Practical Things I Learned From My First User Experience Design Gig

Tait Wayland
7 min readJun 4, 2017
PJ and Mimosa Day. (PS I was getting my wisdom teeth out on this day, so I’m not pictured)

I worked for two and a half years at TicketBiscuit. An online ticketing Company in Birmingham AL. This was my first user experience job, suffice to say I learned a ton. While there’s plenty of resources out there telling you how to be a better UX designer, I find most of the information obscure or lacking when it comes to the details of actually working. This is my effort to document the soft-skills I learned, and the things you won’t learn in school.

You don’t know anything

Your portfolio may be amazing and you may have 1000 followers on Dribbble. That doesn’t mean you know what it takes to succeed at a new company when you first start there. Start getting an idea of who your stakeholders are and what they like. Who are your personas? What user research has been done in the past? Read the documentation. Shadow QA and the developers. Get involved in peer review. Look at the work of your predecessors and get on everyone’s good side. Build those coalitions, and most importantly be humble. Don’t try to be a design revolutionary right away, because it’s truly going to be a while before you have a good intuition for what’s best for the product.

Most of what you think you need to know is also wrong.

To elaborate on point one, so much of design is really thinking like a well-rounded manager. That is, without the power or pay of a manager. My advise to newcomers is that you’re simply not going to get these skills until you’re on the job, so don’t stress them. If your communication skills are lackluster like mine, don’t neglect them because they’re crucial. Find a mentor. In my case, my project manager taught me a lot about communication.

Everyone is a designer

This article really hits the nail on the head. Everyone has an impact on the product, not just the people with “Designer” in their title. Evangelize design thinking. Its the only way to produce good design and sustain it at scale.

To that point, don’t dismiss other people’s ideas. Anyone can have a great idea. Its by collaboration that we make good products.

Be a good listener

Totally ripped this from InVision, but thanks!

Half of good user experience design is research. The foundation for this is being a listener. Listening to your users and stakeholders is crucial to developing good ideas. I mean truly listening. Not waiting for someone to finish a sentence so you can interject with your idea. The best way to approach this is like a journalist. You want to come in with good questions, and leave with sincere answers. In the case of interviewing users, behavior matters as much if not more than what they say. Be a good observer of how people interact.

Nothing is done right without effort

This is particularly true at startups. Nothing magically happens. Its too easy to assume a gap will be filled, it won’t. Even after two and half years, I too easily build on top of assumptions. If you’re the only designer, don’t neglect copy. It doesn’t magically get generated later on if you fill the wireframes with lorem ipsum. Assets don’t magically get organized; engineers don’t implement the wireframes correctly without effort (that’s if you’re fortunate enough to not be doing the front-end yourself).

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too broad-framed

There are generally two types of people in the workplace, detail-oriented, and big-picture oriented. You can be a successful designer either way. However, if you’re the latter, you’ll find yourself getting a lot of flack from the others.

Seeing the forest and not the trees isn’t a bad thing. Its a more uncommon perspective. Still, it means you need some guidance or you’re going to run into trees.

If you’re the type of person who forgot to put their name on their paper as a kid, this is probably you. You’re bound to make tons of careless mistakes and you’re going to get flack. Frankly, you’ll probably deserve it. You do need to respect that voice, its a check and balance. You should be making checklists, and learning from mistakes and making changes to your process to prevent them. However, don’t lose sight of your perspective.

Pick your battles

This advise came from my project manager when she joined my team. It may have meant different things to each of us, but it was sound advice nonetheless. I can name several places this applies:

Conflict Resolution

This is probably more close to what my PM had in mind when she mentioned it. You design something, an executive wants it at a different size or color. Is it worth starting a conflict about? Sometimes it is, usually it’s not. Particularly at small companies, you don’t have the resources or time to argue fonts (unless people are telling you to use Papyrus font, then you should probably fight back). There are bigger design goals you will lose out on if you focus hard on these petty things. Focus on this sort of thing later on when the company is bigger and has more resources.

Getting Prototypes Approved

Say you got tasked with adding a page to an existing interface. Maybe you don’t like the design of that interface. Do you make screens with completely new buttons and containers? No. You conform to the interface that is there. There are several reasons for this. First, your new page may look better but its inconsistent, and inconsistency is more off-putting than bad visuals. Second, nothing is done right without effort so don’t convince yourself that you’ll change the whole interface to get around the inconsistency problem. The frontend (often you) does not have the time or resources to change the whole interface to match the design you’re proposing, so get that delusion out of your head. Third, if the aesthetics are bad, your organization probably has a higher level issue and needs a styleguide. This leads conveniently to my last point here.

Think Like a Manager

This is again, very important at small companies. Your resources are limited. You simply cannot do every facet of design right overnight. Research may be lacking, CSS might be a monstrosity, design may be inconsistent across the board. More than likely nobody else has these issues on their radar. They’re important nonetheless. It’s your job to organize that information and present those needs to the rest of the company clearly. Thinking like a manager means preventing knowledge silos. Communication is critical. Picking your battles means identifying which issue need fixing the most and communicating that clearly. Its important to remember you work for rational agents, and the issues you present will be fairly evaluated. If it is more important than the work they were planning to give you, it will surely take precedent. Relax, and trust the process. Furthermore, what will add the most value to the product from the user perspective is going to be more important than things that make your job easier internally. That means organizing the CSS is probably going to be on the backburner.

Your team is everything

Trivia Night. We risked it for the ‘Biscuit.

Try your hardest to be on everyone’s best side. This is mutually beneficial for everyone. In fact, its just all-around professionally sound advice.The people you work with also want a great product. You share that goal, so if you have a conflict, it should be grounded in that fact, never a personal disagreement. My grandfather had this old wise saying that I think applies here.

“you can shear a sheep as many times as you want but you can only skin it once.”

Its really just a gritty way of saying don’t burn bridges. At any good company worth its salt, the people you work with are talented and creative people. Respect that and it will pay big rewards. Discount your teammates and you end up on a team of one, and that’s a very lonely number indeed. Basically, you won’t get anything you want done without the backing of your teammates. Be part of a culture of positive reinforcement, and you’ll start seeing that maybe good things can be done without your involvement.

Go out for drinks with your coworkers. Be vulnerable, and be friends if at all possible. Above all, my relationship with my colleagues was the biggest productivity factor for me. Nothing is better for your career than liking your job and colleagues. By the end of my term, I actually looked forward to Monday. Its totally possible.

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Tait Wayland

Product Designer and Technologist. Interested in the intersection of data science, AI, and user experience.