3 UX lessons that school doesn’t teach you
Nowadays, a lot of people are making a fuss of the difficulty that individuals are facing in getting into UX Design and in finding an internship job.
Flat out, people can easily gain UX methods by enrolling through online courses. They can also gain it through Design Schools and bootcamps. As a result, every Junior Designers’ application forms have mentioned almost the same skills with one another, thus, making it hard to stand out in a pile of resumes on the office desk.
When I enrolled in my Master School studying HCI, while wearing my rose colored glasses, I clearly realized the true meaning of the reality of life without the sugar coating and all — even if you have the UX methods and you are passionate with what you do, that doesn’t mean that you can easily succeed in job search.
In fact, I love doing so many things — I love bouncing my ideas off, getting my creative juices flowing, jotting people’s quotes down and interpreting the insights behind it, pitching the ideas to the clients and showing of the ideas proudly. I thought that these skills will help me in getting my intern job, but I was wrong. All I received was my delivered resumes and portfolios with bowed head. I tried pushing my luck again but then, I was still rejected.
Here, I am going to share my story on how my perseverance lead me in learning skills that are very significant and beneficial with my field and yet nobody teaches these lessons in schools.
Way back summer 2017, I started a job at a local start up for my internship. Since I believed I was lacking enough industry experience in my first job, I started to look for my second internship during the fall.
I was confident that my design skills were “enough”. Boy, I was wrong.
I had an interview with the Design Director at Zhihu, China’s Quora. I was challenged with a question:“ Hey, are you always an Android user?” I said yes, honestly, hadn’t had a second thought. He smirked. And later I was rejected with the realization that he’s a huge apple fan who avidly answers questions such as “What are the most impressive design details in Apple’s iOS 11?”
After that interview, that’s when I realized that with all the innovations in our generation now, designers should not just focus with just one brand’s interface design (e.g. Android or Apple), instead, the skills and knowledge of a designer must be broad enough to satisfy distinctive design patterns.
So to widen my skills, I switched to iPhone and started a study group to read design guidelines (both iOS Human Interface Guidelines and Google Material Design) and do app critiques together, following Julie Zhuo’s How to do a Product Critique.
You know the feeling that your skills are improving little by little? I persisted for two months and that’s how I felt. I never actually thought that it felt so rewarding and overwhelming! I became more sensitive about the design patterns and how designers can leverage its power to improve communication with developers and ease the learning curve for our users. (Check this awesome presentation, Communication Between Designers and Developers, for more detail.)
Lately, I’ve been asking myself these questions like:
- Why do some products succeed but other products with the same design patterns fail? e.g. Stories
- Why are there products being widely used even though they aren’t intuitive at all? e.g. Snapchat
- Why do some cool visual styles kill the vibes of a product? e.g. Wikipedia, Facebook
I browsed through my role model’s Twitter account and I discovered some factors that can affect a product.
There was this concept that blew me away, it was called the Network Effect, the moat that Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Amazon are desperately building. The famous Google Design Challenge Pet adoption is a kind of Network Effect with both supply (shelters) and demand (pet seekers). There are many special tactics to launch different features in order to solve the chicken-egg problems and achieve the Network Effect.
The Growth Framework is another strategy framework that I’ve used in my design challenge. There was a time when I was challenged to improve a sign-up flow, but improving the interaction details has only exposed something. Wouldn’t it be great if designers can think beyond the sign-up flow? Answer these questions by looking at the business perspective; How do we acquire people? How can we get people to be in that aha! moment? How can we deliver core product value? (Check out Chamath Palihapitiya’s video to learn more.)
Initially, I didn’t think that these frameworks would help me in my interview; after all I was just a Junior Designer. But fortunately, it turned out great. These frameworks helped me create a bigger picture of the product development process and have the same ideas with the product managers. (see more at Julie Zhuo’s What to expect from PMs.)
Honestly, I was envious of my friends when they got into Google as UX Design Interns with good resumes.
After some time I realized that I was wrong. When I had two interns, I was exposed to the real working environment. I started to learn doing these:
Design: I learned how to break down a daunting task of “building a design system”, how to revamp the visual style by using Html and Less in 1 month, and how to utilize growth framework to transform business goal of “improving retention” to tangible design goals that I could easily work on.
Persuasion: I learned how to get engineers to involve themselves in brainstorming session to build their sense of ownership and how to get the CEO on board with the deliverables that he cares about.
Facilitation: I learned how to gather ideas with limited resources by approaching Customer Success Managers and Data Analysts, and how to receive constructive feedback and start the head conversation for a more stimulating project.
I am thankful for all the challenges that I’ve encountered and most of all, the support that I’ve got. Our CEO even introduced my design on the 2017 Enterprise WeChat Partner Conference. The feeling of being able to execute my design and accomplish tasks makes my heart sing.
At first, I wished that I could get into my dream company with my own Design Method. But along the way, I realized how important those three UX lessons are:
- Design Patterns help me make more intricate designs that make both engineers and users happy.
- Design Strategy gives me new perspectives on design challenges.
- Industry Experience helps me become my true self as a UX designer.
I am grateful that I took the initiative and got into my dream company.
I can’t wait to start my new journey to learn and grow with continuous iterations. Hello, Google!