We know many of you Tech Ladies want to start or advance your career in design and UX (user experience). But we’ve also heard that you have lots of questions about how to do that!
We recently spoke with Karen T. Lin, a design and UX leader with over 15 years of experience, to get her insights into how to start and find success in the dynamic world of design and UX. Check out the recap of our conversation below!
Karen's journey in UX began in a Human Factors & Engineering Psychology degree program. But she believes that a formal program isn’t necessarily the most important part of your learning. She says, “It matters more what attitude you bring to that program and what you come out of that program with.”
And she stresses that, throughout your career, you should always be in control of your learning. She encourages you to take your education in your own hands, recognizing what gaps the education has and trying to fill them.
As she says, “Learning on the job is definitely the best. And, in absence of that, creating your own opportunities to learn—with actual hands-on project experience—is the next best thing to do.”
Job Searching Strategically
As far as landing a UX and design role goes, Karen says, as a hiring manager, she looks at resumes and portfolios to figure out, “What do you know already that you’ve shown or proven? And what gaps do you have that I’ll have to fill if you join the company?” For this reason, it's important to be aware of your skill gaps!
She recommends organizing your portfolio around the work that’s most similar to what the company is looking for or, if you don’t have directly similar work, explaining how your previous work has given you skills that you’ll need for the job.
Karen also says you can increase your chances of finding the right role by researching the other roles the company has open. This can help you figure out how the team is structured, which could tell give you more understanding of what you’ll be doing and how the team will function.
And, for those of you concerned about sharing proprietary work in your portfolio, Karen says that you still have a few options:
- You can create a “parallel design” by duplicate the original one and then removing identifying elements.
- You can share a low-fidelity version where proprietary info isn’t clearo
- Yu can simply explain the process you went through to create the work so the potential employers understands the skills you used and the experience you gained from it.
Navigating Scope Creep
Karen says that, once you get started in UX and design, you’ll find that the work varies a lot based on the stage of theproject or product. In the beginning, it’s a matter of figuring out what the scope of work is, i.e. what all you’re actually trying to do with the design. That means finding out from stakeholders what they’re hoping to achieve, asking if they’ve considered other solutions, and then deciding how much of the problem can be tackled.
She shares how they refer to scope at her company with a fun metaphor: “cupcake, birthday cake, and wedding cake”.
This can be a helpful way to set a stakeholder’s expectations around time and resources because you say it’s not possible to get a whole “birthday cake” by tomorrow, or that a "wedding cake" isn't necessary for a project that's more equivalent to a baby's birthday party. 🎂
Working on Agile Teams
Karen also shared her experience trying to fit UX and design into agile workflows. At some companies, "There's an expectation to have UX and design bend over backward to fit into that agile 'box.'” She recognizes it’s necessary to work within that, but she still strives to make her work user- and human-centered.
Karen has worked as a 1-person consultancy and on teams as big as 150 design employees. She’s found that the main difference between small and big teams is the complexity. On a large team, she says there are “so many dependencies that feed into it and, in many cases, old legacy systems. So there are just some things from a technology standpoint that require avery very difficult, high-level of effort just to change.”
In these cases, you have to keep in mind the impact on both the business and the customer when thinking about UX and design decisions.
The mistake she sees being made is that the definition of success is rarely in the voice of the user. Even the people that hire you for a UX role may not fully understand the impact of UX and design so you might have to be the one to point out when a decision is business-centered or technology-centered but not user-centered.
When it comes to moving to the next level in your UX and design career, Karen says to “look at the reality of those opportunities at your company”, i.e. the chances of the position you want opening up.
Karen encourages Tech Ladies at all levels to work with your manager to make a career development plan. This should help you identify the skills you need in your next role and help you build a plan to grow those skills. You should also keep your eye out for roles at other companies that have roles you’re interested in. (You don't want to put all your eggs in one basket, after all!)
As she says, “If you don’t advocate for yourself and then also look for support and sponsors to advocate on your behalf, it just doesn’t happen.“ So don't be afraid to put yourself out there and let the people in your network know what kind of career growth you're looking for.
To stay up to date in UX and design at any point in your career, Karen recommends following different voices on LinkedIn - but to keep seeking out different perspectives to combat the algorithm serving you the same viewpoint over and over!
And, as a last piece of advice, she says that, while platforms and interfaces will continue to change (like the evolution from PCs to mobile apps to AI, etc), the core methodologies and process of UX and design will keep staying the same. “So don’t stress out about it!”
Hope these recommendations from a seasoned UX and design pro help you navigate your career. Make sure to become a member (it's free!) to hear about future events just like this one that help you grow your career.