Why I Decided to Become a UX Designer
The Design Part
I was always fascinated of the value and impact design has on many areas of life.
There was a time, I was really into fashion and dreamed of a career in fashion design. I did an internship in a tailor’s shop during school, but had to admit that I’m neither talented, nor motivated enough to learn how to deal with sewing machines, irons and different fabrics. I left the shop after two days of internship and an argument with my boss.
A few years later, I dreamed of a career in interior design. I don’t know why I haven’t actually pursued this career path. Maybe, with the experience of my first internship in mind, I didn’t believe in my talent in craftsmanship and physics, which could be important when you want to become an interior architect.
The issue of studying design
Instead, I started to love design in the world of advertising and media. I did another internship in an office for communication design. After two weeks of impressions and insights, I was absolutely determined to study communication design as soon as I’ve left school. So I did a little bit of research and talked to some school-friends who also considered to start studying design as well as friends who already started to apply for universities. Instead of bringing me closer, the research took me more and more away from my plan to become a communication designer, for several reasons:
First, there didn’t exist many state universities which offer a communication design course and I was not willing to spend 800 euro per month (excluding fees for the application process and examinations) for being allowed to study at a private university.
It should be mentioned here, that in Germany studying at a private university is much more uncommon and unpopular than in other countries. Furthermore, it doesn’t increase your chances to find a good job after studies as state universities often have a better reputation.
The second reason which kept me from studying design was the immense effort the application process involved: Each university required a unique portfolio, tailored to their respective expectations.
To be honest, I didn’t feel capable to develop a dozen portfolios at this stage of my “career”. Some people would say that I was just lazy. But in fact, I was scared and not ready for this challenge. On the one hand I was intimidated by the experiences of other design applicants who tried to be accepted by universities for three years. On the other hand, I had again doubts about my creative skills in general.
Studies as self-exploration?
So what did I do?
I decided to study something which stuck somewhere in the middle between economy, design, tech and media. As I had so many interests but hadn’t a clear idea of my talents and goals, this was the best choice in this situation. And I still don’t regret it, because the course “Advertising and Market Communications” opened me the way to a career in media and design, but also gave me the chance to gain insights into various fields and professions and therefore to learn about my real interests and talents.
Unfortunately, a modern Bachelor’s course which leads you through your studies in a fast and predestined way doesn’t leave much time for self-discovery.
So, I always found myself being torn between the points I’m able to do, and the ones I love to do: Studying communication design? Would be super cool, but no, I’m not able to be such creative. Working in an advertising agency? Yes, but not as a creative. I can still make presentations. Working as a strategist? Yes, I’m a very structured and analytical thinker. Let’s do it!
Instead of finding the healthy middle between both extremes, I had the increasing feeling to move towards the “able to do” side. But what about the argument that we become skilled and talented in something we love so much that we do it every second? Every talent is worthless when it isn’t practised and “talent” can evolve from practising. So why do not concentrate on the things I love?
The UX Part
During my latest working experience I developed a special interest and fascination for user-centred approaches. As a member of the insights team in an agency for brand and business strategies, I learned to identify business opportunities, give strategic recommendations and find new solutions on the basis of consumer insights. I also acquired a lot of knowledge in consumer research, both methodically and practically, as this was the source the consumer insights derived from.
While getting deeper into the user-centred design topic by reading books and preparing for job interviews, I realised that it doesn’t only interest me, I really believe in it.
User-centered thinking in marketing
At the same time, I understood that marketing isn’t the right job for me. Although these words might seem sober and clear, the last months have been accompanied by some uncertainties and confusions. Do I really want to leave my previous career path and dive into something new?
Yes, I want.
The point which makes me so confident is that in marketing - and this might be a hypothesis, but it reflects my personal experiences - there is no place for user-centred thinking.
This sounds at the first moment entirely unrealistic, especially when we think about recent developments in online marketing and targeting by using customer data.
But I’m not talking about digital ads or big data, I am talking about brand and business strategy, about moments when important decisions are made, which affect the whole company, if not whole markets.
Underestimating the value of user research
Those decisions are often made off the top of CEOs’ heads, supported by strategy consultants, but with too little reliable information about the customers.
The argument which is emphasized here, is that a brand is created by its owners and the implementation of a strategy will fail, if stakeholders don’t stand fully behind it.
I don’t really want to say anything against that. But in the end, every strategy in marketing needs to contribute to the overall goal: sell something to a customer for money.
Whether the company is a service provider, a traditional manufacturer or an app start up. They all do their job for the customers’ money. If we take this into consideration, doesn’t it seem absolutely natural to make every decision in brand strategy with the customer in mind?
In fact, consumer research has a difficult standing in the marketing universe and I know a lot of people who don’t think much of it, despite the increased possibilities in user research.
However, I see the complete opposite in the tech industry when it comes to designing and developing digital user experiences: User research and defining goals and deliverables from the user’s perspective makes 70 percent of the whole development process (as I’ve learned in a UX meetup last week). And user tests are an obligatory and repeating step to ensure that the user really benefits from the product and is finally willing to buy it.
Understanding UX Design
In the past I often associated UX with only designing user interfaces in Photoshop. But now I know that it particularly includes strategic thinking and the capability to translate research results into usable products and services. So, being a UX designer is not so far away from the tasks I mastered in my previous job in marketing and brand strategy, but with an important difference:
Digital products are created with the user in mind. Always.
For this reason, user research and user-centred design mark the starting point and lay the foundations in UX design while in brand strategy they are handled as add-on services with little contribution.
When I’m now comparing my earlier thoughts on design (which prevented me a long time from becoming a designer) with design like it is nowadays - a time when digital products emerge everywhere and support us in nearly every daily situation - I finally understand the real value and impact design has on our lives, which is far more than aesthetics and styling. Instead, it shapes the way how we solve tasks and interact with products and other people. This is why Design and UX are so closely linked to each other.
So, UX Design turned out as the perfect job for me as it combines the things I enjoy doing and the ones I’m good at. It finally solves the “able to do” vs. “love to do” problem. Im right in the middle now.