Whether you have a college degree in a user experience (UX) design-related field or are starting a design career on your own, there are some basic things you need to know about the business of design. There’s a learning curve for every profession, and some very specific lessons for beginning designers.
You could learn from your own mistakes, or you could read this and learn from mine.
My experience comes from working in small, medium and large corporate environments, as well as freelance projects.
Dos and Don’ts
- Know the players. You need to know what all the moving parts of the design project are. Who is your client? Who is the target audience for what you are designing? What is the business goal? Does the business know (or care about) the user’s goal? Before you do any designing, ask questions. A lot of questions.
- Listen to your customer. Whether you’re working in-house, in an agency or as a freelancer, you probably have more than one customer on any given project. First you have the business team/business owner you’re designing for. Then you have the IT team/developer you are delivering designs to. The product or service you’re designing for is something that the business team has worked very hard to understand and possibly create. It is their “baby”. The business is relying on you to create the public face for their baby. The IT team is relying on you to communicate not only the look and feel of the design, but what interaction you are expecting. Communicate closely with the IT team to see if what the business wants is actually feasible given the time and budget of the project.
- Involve the entire team early in the design. Don’t be a design diva and work in a vacuum. This leads to misunderstandings and rework. You can use methods like the design studio process to get a better understanding of and by-in from stakeholders.
- Do your research. Speak from a point of authority. Speak from fact, not “feeling”. Your client doesn’t care what you feel about a design or design element. Nor should they. You should be prepared to support your design decisions with logic and research. Example: Don’t say “And orange button just feels right.” Say “Studies have shown that bolder colors, like red or orange, work better than subtle colors. They found that orange or deep yellow were the most eye-catching.”
- Avoid emotional attachment to your design. This is one of the most important things I can share with you. If you are relatively new to design, you probably take great personal pride in your work and that pride translates into taking critiques of your design personally. It’s a natural, artistic instinct. But your designs are not you. A criticism of your design is not a criticism of you. Think of it this way, when a developer goes through a code review, they don’t get offended if a defect is found. They take note of it and fix it. When a business owner or project teammate makes a comment about your design in a review or critique setting, don’t be defensive. You can cite the reasons you made that decision, as demonstrated in the “Do your research” section. But don’t argue or get offended.
- Don’t expect the amount of praise you really want. From my experience, most of the designers I know could use some more encouragement. But they aren’t going to get it from product owners or IT. When non-design team members are analyzing your design, they aren’t doing it to see what an amazing and fabulous job you’ve done with color, whitespace and typography. They are looking for anything that may be out of place. They want to contribute their input to the design.
- Connect with the local and global design community. If you aren’t already on Twitter and LinkedIn, reading .net Magazine, UX Magazine, A List Apart, Cognition and a number of other UX-focused online publications, do it now. On Twitter, follow well known UX professionals. They frequently tweet about important trends, ideas and articles. Comment on magazine and blog articles and posts you have questions or contributions for. If you don’t know how to connect with other designers in your area, go to AIGA and see if there is a local chapter you can join. If you work in a company, see if your manager can get funding for your AIGA membership.
- Never stop learning. User experience design, interaction design and cross-platform/channel design are relatively young fields. Things change every day. New best practices sprout up overnight. Subscribe to Lynda.com or Treehouse and watch their training videos. Check out Slideshare and search for presentations by Jared Spool, Jeffrey Zeldman, Whitney Hess, Kim Goodwin, Josh Clark, Luke Wroblewski, and Karen McGrane.
- Don’t burn bridges. Try to part on good terms with every client or coworker. You never know when you’ll run into them again and what you may need from them when you do.
- Be true to yourself and to others. It may sound cliche, but you’ll sleep better at night if you do this. I was once asked to strip the code of a competitor’s website and make an almost exact duplicate of it for a client because he wanted his site to be as good as theirs. I assured him that what I would design would be a better fit for his company, more usable and more aesthetically pleasing, without breaking any laws. He told me I just wasn’t being a team player. So I dropped that client. Never mind that I was a young designer living paycheck to paycheck in Southern California. I could deal with eating ramen noodles for a week. I could not deal with plagiarizing a site design.
Have any tips to add for new designers? Please comment below.