User experience, commonly known as UX, is simply “how a person feels when interacting with a system”—everything from how a home page looks to the response you get when you order something online.
UX designers, obviously, are the folks who create those interactions. And with companies from Apple to Zendesk emphasizing UX like never before, now is a great time to be one.
We spoke with two leaders in the field to learn what they look for in a UX designer.
“The people we train as UX designers come from a wide variety of backgrounds,” says Carolyn Chandler, Co-Founder of the School for Digital Craftsmanship at ADMCI. “People who can get outside themselves and take the perspective of the user. Visual designers, web designers, even writers.”
She says, “Writers are detail-oriented. They understand content, meaning and categorization, the components of information architecture. Of course, they sometimes need to work on communicating visually.”
Visuals are critical to UX, naturally, but Chandler considers visual thinking fundamental to every aspect of the job.
“The very first class we get people sketch-noting—trying to draw what comes to mind while someone is talking. It activates more of your brain. We once did a workshop with a bunch of lawyers. At first they tended to find constraints, like ‘we can’t design this because of XYZ.’ But our exercises got them to look at problem-solving a different way.”
She points to MailChimp’s light-hearted prompts as an example of that kind of creativity. “UX should delight you. To compete in a crowded market, you have to stand out.”
Where do Chandler’s students find their first jobs after completing the program?
“You have to understand where your strengths are. Look for lower-level work while you broaden your skill-set—non-profits, or go to 1871 and find startups who can’t pay you yet! Learn the strategy, not just how it works.”
John Yesko, Senior Director of Online Customer Experience at Walgreens, isn’t likely to hire anyone right out of school.
“You might have the skills, but not the experience we need,” he says. “I recommend edging your way into it by working in an adjacent field in visual design or technology. Take a side job or volunteer—get yourself close to digital projects where you say, ‘How can I help make this better?’”
He explains the role UX designers play at Walgreens. “They won’t only be working with other UX designers, but in multi-disciplinary teams. We’re set up to be agile, so they need to hit the ground running—design, present and build consensus. They’re really internal consultants.”
So what does he look for when he’s hiring?
“An e-commerce or retail background is obviously pretty helpful, but not mandatory. It depends on the individual, but generally you’re from a design or tech background, with an interest in psychology and people. I want to see a portfolio with wireframes, site maps and customer journey maps, but I want to know the story, too—the resources you had, and the process you went through.”
“Sometimes people can master a wireframe but they can’t tell a story. If you can tell me about the problem and how you solved it—or failed to solve it—that’s the key to advance in your career and lead.”
Here are just some of the places you can receive training in UX design: