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Terrible UX Design Job Descriptions (Or: How To Avoid Bad UX Design Jobs)

Jamal Nichols
Mar 12, 2019 · 7 min read

Video version of this article:

Terrible UX Design jobs are flooding the market right now.

You can tell a lot about a UX Design job and who wrote it based on the job description. Think about it: to find a qualified worker, you first need to figure out what you’re looking for. You then need to write what you’re looking for and post your writing online. Anything you write tells people a lot about your thought process.

I’m writing this to give you some guidelines on what to be wary of, so you can either avoid these terrible UX Design jobs or at least know what you’re getting yourself into(we all sometimes need to take crappy jobs to pay the bills).

What to beware of when looking at UX job descriptions:

If It Asks You To Code

UX Design job descriptions are split up into two sections: in the first bucket they talk about what you’ll be doing (Roles & Responsibilities), and in the second section they talk about the skills you need to have to do what you’ll be doing there (Requirements).

If, in the second bucket, they’re writing something like “knowledge of HTML/CSS is a plus”, that’s fine. Every designer should know a little about how to code, or should’ve coded a website/app from scratch once in their life because it gives you more context around how things are built, which makes you a better team member to engineers. It’s the same as an architect needing to know his materials, or a fashion designer knowing how to sew.

However, if in the list of job responsibilities they explicitly state “be able to code your designs”, or “ability to turn your designs into production-ready code”, close that job posting immediately. What that language tells you is that this company can’t afford to hire front-end developers, so they’re trying to save money by having one person do multiple jobs. They don’t understand how much work it is to do great design and great front-end development. It’s good to be frugal, but working with people that try to save in the wrong areas will always be a bad experience.

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Above: a crappy UX Design Job

If it uses the words “beautiful”, “intuitive”, and “pixel perfect” too often

If the job posting constantly talks about building “beautiful, intuitive pixel-perfect user interfaces”, that tells you that this company doesn’t understand what design is really about. This company still thinks that design is about making things pretty. Those phrases are platitudes used by people who haven’t reflected on what they need and what they are really saying.

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Expect a lot of people folding their arms and rubbing their chins while looking at your designs

Even if you’re a visual designer, this is a tough environment to work in, because as a visual designer your job is not just to make things beautiful — your job is to communicate visually. In a job like this, you will get into debates around personal taste a lot — because who quantifies what “beautiful” means and to whom?

What will happen is that you won’t even get a chance to create visual designs that are as good as they could be, because you won’t have any real metric to ground your visual communication in.

If It Says Design Reports Into Engineering

This could go either way: if you have a fantastic engineering team that really understands the value of user experience design and is motivated to build a great user experience no matter the cost, you might form a great partnership.

Most of the time, though, this shows an organization that when faced with the choice of shipping a great user experience at the cost of a substantial (re-)engineering effort, will choose to not put in the effort. You’ll hear a lot of arguments from people in engineering like “we can’t do this because we can’t implement this in the build”. A friend of mine working at a major payments vendor in the south bay hears this all the time. Engineers can do anything — but they need to be motivated and see the vision behind it. In most engineering-led orgs, creating a great experience design isn’t the top priority most of the time.

In most engineering-led orgs, creating a great experience design often simply isn’t the top priority.

If It Says Design Reports Into Product

Again, this is a situation where it could go either way. At WalmartLabs, I had one fantastic product manager. She was brilliant at what she did. She spent most of her time doing research, discovering opportunities in the market, defining the vision, keeping teams aligned, socializing ideas, and getting buy-in and agreement from stakeholders. When she had identified a new opportunity in the market, she approached the designers and engineers to discuss the opportunity. She roughly outlined what she thought it should do and what problems it should solve, and what are products in the market that are doing something similar. If we decided that it makes sense to move forward, we set deadlines, but then she let us do the rest. She never told the designers how to design or the engineers how to code. She was the glue between the teams and could compensate for the weakness many designers and engineers have with communication. She made sure we communicated with each other, and she helped good ideas get pushed through and approved by the right people. It was a fantastic relationship because I could focus on creating a great experience, engineers could focus on engineering, and she did everything else.

Great product managers spend most of their time doing research, discovering opportunities in the market, defining the vision, keeping teams aligned, socializing ideas, and getting buy-in and agreement from stakeholders. They are the glue between teams. However, most product managers are terrible.

However, most product managers are terrible. They do the opposite of what she did. They are either too hands-on, in which case they draw detailed wireframes and just expect the designers to do visual mockups of what they drew out. Or they are too hands-off, in which case no decisions get made, because they don’t know what they want or where things should go — they have no vision. In the latter case, they also are reactive to whatever other stakeholders say should be done, so you end up in situations where you frequently change the entire product direction, sometimes multiple times a day.

It’s made worse by this idea going around that product managers are like ”mini CEOs” of the products they’re shipping. This leads to many an insecure product manager thinking they’re Steve Jobs and that they can just bulldoze their ideas through under the pretense of being a brilliant product visionary that can distort reality.
They don’t realize the true value a great product manager can add, so they’re insecure about their position and try to mask it with posturing and politics. This is especially true of younger product managers who don’t have children. Both growing older and having children teaches you patience, empathy, communication, and leadership(I’m aware that this isn’t always the case). If you’ve got both age and kids, you have a killer combination. It’s a shame that people in tech don’t value that more. But I’m digressing.

A red flag to look out for is if this company has already hired three or four product managers and has no designers on their team at all. That tells you where their priorities lie and how they value design. This is something that you can’t find out from the job description alone but you can find out in the first screening call.

Be careful out there

The UX field right now is experiencing “growing pains”. The field is growing rapidly thanks to software eating the world, and there are a lot of competing voices out there trying to tell people what design is really about. The market is getting flooded by junior designers who come out of boot camps and don’t really know what they are doing yet. Most companies still don’t “get” what design is, let alone what great design is, and are trying to squeeze all of the creativity and personality out of it to reduce it to a process that can be reproduced by anyone you slot into the position, like mass-producing canned food.

Because of this dynamic, there are a lot of terrible UX design jobs out there, and lots of Jr Designers lining up to be treated poorly. Not every job you take is going to be your dream job, but you should at least know what you’re getting yourself into.

I run a jobs board over at my platform Truth About Design. New jobs are being added almost daily, and I promise you there will never be crappy jobs listed there.

Truth About Design

Candid truth and guidance for the design industry

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