What I wish I knew about UX Design back in college

This story begins when I was at my senior years at college, after having tried luck for a semester on fine arts I felt incredible desperate and lost about my choices, even considered changing my career path towards Philosophy or something that would make me feel that I was adding value to the world, I tried reaching out but was not sure of the question I wanted to ask… All I knew is that I was disappointed at the approach I had been giving to the way I was designing. Felt like the things I was doing, those I was creating were of no good use for anybody. Then I met UX design.

So I started as a fresh out of college intern at iTexico, I had worked before in branding and editorial design with some freelance projects and even worked at an agency for a while, but in fact knew very little about UX deep matters. I was so excited to start creating things that did not feel so trivial.

Now after 2 years I am grateful for all the challenges and most important the lessons:

Lesson 1.
Our work is never actually over.

This I learned recently and the hard way. After a year on the same project I felt stuck, stranded on a lonely tiny island with no space to move, grow or create... oh boy was I wrong… after a couple of meltdowns, rants & realizing I wasn’t going anywhere I came to understand how a platform is never truly finished, how everything can be improved and that there’s most likely a ton of scenarios that I did not consider when designing the interface…

This was me talking to my Team Lead during one of my multiple breakdowns.

Design is constantly evolving, never finished and should never ever remain static. It sort of wabi-sabi (侘寂) imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

Sorry for the japanese 😜, so wabi-sabi is an aesthetic concept and understanding of the world based on trascendence and impermanence. It has to do with how something is beautiful for being “flawed”, about the present, the right now, the realization that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

Now imagine the same for an interface, patterns evolve and so do our users, once you get enough feedback you get clarity on what needs to be changed, which way to move or what things need to be re-thinked. Even the rapid growth of new technologies affect the way we plan some things. You have to work with what is available and if that improves, so should your app.

As Jakob Nielsen states, “” Embrace the lack of, the unfinished, the flaw but focus on improvement. Patterns evolve, behaviors remain, conceptual models play a big part on this, understanding human complexity and preparing for the unexpected, trying to maintain a consistent reaction & feedback to our users that provide signals that naturally indicate what’s happening or what needs to happen.

Bottom line: Everything has already been made, thing is everything can be better. ( go to lesson 121)

Lesson 2.
Collaboration and empathy

“If you want to go fast go alone if you want to go far go together.”

This is an african proverb that I truly like & I feel they were really into something. Your team becomes part of the yes-no process, sharing your ideas to multidisciplinary teams helps ideas grow or die faster, it’s an easy way to validate possibilities and create stronger paths. It also helps to keep the team prepared and set up reasonable expectations to what is or not possible, and under what time frame can it happen.

Share your ideas. I swear, in my experience, the best ideas & greatest plans happen when I consult my team, UX designer is never alone.
Ideas should never become biased, sharing them with your team helps keep priorities set and cognitive biases stay put.

When dialoguing with your team learn to make trade-offs & commitments, it’s really hard to be on the same page, but what enriches the conversation is the different approaches and views each has on a matter, which can also lead to misunderstandings...so learn to listen, keep an open mind, and know when to bend the knee, there are features worth sacrificing for the sake of the delivery.

Surround yourself with people who work harder than you, that have different skills which complement and enrich your knowledge. Also make your team participant of UX practices, we should all be UX oriented.

Lesson 3
Iterations, failure and refinement

Don’t be afraid to fail or admit you don’t know the answer (more about this on lesson 6). Usability research is about failure, not about validation. Fail, and fail hard at the beginning when there’s time and space for this not to be a waste in effort and time.
The faster you make mistakes the better, that’s why GV Design Sprint is such a popular process to follow, it allows assumptions to be tested as soon as possible so that you can spend time on what really matters. Building the best solution possible.

Now not all processes apply to every project, that’s the beauty of it, yes you can always implement Lean ideas, scrum, agile methodologies, you name it… thing is it’s not about following the book but more like understanding your product or service and instead of forcing things to go a certain way learn to adapt to the necessities of the project.

Don’t be afraid of failure, embrace it, failure is the right path to success. Iterate as much as possible, fail as much as possible, and when you finally have something that’s backed up by all these iterations, refine it. Validation becomes the concrete proof that it works.

Lesson 4
Priorities and Incremental Changes

When building gigantic pieces of software one can become overwhelmed of what needs to happen first, it’s really easy to become the bad gal/guy and say But nothing is that important for you to spread anxiety through your whole team, if this is happening something is really wrong with the planning of the project. Take care of your people, happier teams deliver better products.

Set priorities, start only with what is essential, the main feature of your app and start building from this, this becomes the core, the walking skeleton of your platform, it sustains all that’s to come. This allows for continuos improvement to happen and its a more practical way of addressing the situation. Also, it’s an easier way of maintaining quality, as it forces the team to focus on what is really important and keep balance on the commitments and timing.

Your functional walking skeleton ^

This can mean that, as UX designers, we may loose a battle or two on usability. But keep an eye on the bigger picture, cost and effort. Plus, there’s a time and space for everything, just think… when is this essential to happen? and add it to the road map.

Create your skeleton, then aim higher and build your MVP, iterate, refine, then add more features, iterate, fail, go back a step, refine, validate.. make things better incrementally.

Lesson 5
Business vs users

Who do I listen to? my client or my user?
Quick answer: Both…and there’s a surprise element you’re not considering: Innovation & Tech.

So there are three things you need to know about this, (keys to success):
1 Clients are not always your users (though they can be).
2 Companies/startups must be profitable in order to exist.
3 Solutions should be innovative and also consider the technologies at hand.

UX Trinity ^

So this is what I call the UX trinity:
- User needs: Who is this for?, How does this solve their problem?
- Business Objectives: Who wants to do it?, How will it sustain it self?
- Innovation: Why is this solution better than what already exist?, What technologies are available for me to create this?.

Try to keep a balance between the perspective of users and business and do not go over the top with tech, innovation does not only has to do with AI, robots, virtual reality and flashy stuff, it can also be implied on the approach you give to your solution. It’s hard not to become usability paranoid, especially when what’s best for the user does not match with the business monetizing scheme, thing is if we neglect this there’s no platform for the users to use... so try to change the trade offs and offer a more reasonable approach or alternative so that users find this friction useful or at least acceptable.

Lesson 6
Being Unqualified

I suffer from a severe case of “impostor syndrome” I keep feeling like eventually somebody is going to realize that I’ve been here being full Jon Snow. So this was super hard for me to accept and not feel like a complete and utter failure.

You don’t have to know everything, not knowing also means there’s room for improvement & the ability for self discovery, you can always surprise yourself.

Be unqualified specially if your innovating! reality is: you’re bound to be unqualified if you’re the first doing it.

Lesson 121
Constant Improvement

There’s nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it, but probably it could have been done better. Give projects a space to breathe, it’s natural to feel stuck when you’ve been working for a long time on the same thing. If it’s possible take a break, hell even revisit old projects, time has a wonderful way of showing things under a new perspective
- What would you do different?
- What have you forgotten you used to do back then?
- Can you do it better now? does it still matter?
- Is this still a good idea/relevant?

If you liked my article leave your comments below!! If you feel different or want to share a story I want to read it!

Product Designer @Cerby. Professional napper. Feminist. Also into woodworking.