10 Things I Learned My First Few Months as a UX/UI Designer

Photo by Aleks Dorohovich on Unsplash

I’ve been working as a designer with QuarkWorks full-time for about 8 months now since I graduated last year. I still have quite a ways to go in terms of skill and experience, but I try my best! It was intimidating at first, so I hope that some of these pointers can help those of you starting out in a similar position.

1. Don’t get too attached to your work

Have you ever spent a really long time getting a design just right? Then, after presenting to the client/your boss/ whomever, you’re left wondering what semblance of your original design is left?

It’s fine, I promise.

Your first idea is probably never going to look like the end result. In fact, it’s likely to be better because it’s been refined by another set of eyes. There will be many iterations behind the final draft that never see the light of day and you’re going to have to come to terms with letting them go. Keep them as references for future brainstorms or to track how far you’ve come.

There will also be some projects you start that get dropped. Think of these as practice to get better at efficiently designing and demoing all sorts of projects for different types of clients. I also happen to work in an environment where this is common. Your company might do things differently, but even then, there are times where a project will be cut or have to change direction. Being adaptable to your situation is crucial.

2. Learn to accept constructive criticism

“You don’t like gradients? Okay, cool, cool…”

Just as you should not get too attached to your work because it will be changing, you should be changing (for the better) too. You know how younger generations will always make fun of the older generation’s fads? (Hello, 80’s hair!) While I may never view teased bangs as being in fashion, there have been a lot of things I’ve made in the past that I thought were top-notch, only to come back and wonder why I even thought that was acceptable. (I’m probably going to re-read this article in a few months and wonder just that.)

I would have never gotten to that point if someone didn’t tell me that my layout was odd or that the color palette was clashing. Swallow your pride and accept the criticism with grace. It is more so there to help you than to hurt.

“Do not seek praise. Seek criticism.” –Paul Arden

Besides, it creates a challenge to “wow” the particularly hard-to-please critic. Carefully consider what they’ve said, make some changes, and come back strong the next round. The only way to get better is thru trial and error. No matter how many articles or textbooks you read, you won’t grow until you actually do it.

And lastly, don’t take things personally, otherwise you will waste time fretting over your fear of failure rather than facing the challenge. But that’s easier said, than done, right?

3. Don’t be afraid to challenge ideas

Now, while you should be open to feedback, that isn’t to say that you should agree with everything. If you can explain your reasoning, your team will be more likely to see the usability behind something rather than just the aesthetics. However, if the other side can make a stronger argument, then treat them with the same respect and concede.

If they continue to nit-pick, it’s okay to remind them that you are also a designer and have valid input too. Don’t put up with feeling like you’re just following commands. Have some confidence in yourself and your designs!

The nature of being on a team, especially members with design experience, is that you will have very different opinions coming from all sorts of directions. You cannot please everyone so don’t exhaust yourself doing so.

Be okay with disagreeing on things, be firm on when decisions have been made, and allow everyone the chance to speak out. Often, when you make someone feel heard, they will be more agreeable and easier to work with.

So what about the client? You can disagree with them, but handle it delicately, which leads us to…

4. Your goal is to tell the customer what they want, not what you want

At the end of the day, you are still providing a service for your clients, so you have to listen to what they have to say. Even if you think your way is better, you’re going to have to pick your battles. Save it for something big or urgent, and make sure to explain why you believe it would be better for the client. You’re more likely to convince someone to agree with you if you can explain how the solution benefits them. The project, no matter how much you love it, wasn’t made for you. It was made for the client.

“The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.” –Charles Eames

So go a step further, and try to anticipate the client’s needs before they even know it. You shouldn’t only be analyzing your users, but also your client!

Sometimes the client can be very carefree and give you complete control over a project. That can be a challenge because you’ll find out that they actually did have a certain “vision” in mind and you have to figure it out. Work in more abstract terms, asking things like “what do you want the feel of the result to be?” or “what themes do you have in mind?” Start an inspiration board and ask them to find examples they like to give you something to start with.

The flip side of this is a client who has every detail figured out in their mind. Use this to your advantage! Work smarter, not harder. Communication is going to be really important here — as long as your client feels they are being heard and kept in the loop, they’ll be more happy with the end result. Let them make the final call between your designs. You’ll still get to implement your ideas, and they’ll be involved in the decision making process!

5. No, you’re not done when you think you are

Please, for your sake, don’t organize your files like this.

Do you know how many times I’ve heard the phrase “it’s a good start” when I thought I had crossed the finished line? Though a little demotivating, it doesn’t mean that your efforts weren’t good enough, or that your designs are bad — it just means you’ve got some more work to do.

It comes to a shock to people when I show them the 12 different versions from a creative explosion for a project because they have this impression that the majority of design is done on the final draft. It was a bit of a shock to me too, at first. Perhaps with more experience, you’ll have to make fewer designs, but I doubt it’s ever finished after one round. Design takes a lot of thought, and most of the work needs to be done before you even think about adding color.

Fight the creative burnout by finding inspiration on whatever sites you like and don’t shut out your co-workers. They can offer some good insights and ideas too! If you’re at a complete loss, ask for help on which direction you should take. What elements are missing from your design? What problem points you should focus on? Your project manager should be able to guide you, especially if they know that you’re just starting out.

Or you might just have to figure it out yourself. It’s the growing pains of being new, of which there are plenty. See № 8 for a couple more tips on fighting the creative burnout.

6. Know when to stop

Okay, I know this one sounds contradictory to what I just said, but it’s all about finding that middle point when “it’s a good start” begins to turn into “it’s almost there” and stopping before it gets too far.

There’s a certain point you hit where your design is going to start to look bad. I don’t know why, but it just happens. Like how when you repeatedly write a word enough times, it starts to look really weird to you. You start changing the most minute of details, but nothing really looks…right.

This will stall the project. If you really think it needs some changes, come back to it after a day or two. Or let someone else review it and hear what they have to say. We tend to be our worst critic, but I assure you, it’s going to be fine if you can’t decide between orange or red-orange for the headers. (Although, there was that one time at Google where they tested 41 shades of blue, but it gave them $200m in sales, so…no pressure!) You’ll burnout if you don’t give yourself a break.

“The time it takes to make a decision increases as the number of alternatives increases.” –William Edmund Hick

In a situation where you’re on a large team, you’re more likely to get stuck on small changes because again, it’s hard to make a design that pleases everyone. (Unless you really can, more power to you! I’m still figuring that out.) Don’t keep spinning around in a design circle, especially if you’re only on stage 1 of the project. I know you want to deliver a quality product, but you’re harming it more by expending energy on anything other than priorities.

7. Technology is always changing, just keep up with the basics

Pictured: Sketch, Abstract, Proto.io, Figma, InVision, Zeplin, and my crushed willpower to master them all

For every project I have worked on, I’ve had to download some new version control manager or collaborative tool. And everyone thinks that this particular technology is the end all, be all.

And in a few months, something else will come along and that will be the hot new thing.

Don’t strain yourself to keep up with every new tool on the market; stick with two or three that you really like. Of course, be willing to learn on the job, but don’t freak out when you don’t know XYZ-program that company-ABC is using. Most programs are going to have similar functions that you already know, and you always have YouTube to figure out how to access those functions. Just find a toolset you feel comfortable using for brainstorming, wire-framing, high fidelities (final mockups), prototyping, and sharing. You don’t need a different tool for each of these either.

Personally, we like Sketch at QuarkWorks, which I use for both wire-framing and high fidelity designs. Figma has a neat collaboration feature! For prototyping, I’m still exploring around, but I like InVision for quick linking.

8. Give yourself time to relax and figure out how to get out of a creative slump

I wish I had the ability to flip the creative switch ON/OFF at command, but sadly, I don’t. It comes and goes in waves, where I either catch one for a very productive afternoon or I stare blankly at the screen wishing for some idea to epiphany itself in front of me.

Aside from just visiting sites like Dribbble or Behance for inspiration, I also like to take some time to physically sketch. It’s a little sloppy, but allows me to quickly move from one idea to the next. Sometimes, it’s a break from the computer screen that I need too.

You’ll need to pinpoint what gets you out of a creative block. There isn’t a quick-fix magic formula for how to be creative, unfortunately, but you can figure out what makes you motivated and inspired again. I know some people that need to be locked in a room and not allowed to leave until they have figured it out. Sometimes the deadline is your motivator!

Give yourself little breaks in-between work if you can: watch a quick video, listen to a podcast, read a sub-reddit, write a blog, etc.

And while you’re working, identify and limit your personal distractions. For example, I can’t listen to music with lyrics in them because I’ll start focusing on them instead.

If a project seems really big and daunting, break it down into smaller and manageable chunks. It’s okay if you don’t finish everything at once, but do have goals set for the day to accomplish! It’ll keep you accountable and still move the project along, even while it’s slow.

“You don’t think your way to creative work. You work your way to creative thinking.” –George Nelson

9. Keep on learning, but filter out unnecessary articles

Don’t feel as though you need to click on every link for every article. I spent so much time at first reading story after story, hoping that I’d be endowed with the magical fountain of design knowledge, but alas, it didn’t happen.

Instead, I became overwhelmed at just how many links I’d click on from one article that I’d end up with 10 unread tabs that would sit there for days. It was exhausting and I wasn’t even learning anything at that point. When you’re simply reading to tick off a mental checklist, you’re not taking the time to fully comprehend the article, which is doing both you and the writer a disservice.

I try to limit myself to 3–4 articles a day, otherwise, I just get sidetracked. Do spend some time on meaningful tutorials and training guides though because those are pretty useful. Or subscribe to communities that consistently post relevant and helpful topics. Just don’t fall into a rabbit hole of clickbait and learn to pace yourself.

Also, I realize it seems hypocritical of me to say “don’t read too many articles” as I write one, but I hope that I’ve been a little helpful at least and not inundate you all with tons more reading materials.

10. It’s going to be a battle for that first release, but it’s so worth it!

Note: I didn’t yell ‘hooray’ at my desk, but I did high-five some people at the office

It will be a very rewarding day when your first project gets released to the public.

Once it finally comes around, so you’ll have to be patient.

When I first got to QuarkWorks, I was put on a re-design project, which I worked on for the semester. That was back in 2017. We pushed out the designs at the end of last summer (2018) and still are working on updates and tweaks currently (2019).

Now, not all projects are like that of course, but when the main designs are finished, it’s sent to development and that can sometimes take awhile. Plus, you’ll have to come back and patch up the things you missed (like creating the copy for an information section which, at the time, you thought “Ah, someone else will do that” — thanks, past-me!)

But, there will come a point where you get to show off your design to someone, whether it’s to your manager or your family or the client and they are ecstatic with the results. And you’ll be so happy too that you’ll temporarily forget about all the hardships that went into making the design! Not to sound too cliché, but if you’re in a design career, shouldn’t seeing others appreciate your work make you happy? You did that. You thought it up, designed it, re-designed it, and gave it that final dusting before handing it off.

And then you move onto the next big thing! Just kidding, give yourself some time to relish your successes and reflect on your failures. What did you learn from this project that you’ll carry forward in your career? Maybe it’s not your calling after all? That’s fine too. It’s going to have its ups and downs, but so does every job. You’re going to need passion to get you through those tough times.

BONUS: I don’t actually know if “UX/UI designer” is the right term to use
Really, I have read way too many articles talking about how UI isn’t UX or that UI is a part of UX or that you should NEVER use the term UX/UI to describe your job title. I still don’t know the right answer and maybe I’ll come up with it later on in my career. To be honest, I wear both hats for my job so it’s pretty accurate. The thing that matters at the end of the day is your responsibilities and what skills you get to develop. Don’t get caught up in the title. I design stuff, that’s the bottom line.

One caveat though — if job searching, do tailor the title to the position that you’re applying for.

And that’s it! I hope that you can grow as a designer with each new project that you encounter. It might not be obvious at first, but within a few months, you’ll look back and realize how much you’ve changed. Keep going and keep learning!


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