Be a better experience designer

How to be a better user experience designer “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss, I can read with my eyes shut!

No matter your chosen profession, practicing humility and self-awareness, while embracing the challenge of further education, will make you a great practitioner in any domain.

10,000 hours of practice will make you a Master of anything.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that it would take anyone, regardless of aptitude, 10,000 hours to master any skill. There have been some debates about this idea and I’ll give you the reason I mention this in a bit, but lets break that down a bit further.

Now 10,000 hours sounds like a shit load of time. However, your passion and drive to pursue anything will determine how far you want to go, and if you’re in it, and you’re loving it, then 10,000 hours isn’t that bad, right?

Lets break it down

Lets say you work an average of 7.5 hours a day, in your profession.

Hours of work calculation 7.5 hours x 5 days = 37.5 hours per week.

37.5 hours per week x 48 weeks per year = 1800 hours per year

10,000 hours / 1800 hours per year = 5.5 years.

Five and half years is what it took for me to become an expert?! I’ve been an Experience Designer for about 8 years and I still have a lot to learn.

I’m willing to investigate further on a subject I know nothing about. Working with clients and colleagues will be a learning experience and there is nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know everything — but I do think I’ve earned my way to having my opinion count for something.

My reason for mentioning the “10,000 hour rule” came about when Jared Spool, described the role of a User Experience Designer as more of a generalist. He goes even further to affectionately bring up the nickname, “Unicorn”.

The Unicorn

This nickname has been floating around for user experience designers for a while and is described as: someone having an expertise in most areas, such as, Information Architecture, Visual Design, Usability Testing, Copy Writing, User Research Practices, Interaction Design, Information Design, etc.

If you take a look at job boards you’ll see that companies now want it all. If they’re willing to pay for it, then sure. But be careful. There is a supply and demand issue, and where there is a demand, posers aren’t far off.

I’m not above the idea of specializing in something. There are many that would disagree with the notion of being a generalist, but in the age of startups, seeing the value a user experience designer can bring to your business, will put you in a much better spot for innovation.

Being a better user experience designer is doable.

  • Tip One Find a skill you’ve always want to do and do it. Don’t have a client, who cares! Do it for you. There is so much material accessible to you, you can get credible information straight from the source, and with online education apps popping up every week — the sky is the limit.
  • Tip Two Get a mentor, a buddy or someone you know who works in your field and take them out for a beer (or six) and talk shop. Nothing can be more surprising and insightful than to hear a fellow colleague wax poetic about their experiences. Bonus: You get to drink beer.
  • Tip Three Get feedback. It doesn’t have to be other UX professionals, it can be a designer, a CEO, a guy working at the Apple Store. But knowing how your experiments or your work will be perceived, is essential. Iteration is part of the process and even though validation with your users will be factored into your next iteration, don’t exclude some peer/professional critique.
  • Tip Four Share your knowledge! Not to suggest you should start teaching, (or if you are that’s great!), but share what you know with others. You can do this with a blog, via Twitter, on LinkedIn Groups, (which is a great platform with like-minded folks), a lunch-and-learn or on an educational committee.

The idea is to challenge yourself. It’s an exciting career and we’re at an exciting moment where the value seen in an experience designer equals money in the bank! And not just for you, but for the company that wants you as well. So, do not be intimidated or pretentious about being a generalist or a unicorn.

Embrace it.