The Gift of UX

Recently I was invited to a panel sharing hosted by General Assembly with the topic of Breaking into UX Design. Then I was asked to put up some post-content, so here’s a spin-off article based on it.

Warning! You should note that I have a penchant for sarcastic humour, so I’ll be giving you the gift of my unfiltered thoughts. Skip them if you’re big on political correctness.

Good UX is like giving the right gift.

I often like to explain things in analogies, so I tend to tell people that good UX Design is like giving the right gift. If you’ve needed to impress someone with a gift before, you know that it isn’t always easy. Just because you think you’ve got a great gift doesn’t mean that the receiving party will appreciate it.

By now, you must be thinking, “Hey, that’s right! I have that one friend who somehow always gives the best gifts! Is that because of UX design?!”. Okay, you weren’t thinking that — not in three sentences ending with exclamation marks anyway — but HECK YEAH IT IS. Also, if you don’t mind, could you share with me their LinkedIn page, please?

So what exactly is UX design? UX is the acronym for User Experience. Most would roughly define User Experience Design as a practice in which you improve the experience of people using a product or service. When that experience is designed right, it should give the user the same feeling as receiving the right gift — a warm fuzzy feeling that thaws one’s cold, frozen heart.

Politically Un-correct Commentary
User Experience Design is really more of a sacred religion. We practically worship our users as gods. Some even have User Personas framed up on their office walls. Just ignore that we often give them bad names and discuss their needs and wants as though they are desperate and greedy. Proves it’s not a cult, though.
— Derrick, 3003

What UX designers do at work.

Going back to the idea of gift-giving, UX Design is the process of giving someone the gift they really wanted — or never even knew they wanted. As part of the process, you would have to step into their shoes to understand them, learn what they value, and uncover clues to help you pick the right gift.

By the way, this act of stepping into someone’s shoes? This is known as empathy, which brings us to the next point.

Politically Un-correct Commentary
Oh. If you want to make someone like your gift, you could probably step on their toes and steal their shoes to teach the little ingrate what they should value.
— Derrick, 3003

To do UX Design, you have to be gifted in this…

This one thing called empathy. Everyone is supposed to situationally feel a good amount of it except psychopaths. Ergo, most people are already gifted with the ability to do UX Design. But what exactly is empathy?

Hint: Empathy is not sympathy.

Politically Un-correct Commentary
Empathy. Most people don’t have it, else they’d be UX designers. If you didn’t know, lack of empathy is also known as psychopathy, so if you’re not a UX designer… then guess what?
— Derrick, 3003

As FBI negotiator Chris Voss very immaculately articulated, “empathy is not the truth, it’s not the reality, it is the other side’s point of view”.

Very simply, instead of your point of view, you are accepting the other side’s point of view and trying to imagine their experience as your own.

One of the most hotly debated topics in the UX community is whether empathy can be taught and learnt. In my uneducated opinion… this debate has always been wrongly framed.

A better way to look at it is to ask whether we can help people gain more empathy. I believe that empathy has to be experienced, and people gain empathy by having equivalent experiences of their own.

So if you want to do UX design, it boils down to this — are you willing to experience, or at least imagine, what someone else is going through? It’s not that you need to be born gifted with empathy, but that you are gifted with the realisation that you need to have more of it. This is how good UX comes about.

Being able to work as a UX designer is a gift.

If you think about it, there should be no demand for our work as UX designers. Most people are capable of feeling empathy. Why are there still so many products and services that do not have a good user experience?

As it turns out, empathy is surprisingly well misunderstood.

In building a product or a service, many people tend to mistake their good intentions for users as having empathy and unwittingly inflict help unto thee poor unfortunate souls. We all think we know how the users feel, but we don’t. The activities we do in UX design are literally there to bridge this difference and help us get closer to understanding our users’ pains.

Because the road to hell is paved with good intentions :(

More importantly, empathy isn’t made a standard at work.

In most cases, empathy is not a priority if you are preoccupied with the complexities of creating the most top-of-the-line product/service. Focus on the product/service instead of the user causes the disconnect from the users’ goals. This is why we’re seeing the recent surge in demand for UX designers as organisations start to realise the importance of UX.

Without these two reasons, there may not be jobs for UX designers. Perhaps one day, when everyone understands empathy and applies it at work, UX designers won’t be needed anymore. For now, I’m just grateful to be gifted the opportunity to work as one.

Politically Un-correct Commentary
Who am I kidding here… it’s been thousands of years, and people still have not learnt to have empathy for others. Chances that UX designers would be out of a job any time soon are as low as meteorites landing on all the Disneylands, effectively ending the happiest places on earth.
— Derrick, 3003

Some gifts for UX Designer hopefuls!

Gift 1: Where should I start to learn about UX Design?

Many people often ask where they can start to learn UX design. The fact that you are even here reading this article tells me that you already know how to do so. Alas, empathy tells me that you need me to feed you confirmation bias, so here goes.

Politically Un-correct Commentary
The fact that you are still reading this does not bode well for you. Statistics show that if you’re unable to do this research by yourself, there is a 161.8% chance that you will fall for my devious schemes in seducing you into UX.
— Derrick, 3003

There are many ways to start. Enrol in a boot camp. Take online courses. Network with other UX designers and ask for mentorship. Read some UX books. Or just do all of them. Understand that there is no best method for everyone, and it is ultimately dependent on your will to succeed.

Here are some suggestions in no particular order of preference.

  1. Where to find courses/lessons:
    General Assembly
    Interaction Design Foundation
    Google UX Design Professional Certification
    Nielsen Norman Group
    Human Factors International
  2. Where to network/find mentors:
    LinkedIn
    meetup.com
    IxDA SG
    Service Design Network SG
    Design Buddies
    adplist.org
  3. Books you can read:
    Refactoring UI — Adam Wathan & Steve Schoger
    The Design of Everyday Things — Don Norman
    Don’t make me think — Steve Krug
    Atomic Design — Brad Frost
    About Face — Alan Cooper* (Strongly recommended)

Gift 2: Do I need to have certificates/degrees/coding background/photoshop skills etc., to get a UX job?

Here’s an important point to take note of! UX hiring managers tend to look at soft skills more than hard skills. These things… they’re mostly just helpful and valuable for a UX designer.

Not that necessary:

  • Programming skills
  • Photoshop skills
  • UX certifications
  • Design degrees

Necessary:

  • UX Design Portfolio

If there’s one thing you truly need (aside from empathy, I think I’ve oversold that one), it’s a UX Design portfolio. Most things won’t matter as much if you self-learn and manage to build a good portfolio. That said, it’s not as easy to come up with a good portfolio on your own without passion, without knowledge, without direction, and without help.

Politically Un-correct Commentary
I say that hard skills are valuable because… not all organisations have a structure for hiring UX and will have all sorts of excuses when negotiating a salary. Don’t say I said this, but this might not be the right time to have empathy.
— Derrick, 3003

Gift 3: What makes a good UX Design portfolio?

A good portfolio is like a movie trailer. It catches your interest in the first minute and makes you want more. It is original and easy to follow. Finally, it tells a good story and has a unique personality.

As standard practice, you’ll probably want to include these concepts in a portfolio:

  1. A short, sweet and unique self-introduction.
  2. Some well-documented projects that have:
    • Informative headers and meaningful images.
    • A golden thread that strings UX processes into a story.
    • Proof of the things you can and want to do.
    • Explanation of your design intent and decisions.
  3. Anything meaningful that helps an employer learn more about you.

And if you don’t have any design projects to talk about:

  1. Come up with your own.
  2. Use a topic that interests you deeply.
  3. Do an extensive in-depth design project around that topic.

Anyway, folks, that’s the safe route. The best tip that everyone gives is to treat your UX portfolio as another UX project. Think about your audience and come up with your unique way to impress them! One of the most creative portfolios I’ve seen on the internet is getcoleman.com. It is so good simply because it doesn’t just follow standard practice but is entertaining, has a personality, and proves skill.

Politically Un-correct Commentary
Gosh, treating your portfolio as another UX project is such lousy cliché advice. Just make sure you show uniqueness, don’t write too much, yet don’t show too little. Repeat these three concepts in every inch of your portfolio. Then send me the LinkedIn page of that friend who gives good gifts. Attach yours if you want, I guess.
— Derrick, 3003

Gift 4: What does the interview process look like for UX Designers?

If the portfolio is like a movie trailer, the interview is like movies at the cinemas. Here, you get more time to showcase yourself, and the audience’s focus is solely on you.

This movie will usually require you to share about yourself, a project you’ve done and then challenge you with some design tasks to test your ability. During the movie, employers will look for your fit with the team, as well as your ability to solve problems, communicate, and defend design decisions.

If they liked the movie… there might just be a need for a sequel.

Politically Un-correct Commentary
Your interviewers may be of age, but you should probably keep it to a family-friendly movie.
— Derrick, 3003

Also, don’t forget to ask questions! Just because I use a movie analogy doesn’t mean it’s a one-sided interaction. Make sure to seize the chance to check that the job is right for you.

Gift 5: What’s your UX journey been like?

Coincidentally, I’ve written a separate article on this topic earlier this year. You can read it here. Long story short though, it was difficult to get a job as a newbie, but I got lucky eventually and have never looked back since.

Politically Un-correct Commentary
Shameless self-plug, but I couldn’t resist writing less for this article. Read the linked article if you really want to know.
— Derrick, 3003

Gift 6: What is it like to work as a UX Designer in GovTech?

It’s awesome. I don’t have that much experience in many other organisations thus far, but I like it here.

Here are 10 reasons why I like my job. Skip to the last one if 10 reasons are too much for you.

  1. We get to contribute to something bigger than ourselves in our homeland.
  2. Projects tend to be extra meaningful.
  3. GovTech has above-average Design Maturity as an organisation.
  4. We have a design community because of the large number of designers working here.
  5. Designers and design work are valued here.
  6. Work-life balance is not a myth here. Whatever that even means.
  7. Our superiors care about us as people. They appreciate our work and are supportive of the things that we do.
  8. GovTech encourages and advocates learning.
  9. Eccentric for a government organisation, but GovTech is strangely flexible about many things.
  10. More than anything, I like my teammates. Nuff’ said.

Politically Un-correct Commentary
I work for this company so I can’t tell you any bad things. How about you experience the bad for yourself? *wink*
— Derrick, 3003

That’s all, folks! I hope you liked reading The Gift of UX. Smash like, leave a comment down below, don’t forget to subscribe and all that spew! Oh wait, this isn’t YouTube, and Medium doesn’t have any likes. Do whatever you want then!

Credits:

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Be Happy, Be Awesome! We deliver high-quality digital services to citizens and businesses in Singapore 😊

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Derrick Ng

Derrick Ng

I want to make many people happy and I think that the way to do that is to open an amusement park. In the meantime, I will stick to being a UX Designer.

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