I’ve blogged before about the differences between UX and UI Design (show me a UX Designer who hasn’t written a blog post on this) but I’m still being asked to meet with companies who say they want a UX Designer, and when I view the specification, what they actually need is a Graphic or User Interface Designer.
There are probably many UX Designers who have experienced being hired (or being almost-hired) only to be tasked with graphic design jobs. This isn’t exactly surprising – many UX Designers have the technical skills to do a graphic design job, and a lot would have come from graphic design backgrounds.
There will always be warning signs and red flags that you can pick up on in the interview if you’re not sure. Today I’m going to share with you my way of finding out what exactly a company is looking for, even if they say they need a “UX Designer”.
1. What Is The Interviewer Interested In Looking At?
First of all, I’m going to assume you don’t come to an interview empty-handed – always bring print-outs of work or a laptop with a pdf of stuff to show.
In the past I’ve brought wireframes, project flow diagrams and low-fidelity prototypes when I’m invited to a meeting. If the interviewer doesn’t seem interested in these, and asks to see finished work, then it indicates that they might be more interested in seeing a User Interface designer.
I was once invited for a meeting and I showed up with my usual print outs of wireframes, flow diagrams and prototypes. The interviewer then began asking me about the fonts and colours. As it turned out, the actual UX work for this company all happened over at their headquarters in Boston, and what they needed was someone to create banners and email newsletters.
This is the signal to back away. Slowly.
2. Paralysing Process
“Process-heavy organizations are prone to ‘That’s not how we do things around here’ syndrome which quickly suffocates the user-centred spirit”
– Undercover User Experience, Cennydd Bowles and James Fox
If the company are outsourcing development work, the process might be weighed down by budgets and paperwork. One way to find out is to ask about how regularly they ship new features. Finding out how often a company ships might give you an idea of how flexible the development team are. Internal dev teams are subject to heavy backlogs of work, which can also stagger deployment of new features.
“How often are new features implemented and released?”
If the development team are flexible it will be easier to implement A/B testing or iterate designs based on results and user feedback. This will be a fantastic opportunity for a UX Designer. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve performed user tests and evaluated analytics, drawn up solutions to the design problems only to have these designs shelved because there was no room in the development budget to carry out any changes.
3. Questions For The Interviewer
When an interviewer invites you to ask a few questions, don’t waste this golden opportunity to find out as much as you can about the role. One question I always ask is this :
“Can you describe the sign-off process for me?”
The answer to this question will tell you whether as a designer you will be allowed to solve the problems, or if you will be subject to micromanagement, scrutiny and direction from a non-designer at executive level.
It’s important to find out the culture of an organisation before committing yourself to it. You should be working with more experienced UX Designers so you can learn from them. Think about the implications working in an environment like this will have on your career in the long term.
Because You Are Responsible
You need to realise that how you shape your career is your responsibility.
There will always be places and people who don’t understand what UX is. If you find yourself in this position, with a manager or boss who doesn’t understand the value of great design, sometimes the only thing to do is to move on. The longer you spend with a company doing the wrong work, the harder it will be to dig yourself out. Try to imagine your next interview – how the work you are currently doing will make you look?
So those are my 3 pieces for advice for your next UX interview. If you find yourself answering to a Marketing Manager instead of a Lead UX Designer, you’re probably not improving your design skills. If you find yourself unable to have your designs implemented because of an immense backlog or a budget issue, it’s time to consider the value your company has placed on UX.
It’s a great time to be a designer working in the technology industry, and there are plenty of opportunities out there. Look out for cultural red flags, and tune yourself to spot potential problems before they make your work-life miserable.