Advice for early-career designers
Glen Lipka, employee #1 of Marketo gave the first presentation, with advice about interviewing for a job in UX. In many ways, it was an object lesson in empathy, as he illustrated many ways that applicants fail to understand the mindset, goals or expectations of the person interviewing them. He described reviewing a portfolio with illegible yellow text over a gray background – but that he’s more focused on what transpires when he asks the applicant about it. A bad design choice is something he might expect in a less-experienced designer but the ability to explain a design choice and especially to acknowledge that a design decision could be improved was really what he was looking for. Some of his points are well-captured in How to Pass My UX Designer Phone Screen and his deck is here.
Aynne Valencia is a design strategist. She presented a “field report” from a number of conferences she’d been at in the last while (I remember IxD14, SXSW and some others in Europe), looking at the trends in interaction design that were here now, coming soon, and further out. Some examples included Brad the emotional toaster, and Berg’s Cloudwash. I couldn’t find her slide deck, either, but she continues to document the things she’s seeing on her blog.
Christian Crumlish, the Director of Product at CloudOn, spoke about what makes a great designer, acknowledging that he’s not a designer at the moment and further unpacking the challenging nature of trying to speak to such a big topic from one person’s biased point of view. Meanwhile, he identified three qualities
- Breadth: Having creative pursuits outside of design that you can uses as sources of inspiration. His ukelele is an example of something he does for fun but will occasionally provide a surprising new perspective or framework. You can read a bit more on this same theme in my review of Debbie Millman’s How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer
- Passion: Apply everything to your work, or refocus on new work if your passions leads you there.
- Restlessness: Never being fully satisfied and always looking for something new or better.
Finally, with some prompting from Glen, he played and sang a bit of “Satellite of Love” on his ukelele.
I was the last presenter. I gave an overview of my own crazy career path (see Disciplinarity and Rigour? My keynote from the 2008 Design Research Society conference and then offered the following thoughts and suggestions
- Network. Do it online, but do it in person as well. LinkedIn is good for a soft intro, but find people and talk to them. Take a long view about your career and your relationships that are part of that career. Be authentic. Be interested. Don’t think about what people can do for you or you can push people away.
- As you go out and speak to people, take the approach of prototype and iterate. Figure out your story, your objectives, what you have to offer and your strengths by talking them through. Use informational interviews to live practice of what you have to say and how you want to say it.
- I can’t really back this up but I suspect that in one era, you’d be told to get a job in an agency because that’s where the good design was happening; and then in a subsequent era you’d be told to get a job inside a corporation because that’s where the design work really was, and then people might be telling you to work in a startup because (although not always the case) startups were really making design part of their thing, and now it doesn’t seem like terrible advice to do your own startup. Given the tools that are available for small teams to design, develop, build and deploy significant pieces of technology whether it’s the App sSore or AWS or whatever, it seems open to almost anyone now. Personally, I never really wanted to make a thing once I discovered facilitating others to be making a thing.
- Look for your advantage in moments of upheaval. Design is changing; industrial design is really suffering, firms and agencies are suffering, teams are downsizing; UX is increasingly important but where the jobs are and what they entail keeps shifting.
- There’s also something with increasingly alternative forms of education. Jon Kolko used to teach at SCAD and then he went and started his own school – the Austin Center for Design. Jared Spool is in the process of starting a school in Chattanooga – the Unicorn Institute. These people are seeing the gaps between the jobs that need to be filled and the people that are trained to do them and they are trying to address that. Even if you aren’t seeking education yourself, there are patterns emerging and it’s worth your while to keep an eye on it, keep trying to make sense of it, and keep trying to connect what you are passionate to do with what the opportunities are
- For me, career has been struggle in various forms all the way along. It’s great to have the benefit of time because then you can have hindsight. Struggle might be another way of saying that it’s about finding the next challenge and pursuing it, because the ground doesn’t stay still beneath your feet. There are plenty of rewards along the way; and the struggle sucks the most in the early days; it is suckiest when you are at the bottom of the Maslow pyramid and are concerned with survival not spiritual fulfillment. Over and over again I keep being reminded that no one will come and hand it to you. I keep waiting to be discovered and given a magic solution but really it’s about moving forward in small ways.
Thanks to Jorge for organizing this and the speakers for some really compelling talks.