While User Experience is, like, at least six occupations rolled into one, it’s still possible to reach a point in your career when you’re asking yourself – “There must be more to it than this!”
Time for a bit of a shake-up?
1. Carry on as usual but shift into a different industry
While designing a page control for your millionth mobile app might cause your eyes to roll, context (and content) is king right? Try moving into a different industry – say, from finance to real estate. This will present you with fresh learnings and challenges.
2. Go freelancing
While this is similar to shifting industries, it could mean immersing yourself in many different types of industries in short bursts. You’ll need to be more self reliant – but like Bear Grylls, you’ll probably have a more edgy and exciting life.
3. Move into team-building and management
That’s what I’ve done, and this presents a whole different set of challenges. Helping others learn and succeed is a great reward for the soul, but on the flipside, you’ll be taking on way more responsibility for the business outcome and the people. Unless you’re working for a small agency or start-up, you’ll have far less time to be a UX practitioner (the actual research and designing). On the plus side, it’s lucrative and you’ll have more control.
You could become a specialist in one particular area of UX, such as Interaction Design. The issue is, look at the job ads. Employers want “T-shaped” UX generalists – from strategy to user research to prototyping to frontend coding. You’re expected to be an expert in “everything UX” and there appears to be little appreciation of specialists.
5. Change occupation (kind of)
Many UX experts will make great Product Managers!
Not to be confused with Product Owner, the “Product Manager” is the person who owns the product road map, advocates for the product internally, and represents the customer in meetings with development.
Christina Wodtke (Owner, Wodtke Consulting) says there are three flavours of Product Managers: engineering, business analyst and UX:
“The Product Person is T-shaped, caring both about the user and the business, and often fights about that submit button because she worries about click-through. This is part of a host of responsibilities she juggles, along with acquisition, retention, that upcoming software rearchitecture and the metrics review.”
But typically people in Product Management roles are from a technical or programme management background. Why is that? Because a Product Manager is seen as the person driving the delivery of product initiatives that will benefit the business. People who ship stuff tend to get these roles.
However, Product Management also entails product strategy, customer engagement and sign-off on deliverables – all areas familiar to seasoned UX professionals. So, while shipping stuff is important, shipping the right stuff is even more important. The best Product Managers I know work very closely with UX experts to ensure this is the case, but I know a number of UX professionals who feel frustrated that they aren’t the ones driving the product strategy. Time to muscle in and take control?
UX is a subset of Service Design, and therefore the assumption is that UX designers have a very narrow focus – that is, limited to digital experiences and specific to the customers who use that service.
While that might be true of a person in the early stages of their UX career, in my experience most senior UX professionals are practising Service Design by default. They just don’t call it that!
Laura Keller (Senior Director at NTT DATA Americas), describes it like this:
“Service Design, views all interactions across the people involved (not just the customer), the processes, the systems, the spaces, the devices, etc. and the service transaction is happening successfully only as a result of the participation and orchestration of the above, in real-time.”
The more experienced UX experts I know certainly strive to understand and influence the end-to-end service, even when they are working on just one aspect of it. The difference is that they often don’t have the authority to widen the scope of what they’re responsible for, but they will go and hunt down the people responsible for a certain area of the service if they identify a problem or opportunity.
I’m sure this is too simplistic a viewpoint in the eyes of a hotshot Service Designer, but the point I’m wanting to make is that UX professionals have the right mindset and transferable skills that I think would make them fantastic Service Designers, given the chance.
Where to next?
User Experience is a diverse field of disciplines and methods. Just because someone has “UX” in the their job title shouldn’t preclude them from roles on the periphery of UX. In fact, you’ll likely discover that a seasoned UX professional is actually better qualified than someone less experienced with the perfectly matched job title.
And if you’re a UX pro – have you sidestepped into a new role or career? Share how you did it!
Still trying? Identify your transferable skills and share your achievements, told from the perspective of a person who already has that job title. It may convince the recruiter that you have the right underlying skills and experience to do the job.
Go for it.