While there have been many books written about user experience (UX) methods, the topic of UX careers hasn’t seen as much discussion. Noted UX expert Cory Lebson of Lebsontech LLC is changing that with “The UX Careers Handbook,” which features concrete tips and techniques for improving UX careers, a review of different kinds of UX careers, a guide to navigating the UX career lifecycle, tips for hiring managers and more.
A photograph of a colorful variety of cheesecake slices might not seem like an obvious pick for the cover of “The UX Careers Handbook,” but there’s a good reason for that selection. It represents choice. According to author Cory Lebson — a regular contributor to top UX publications — there are many UX career pathways to pick from today.
“A key premise of the book is that UX represents an umbrella concept that encompasses a number of careers,” Lebson told us. “As such, critical skills related to UX methods are going to vary based on the specific UX profession that we’re talking about.”
While UX is often associated with interaction design, Lebson highlights an array of other UX disciplines, including user research and evaluation, information architecture, content strategy, technical communication, visual design, accessibility, customer experience and others.
Advice for budding UX professionals
Lebson believes certain soft skills are essential for any UX professional, including truly caring about the needs of the people who use the products and services they create, curiosity and creative problem solving abilities. Adaptability is also imperative as technology continues to evolve. But when it comes to professional training, the diversity of UX careers means there’s no universal skillset. “For example, a user researcher needs to have skills related to rational scientific reasoning combined with the desire for exploration, while a visual designer needs artistic skills combined with creativity,” Lebson notes.
Aspiring UX professionals enter from many walks of life, from students in formal academic programs to tenured creative professionals looking to move into the UX world. In many cases this means gaining experience and knowledge through professional development.
“There are a number of programs out there where people who want to transition into UX can take intensive training courses after work for several weeks or longer,” Lebson says. “In those training programs, there are often group projects that can initially be used in a portfolio. Once someone has basic UX knowledge, they can also offer to do UX work pro bono for their favorite local charitable organization with the caveat that they can use all of it in their portfolio.”
Established professionals might also be able to make the case that some of their creative work is already applicable to UX. “Sometimes it’s a matter of putting a spin on the experience,” Lebson says. “For example, copywriters might be able to make the case that their experience is UX-related, particularly if they articulate that they understood the needs of the end user and applied UX principles to make their content more usable. Even a social media manager could make the case about how they used their social media skills to enhance product usability. This could potentially provide a foot in the door, and then once the door is open they could branch out to other areas of UX, learning as they go and accumulating UX work samples for their portfolio.”
Lebson advises job seekers for any UX profession to focus on creating a killer resume and a portfolio that tells one or more stories. “A portfolio shouldn’t just be a collection of work samples,” Lebson says. “It should also tell the story of the project, the individual’s specific role in that project and how the candidate applied UX skills in a way that ultimately helped improve experiences.”
Lebson adds that participation in organizations such as UXPA can be extremely valuable to a UX professional’s career. He suggests getting on mailing lists and attending as many conferences and trainings as possible, whether they are national events or local UX meetups.
“Think of it like learning a foreign language with an online learning tool versus going to the country where that language is spoken and immersing yourself in the language and culture,” Lebson says. “Not only do you get to learn about cool UX topics, but you’re also surrounded by UX peers. That networking and those conversations provide additional learning and broaden your UX perspective and knowledge.”
Tips for employers hiring UX professionals
“The UX Careers Handbook” also includes advice for employers looking to hire UX professionals. Lebson notes that many companies make the mistake of seeking a single candidate that can do it all.
“Employers shouldn’t be looking for a ‘unicorn,’ though they often are,” he says. “It’s more critical to determine what areas of expertise are most important to the position, and then look for UX professionals who match those areas of expertise.”
Hiring managers should also pay attention to the aforementioned nontechnical skills. An adaptable, team-oriented attitude is critical, as is the ability to communicate well and to tell a story, Lebson says.
When asked what the future holds, Lebson says designers and other UX pros must strive to stay current and remain flexible. “While technology will continue to change, and methods will continue to evolve, the same skills that are needed now will continue to be important in the short and long term: knowing how to illustrate interactions and interactivity between parts of a system, but also the ability to explain those interactions in a clear and justifiable way,” Lebson says.
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