Debunking 15 Common Myths About Starting a Career in UX
I’ve kept a list of commonly-held beliefs amongst new UX designers for a few years and they seem to hold up over time. I find myself dispelling these myths to designers every year so now I’ve captured them all in one convenient place!
Startups give you the best experience
They can absolutely give you great experience, but I tend to believe that Series A and younger startups are generally bad starting places. When you’re new to the field, you need mentorship, well-defined processes, and a bit of a slower pace; all things startups lack. Startups are better experiences when you have more experience.
Large corporations are boring
They are boring from the outside. But often they provide very complex challenges. While it lacks the speed of a startup, and variability of an agency, corporations make up with growth opportunities, mentorships, and deep problem spaces. I started my career in large corporations and wouldn’t change it if I could.
Silicon Valley is the only place worth working
I’ll be honest, I advise graduates in schools I talk to in the Midwest to make journeys outside their home state. But that does NOT mean it has to be to Silicon Valley. There is something special and distinctly unique about SV, but it’s bullshit that it’s the only place to find great opportunity. Tech has spread well throughout the country and while you won’t find many places with as many opportunities as SV, you will find grander opportunities in smaller markets.
Large companies are more stable than startups
I covered this in a tweet a few weeks ago:
The reality is that you can get canned at large companies too. What’s worse, it will often come without warning (unless you work at one of those rare, highly transparent organizations). You certainly have more of a safety net at a large corporation, but I’ve been through 30% and 50% layoffs at multi-billion dollar companies. In the last two years, I’ve witnessed more designers laid off from corporations than lose their job at failing startups.
You need to keep your portfolio up to date
Never trust a designer who keeps their portfolio updated. Either they always have one foot out the door, or they aren’t productive and fill their day exhibiting their work rather than doing it.
You need to maintain a personal brand
Ugh, look, if you are a freelancer this makes sense. Otherwise, lay off the personal brand Kim Kardashian. Believe it or not, employers will get to know you through verbal inter-personal interaction and don’t need a brand to remember who you are. Designers that focus on brand tend to be insufferable, and employers will read that negatively.
You’ll work on a feature or product that goes live in your first year
This is a hard truth. It was more true in the days of waterfall development but I tend to find it’s still pretty true. You either may not get put on a feature that goes live as a junior designer, or your feature will get canned. I don’t love telling designers to get good at “killing your darlings” but it is certainly true that something you work on for months can go up in smoke over night.
Non-designers on your team don’t know anything about UX
You will have the skills, theory and methodology to positively affect UX, but this doesn’t mean your team doesn’t get it. It’s like saying only chefs understand good food. They might be best suited to make good food, but plenty of avid Yelpers know what good food is.
You have great ideas
Maybe this one is actually true. But your ability to do anything with them is effectively zero. You need to learn how to turn ideas into reality, inspire a team to collaborate, persuade stakeholders to pursue it, etc. Employers aren’t actually hiring you for your ideas even if it feels that way. They’re hiring you to do a job and if you become good at it, you’ll eventually build the skills needed to execute your brilliant ideas.
Wireframing is grunt work
Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. This myth exhausts me but every new designer thinks the goal is to not do this anymore. Design is about design. Plain and simple. Over time, you may build up your leadership skills, but you shouldn’t expect to abandon design any time soon. Be prepared to hone your skills for twice as long as you expect. And trust me, when you think you’ve peaked, you haven’t.
Becoming a manager is THE goal
It could be your goal, but it’s not the only career path. Management is a fundamentally different job than design. If you want to move up in your org, this isn’t the only way. If you want to have more influence, this is probably the worst way.
Someone else will do user research
Even if you are lucky enough to work at a place with its own research team, you will always have to be a part of research. UX design is too fundamentally intertwined with understanding behavior and culture. As you become more senior, your judgment becomes sharper — but it only does so, if you’ve spent time in the trenches doing generative research, and summative research on products/services you’ve put out into the market.
Titles are important
Just stop caring right now while you can. Senior, Principal, Director, etc. It’s not as important as you think. In fact, titles are more about marketing positions to candidates than they are about actual responsibility. I still remember in my first design job when they changed our title structure and many of us immediately became Senior Designers without any actual promotion. It was simply a move to keep pace with the industry but not reflective of any actual seniority.
Some hot new technology is going to change your career
Today, that technology is AI. It will have an impact, but it won’t change your career the way you think. I’ve been told designing for desktop is dead for almost a decade and yet it still accounts for about 95% of our agency’s work. Statistically speaking, no new technology right now will have a significant impact on your work. Recently, I couldn’t go a week without reading an article saying interfaces were dead and everything would be conversational UI. Today it’s all about literal conversational UI’s in the form of plastic boxes that have human names. Some of these things will die, others won’t be as hard to adapt to as you think (mobile design wasn’t actually that hard to learn).
Good design sells itself
Does it really save me time? You know how TV chefs already have the ingredients pre-chopped for them, and all they have…www.uxpower.tools
When I’m not helping you contradicting strongly-held beliefs, I’m working on Sketch design tools at UX Power Tools to make you a better, more efficient designer.