What’s it like to work in UX? We asked Dustin Hamilton, Association User Experience Director at Manifest, to share some insight into how to get started in user experience, what a typical workday is like, and how he envisions the future of UX.
How do you explain to people what you do? (Technically speaking or in Layman’s terms)
Generally I tell people that I make products and services easier to use, and that if someone like me has done a good job, that the user shouldn’t really have any notion that my job exists.
How did you get where you are? How did you choose UX/how did you find your current position?
For over 13 years I was in Information Technology, but I had a background in psychology. A director, of what was then called “Intelligent Traffic Systems”, approached me to make their in-vehicle navigation systems easier to use. My career in Usability Engineering, which eventually grew into User Experience, began.
How do you define user experience?
This is a tough one and it’s grown over time as my roles have changed. Currently, when asked what I do, I generally share: I make digital products (web sites, mobile apps, etc.) and services easier to use. Ideally, if I’ve done my job, you shouldn’t have any idea my job exists since there was no friction in using the product/service.
How do you differentiate user experience? What’s the difference between UI and UX Design?
I think of User Experience practitioners as problem solvers. We solve problems in interactions with a user interface (digital or analog), and also with services such as insurance purchases. Not to say that UI (visual design) doesn’t solve problems, they’re solving problems of a different nature.
What does a typical workday look like? (What are the hours like? Do you travel for work? What’s the culture like?)
While agencies can get a bad rap for requiring a ton of hours, there really isn’t any need to go past about 45 hours per week with proper project planning. Anywhere you work these days is going to be about 45 hours per week anyhow.
While travel is part of the work, I wouldn’t say it goes past the 15% mark in general. It all depends on the client, and the engagement, to determine how much in-person time is needed.
When coming to Manifest, one of the strongest draws was the collaborative culture – everyone is always looking out for the best of the agency and teams. We share knowledge readily and regularly, while also having a good time doing the work. It’s definitely an at-ease environment, despite how seriously the work is taken.
What teams do you work with on a daily basis?
UXers need to be coordinators of sorts, working with each team in the agency and certain teams on the client end as well. Internally this is project management, account management, and visual design, just to name some. We work, often times, with the client’s teams as well – be it project management, their design teams, and sometimes even the C-suite (CEOs, CMOs, etc.).
What’s your favorite thing about working in user experience?
Without a doubt, the problem-solving aspect of things, in addition to the great feeling of knowing I’m making people’s lives easier, whether it be purchasing insurance, getting medications they need, or any number of other life needs.
What did you want to be when you “grow up” (as a child)? If you could have any job in the world, and money weren’t an issue, what would you be?
An astronaut! Since a young age I’ve always been interested in outer space, and that continues today, although I’d hardly qualify to become an astronaut. If I didn’t have to worry about money, I’d be doing this same UX work and likely in the healthcare space to ensure that people get the care they need as easily as possible with regards to both digital and analog experiences.
What skills/talents are most valuable for people who want to become a leader in the UX space?
I’ve been asked this a number of times, and I haven’t yet run across a background that didn’t bring something valuable to their UX career. I would say that the pairing of empathy and listening are the key skills needed. Empathy to feel where the user is in their journey/experience, and listening – real active listening – to really hear what the user is saying, and to read between the lines of what they’re not saying.
What’s the most important aspect of user experience?
I’d still have to go with empathy and listening. Without them the experiences simply wouldn’t be living up to their potential. It’s all about the ability to take any interface or service and making the experience easier for people. It’s as simple as that, in my opinion.
What are some recent trends you’ve seen in user experience? What will be the “next big thing” in user experience?
UX people are truly problem solvers, and with that said, the next thing that comes to mind is expanding that skillset from interfaces to services and ‘larger’ problems in the world in general. They’re the same skills that we already have in our ‘UX toolkit’, just expanded in scope to address larger issues.
UX has grown rapidly in the past few years. How do you see user experience evolving over the next year? Next 5 years?
Wow – what a question. While the skills that comprise UX existed separately, it wasn’t even but about a decade ago that they started coming together to what we see now. It’s amazing to think about that. What’s next? I think it’s for businesses to realize there is a return on the investment in people that practice UX and the benefits that come from solving problems at both a strategic (the “what” and “why”) and tactical level (the “how”).
What advice would you give entry-level UX talent just starting out?
Without a doubt, be your genuine self. While you need to be professional, don’t check your personality at the door. Realize that everything you’ve experienced in life up to this moment applies to user experience. We’ve all experienced good and bad interfaces, services, and more. The last bit of advice I have is that I highly recommend looking into the notion of Emotional Intelligence. Being an emotionally intelligent person will take you further in your career, regardless of trade, than one may think.
What’s the best way to learn user experience? School? Self-education?
Yes. Hah. I’m self-taught, but when I started this path 9+ years ago, UX wasn’t around in the form it is currently. Now there are many options – formal schooling at a university, any number of boot camps, and then self-education of course. To really get your foot in the door, there is a need to show competency, and unfortunately self-study on its own isn’t going to demonstrate that. Therefore, I highly recommend schooling that is appropriate to you (cost and timeline). I’m seeing great talent coming out of both university and boot camp programs. It has to do more with your passion for the field. Self-study? You’ll need to be open to constantly learning in this field – be it a new framework, new evaluation method, or any number of new things that happen in the field on a regular basis.
What is the biggest misconception about UX?
I think some feel that this is a difficult field to get into. There is no barrier to entry into this field other than some schooling. It’s a trade we all have the starts of just by the experiences in our lives. It’s a skill that can be learned and developed.
Anything else you think would be useful for aspiring UXAs/UXDs?
Get to know those in the industry by going to networking events, which can be daunting for introverts, but there are ways to work with that as well. People not only are the center of UX, but you’ll find they are central to finding not just a job, but also the right job. The best long-term fit. Don’t be afraid of asking for “informational interviews”, not only to learn about the companies out there, but also for the interview practice. Again, be professional while also being your genuine self.
Having a passion for problem-solving and making people’s lives easier has helped Dustin become the UX designer he is today. Through active listening and understanding a user or client’s dilemma, Dustin and other UX designers are able to provide smooth experiences on digital devices and services.
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