andy Braren
Title: Senior Interaction Designer
Time in UX: 3.5 years
Education: Bachelor of Science (BS) and Master of Science (MS) in Human Factors Engineering (HFE) from Tufts University
Other learning experiences: “I would say probably half of what I learned in school was through extracurricular activities, like clubs. There is one I helped start called “Tufts MAKE” where we just learn by making things in general, either physical or digital stuff, and almost taught ourselves product design before we even got to do product design in our classes, which was kinda neat.”
Name: Bekah Stephens
Title: Interaction Designer
Time in UX: 5 years
Education: Bachelor of Industrial Design from Auburn University
Other learning experiences: “I am currently enrolled in Google’s new UX Design Certificate just to see what else I can learn and hone in the skills of things that I didn’t technically learn in college.”
Name: Kevin Hatchoua
Title: Senior User Experience Designer
Time in UX: 9 years
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from The Art Institute
Other learning experiences: Bootcamp focused on tools available within the design field.
Name: Mike Franke
Title: Senior Interaction Designer
Time in UX: 7 years in UX, 20 years in tech. “Along the way, I was doing a lot of UX before I knew it was UX.”
Education: Bachelor’s degree in audio engineering from North Carolina State University
Other learning experiences: Google’s UX Certification
Name: Vince Conzola
Title: Principal Interaction Designer
Time in UX: About 27 years
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology, Master’s degree in System Science from Binghamton University, Master’s and PhD in Psychology from North Carolina State University
Other learning experiences: Certificate of Marketing Research from the University of Georgia
Name: Yifat Friman Menchik
Title: Senior User Experience Designer
Time in UX: Over 10 years
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Design and Visual Communications, Bachelor’s degree in Education & Sociology from Tel Aviv University
Other learning experiences: Over the years, I have mostly read books and attended workshops, courses, and conferences related to the topic.
What is one thing that surprised you about UX?
“I feel like I should have known this early on, but I didn’t realize how important communication is as just a general skill. Probably 80% of the work I do is around communication, either with users through research studies or interview questions, communicating with product managers about business requirements, or with engineers about the technical viability of certain solutions and why certain things may need to be changed or tweaked.”
“I think, for me, the big part was how relatively easy it was to transition to digital for UX from physical product design. My degree at Auburn was still very much user-centered, but we did a lot of physical prototyping, product sketching and designing, and didn’t actually get a chance to do any UX. At the time, UX wasn’t really a field yet, but now it’s kind of blossomed. The college I went to is now incorporating UX into the curriculum because it’s such a big deal. I was originally worried that not having a technical background in UX would make it hard to switch over, but the design fundamentals are the same. So it was pretty easy.”
“Design doesn’t mean pretty colors and nice boxes all over the place. Design is way deeper. It really starts at the planning and strategizing phase. And that was really surprising for me because as a web designer back in the day, I didn’t get involved in the business strategy or the long-term roadmap. And so as I started to nurture design thinking, I realized that UX is really an end-to-end approach at solving real problems. So that was also a pretty exciting thing to discover. It’s much bigger than design and drawing nice things. I was really surprised to learn that it is such a versatile career with the potential to impact the business in various ways, beyond just the way things look. From identifying issues and ideating, to mapping solutions to workflows and processes. Yeah, that’s a really beautiful thing. And I love that.”
“One of the biggest things that surprised me about UX is the difference between what people tell you versus what they do. The example I always use is that I was doing a usability test while working on an app for post-surgery patients. We did a usability test of the current app and I spent hours watching people fumble through it. They can’t find menus and they had a really tough time with it. Then at the end, we asked ‘how do you feel about using this app’ and they would always say ‘it’s the easiest experience I’ve ever had. I completely understood it.’ So that was my light bulb event — you can’t rely on what people tell you, you have to watch their behavior.”
“How technical it still is. A lot of people think of UX as pretty pictures and making it look pretty. And at least what we do -I’ve always worked with enterprise IT UX- it’s still very technical. There’s a lot to know. A lot of technical domain knowledge that it helps if you have.”
“How effective and valuable this domain can be. I see UX as the bridge between people and technology. Our job is to support our users by prioritizing the ease of use of the product and making sure they have a better experience in reaching their goals. When creating this experience, we always need to remember who we’re designing for. Ideally, it requires a combination of a creative mindset and logical, structured thinking.”
What is one soft skill you would recommend for students to learn?
“Familiarizing yourself with UX research methods. Like how to not ask users leading questions for example. The way you phrase questions and the approach you take for research really matters to make it actual useful research. You can ask questions that are leading and guiding people toward the answer you want, which doesn’t make that research useful.”
“Something that I think is super important is flexibility. The design process in general is so iterative, and there’s a lot of back and forth between designers, clients, and developers. Being able to take feedback and adapt what you’re working on to that feedback constantly is really important because if you pigeonhole yourself it can be hard to make those changes. So just being able to go with the flow and make changes is really important.”
“Communication. Just being very good at talking to people, doesn’t matter who. Don’t be too pigeonholed or too focused in your silo. You have to be comfortable with asking questions when you don’t understand. Definitely feel free to ask them because nobody would ever get mad for you asking questions. They will only be glad that they can clarify and elaborate on that. Whether or not I was comfortable in my role or knew what I was doing, as long as I asked questions, most of the time I was pointed in the right direction and found the answers to my questions at the end of the day. So yeah, communication is a great one.”
“Understanding how to demonstrate and generate value is super important in UX. It’s that intersection of business and UX, there are a lot of opportunities in that intersection. You have to make a case for UX and show the business value of it.”
“Being able to communicate, especially being able to write clearly. I think it’s so important, as so many people, especially so many young people, can’t throw together coherent sentences because all they do is write in “text”, which is a whole different language. And so really, to me, that’s hugely important to be able to get ideas across and be able to be understood by the people you’re working with.”
“I think communication is the winner here. In order to transfer your ideas, get other teammates’ and stakeholders’ opinions and solve problems, you need to ask the right questions and present your thoughts clearly.”
What is one hard skill you would recommend for students to learn?
“UXtools.co has a yearly survey about hot trends in terms of design tooling, mockup tools, whiteboarding tool, etc. When I was in school Sketch was really the main user interface prototyping tool. But in the past couple years, this new tool called Figma has really exploded in popularity. Try to look at those trends, ’cause those top tools are probably what companies are using.”
“This might seem kind of obvious, but getting familiar with one or multiple of the design prototyping softwares. In college, there was a lot of stress on physical sketching and that’s not as big of a deal in UX, so I had to ramp up on a lot of the digital stuff when I first started. I think having the ability to work in multiple design tooling helps because not all companies use the same one. Getting familiar with those will give you a one-up in that you won’t have as big of a learning curve going into it.”
“The ability to quickly prototype and iterate on those designs. I think most of us are really focused on high-fidelity designs a lot of time, whereas most of UX is really focused on testing, improving, and iterating. So really fleshing out the ability to put together wireframes and workflows and the ability to put together thoughts into visuals that you can understand without necessarily getting to that high-fidelity phase is essential.”
“The hard skill that I think is really useful for UXers is wireframing. Sometimes we just blow by them and don’t think about it that much, but wireframes are really unique. They allow us as UXers to quickly get to something, to a solution or an idea and be able to collaborate, visualize, and show it to other people. I’ve also found with wireframing, when you work with developers, it gives them something to see instead of speaking theoretically. If you show them what it’s going to look like, you start getting better quality insights from the team.“
“If it’s software UX, then I would say have at least a rudimentary understanding of software development. Not necessarily having to be able to program, but at least understand the process for software development so you can speak the language with the developers you’re going to be working with.”
“I guess one tool could be a wireframing tool to get the conversation started. When people see something, they are more likely to comment and give their feedback than to speak abstractly.”
What is something you wish you knew before going into UX?
“I wish I knew how flexible and diverse the UX space is. Like you can come from totally different backgrounds. You can come from a CS (computer science) degree, or UX degree, or even a marketing degree or visual design. There are so many different disciplines and facets you can take in your UX work that I find really interesting. All of the perspectives and backgrounds make the team as a whole really strong. It also relates to just being flexible with your design approach. In school we are taught here is the exact design thinking process and that you go through these series of steps and it is all organized. But a lot of times you get into a company, there are real-world constraints. And the constraints are different every time around time, budget, etc., that really prevent you from doing things the exact perfect way you learned in school. So I feel like it’s constantly learning and adapting to the scenarios that come up.”
“Before I joined the professional world, I never realized how different UX or design can be at different-sized companies. My first job was at a very, very small consultant-like agency, where I was pretty much one of the only designers. Because I was new to the UX field, I was already pretty unsure of myself, so being where I couldn’t learn from other people was hard. I put a lot of pressure on myself. Early on I realized being all on my own wasn’t great because I didn’t have anyone to collaborate with. When I switched over to Red Hat, it was super refreshing because there’s such a large design team here. I feel like I can constantly turn to different people for feedback and different ideas. If I had known that early on, I think I would have applied to jobs at larger companies over smaller startups because at the beginning I didn’t have the knowledge to be the only designer. It definitely helped me grow, but I think it would have been better to start off in an environment where I could have learned a lot faster.”
“Something that would have helped me set myself for success earlier in my career, would be to be open to criticism. Being a designer is to really understand the pain points of others. It’s not about fine arts, right? What I design is not about how I feel. You’re trying to solve issues. So to really be open to comments like, ‘Yeah, this is cool, but can you make it pop?’ is something we as designers need to embrace very early. And I know I’ve had my struggle with that in the past. We can spend 48 hours on a design just to see it end up in the trash and start from scratch. So yeah, you can’t be too attached. Our role here at the end of the day is to solve issues, not to design aesthetically pleasing things, although that’s a plus!”
“How difficult simplicity is. You look at something that Apple or Google make and you’re like “that’s so easy” — no. I mean think about when you start doing the work, there’s tens or hundreds of people who have opinions and want certain things in, how do you say no to things? How do you know what’s the most important thing for your user? That’s hard. So I used to think simple was easy. No simple is the hardest thing to do. It’s easy to throw every menu at every user. It’s hard to pare that down.”
“That I would still spend the majority of my day in front of a computer. I had kind of a naive notion that when I got into UX I would be spending more time interacting face-to-face with people and understanding people more than understanding technology — working in documents, Sketch, and all the tools that we work with. When I got out of engineering, that’s kind of one of the reasons I wanted to get out of it, was because I couldn’t stand staring at a computer for 8 hours a day. And now I’ve learned to do it for 10 hours a day.”
“How challenging it is to understand the mental model of the user. You need to do your best to make sure users smile every step of the journey, and that is not easy at all.”
If you had to take one class, which class would you take to help you in UX?
“I think any class where you actually make something is particularly valuable. A class where you do a prototype or actual research, and practice using some of the design tooling we talked about. Anything that has you talking to users and going through the design process and actually practicing is sort of key.”
“The design fundamentals are the most important for any design job, which is why I really like this Google certificate because it’s designed for people without a design background. Even though it’s a little bit redundant for me in places, they do a good job of explaining those fundamentals and user-centered design. The biggest thing that I think that the course helps with, which I hope that more colleges will start doing, is that it helps you put UX projects in your portfolio, which is super helpful for job hunting, and just general experience.”
“Interpersonal communication skills. There was one course that I took during my college years, which opened my eyes as to how people interpret information. Not just information, but even communication. Whether it’s with a person, a UI, or a system, or some kind of tool, we really need to be able to empathize with people and understand their pain. Emotional intelligence is at the core of what we do. This ties back to being not only a great UXer, but just a great teammate in general, within any particular organization. Just to be able to communicate with people and be human. And I think that really goes a long way.”
“Behavioral Science. At one of my past companies, one of our specialties was in healthcare and behavioral science. We had amazing behavioral scientists on staff and I learned so much great stuff about how our brains work. It really helps you understand how people think and how unreliable we are. The only reliable thing about humans is that we are not reliable. So that opened up my eyes a lot about the academic side and the science side of how our brains work.”
“I don’t know if it’s a specific class, because I didn’t really take any classes in design, but just having a better appreciation for good design. So if there’s a class like Introduction to Design, and how to know that things look good.”
“I think composition and layout is an important class to take — this is kind of the “old school” basis of learning how to think hierarchically about information. The way you design your page and the spaces you leave will impact how users will interpret it. Obviously, composition, layout, and typography help to tell a story, and how users are guided through it contributes to creating the whole experience.”
What is a lesson that took a while to learn?
“Perfection isn’t required. It kind of relates to knowing the audience and what the developers need, what the PMs need, etc. When I first started at Red Hat, I tried to make sure every design was pixel perfect, but the users of my design work didn’t need those artifacts to be so perfect. Over time, my pixel work got less precise and more just about general workflows, interactions, and learning how to communicate effectively on how things should work and behave more so than pixel perfection. It’s okay for things not to be fully fleshed out or figured out…It’s being flexible and knowing the audience of your work.”
“For me, it was just thinking that I’m good enough or knowing that I’m good enough to be in this field. I know a lot of my classmates and co-workers deal with imposter syndrome. It’s a big thing, especially the first few years out of college. You think, ‘I’m a fraud. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not experienced enough or talented enough for this.’ And because I jumped into a profession that I didn’t technically go to school for, I felt very much like I wasn’t supposed to be there. But after working in the field and learning on the job, you realize it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you put the work in, and you have some of those basic skills, you can do pretty much anything. So I think that’s a big thing. And I still fight with it day-to-day, like, do I know what I’m doing? But realizing everybody kind of feels that way. It’s important.”
“I think I’m still learning today the ability to know that it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to speak up and run over yourself. Nobody’s perfect. And so with meetings, I’ve always struggled to try to hit on every point and I find myself, you know, mumbling over. Maybe I get a pass because English is a second language to me, but no excuses. I think it was really hard for me to understand that it’s okay. Things are not always going to be smooth and they’re not going to be perfect. You don’t need to be a perfectionist. Part of that in UX is to do what you can now and then iterate on that and make it better next. So present, talk, and be open. However that goes, you just learn from either the pros or the cons and keep on going. It took me a while to accept that and open up. Nowadays, I feel okay being wrong, because I know I can only get better.”
“Delegation. Knowing when it’s okay to let go of something. It’s okay not to know everything about everything. Rely on your team to help you get there. That was a big lesson for me and something I still work on. It’s the only way you’ll get to some sort of finish line.”
“I hate to say this, but it’s kind of like “fake it till you make it.” You know, because you have to. Even if you don’t feel confident in your designs, you have to kind of pretend that you’re confident in your designs. It goes a long way to getting acceptance and getting buy-in from people that matter. If you can convince them that you did this for a reason and you have a justification, then it’s more likely you’re going to get less pushback. So just go in with confidence when you’re presenting any kind of design ideas.”
“You are not your user.”
“Learning by making. I feel it’s the best way for me to learn personally, and I think it’s true for many of us too. Practice makes perfect. Practice with new design tools and new design problems to keep your approach flexible and adaptive. Nothing I’ve ever done has been perfect from the start. There have always been multiple iterations. By practicing and iterating and just trying things out you gradually get to something better and better over time. Learn by making — it’s fun.”
“It’s okay to not know everything and it’s okay to mess up. I’m lucky enough to be in a job where it’s safe to fail because that’s part of learning. I think it’s important for people to realize that designers who have been in the field for 15 years are still learning from their day-to-day work. I think that most people, especially when they’re out in the world for the first time, are afraid of failing. We think we have to be perfect at everything. And that’s not true. Getting out of that headspace is important.”
“I would really push for people to be open to dipping their toes in various disciplines, particularly if you plan to be a UXer. You need to understand various disciplines, from design to the business aspects of things, to strategy, to marketing. All of these different areas are really important to understand how they intercept and connect. So if there’s anything I would say, it is if you get a chance to work in various projects that involve different skills, teams or functions, absorb as much as you can. Be open to learning a lot of things and context switching. Don’t be too focused on solely one thing. I remember when this role used to be primarily graphic design and today it evolved to building digital experiences. So over time, the role evolves. Definitely be open to evolving and changing and wearing different hats. Hopefully always a red one!”
“ 1. Always be learning. I think you always have to have a learning mindset.
2. Always be humble because you don’t know everything. There’s always somebody that’s going to know more than you.
3. Be nice. When we’re hiring, we’re looking for a fit; can I work with this person 8 hours a day?
4. Be thankful. If somebody helps you on a project and gets you to something, thank them for that. Always be thankful for people giving you their time or their brain.“
“No matter what domain you’re working in, learn as much about the domain as you possibly can. I spent, like 6 or 7 years working in retail UX for IBM. But I learned so much about the retail business and the retail industry. And it’s so important. Because when you’re getting feedback from users, you can better understand what they’re talking about because you understand the language. And to me, it just makes it more interesting when you understand the area that you’re designing for. You’re not just throwing designs out that you think, ‘This looks good. Let’s put it out there.’ kind of thing. If you really understand the domain you’re designing for, I think you get a lot better designs. So domain knowledge.”
“Try to practice experience-driven thinking and adopt a user-centered approach. Whenever you design, you should try to think one step ahead of the user you are designing for, consider how the user will interact with things, how they will feel, what their experience will be like. During usability testing of the product, if the user needs help, it should light up a warning for us that the design may not be good enough. I think simplicity is a key factor here and that if we can create a simple flow or design, then users will be able to better understand it.”
A very big thank you to all of the amazing designers who shared their recommendations and experiences. Have a question? Leave a comment and we’ll try to get back to you!
If UX design isn’t the right fit for you, but you want to get into UX, check out our other articles in the advice to UX series:
- Being a UX developer without a traditional degree
- Advice for future content designers
- Advice for future UX researchers
Have a story of your own? Write with us! Our community thrives on diverse voices — let’s hear yours.