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User Experience Design Career Development – Part 2: Beyond the Path

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In my last article, I talked about our career path for UX designers. Developing something like that for your organization, while a

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worthwhile task, is certainly not easy. Fortunately, there are range of things you can do yourself to move your career (and your paycheck!) upward!

The Lateral Move

Getting a new job doing basically the same thing you were doing before, that’s the lateral move. You’re all probably well aware of this. You’ve probably even done it a few times. The reasons we do this are many… money, frustration, or even just plain boredom. I don’t think lateral moves are bad; I just think they’re often not as effective as they could be.

The advantage of a lateral move is that it can allow you to increase the breadth of your experience. You just have to think

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strategically about it. If you work at an agency, consider going corporate and vice versa. Do you work mostly on software? Search for UX design positions at product design companies. Do you do mostly ecommerce work? Get a job at a place that focuses on business applications. There’s a lot of UX work out there (sadly it’s mostly for

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experienced practitioners), so that makes a strategic lateral move pretty easy to accomplish.


My last article was basically 2,000 words about how you can progress as a UX designer while avoiding actual managerial duties like a plague. That’s my bias revealed. But management is a desirable path to some. And let’s face it… someone has to keep the rest of us yahoos in check.

Frankly, I’m not the right person to talk about how to get into UX management. I’m going to take the classic blogger cop-out and give you a bunch of links to people who are the right people to talk about it. Enjoy!

Advanced Design Education

An advanced design degree… you can almost taste the legitimacy! Honestly? I don’t think these are appropriate for everyone. The vast majority of these programs are full-time and onsite, which doesn’t work well if your family depends on your current income or if the program is somewhere far away from you. But if your roots are shallow and you don’t have a lot of financial obligations, go for it! I’m seeing more and more UX design job descriptions that list an advanced degree as a requirement or at least a major plus. Besides, the techniques & strategies you learn in design school can breathe new life into your practice and you can bring that with you to the next company you work for. Here are

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a couple of lists of degree programs relevant to UX design. Sadly, they’re not comprehensive, but they’re a start. If you’re specifically looking for an interaction design program or if you are looking for something outside of the US, Google is your friend.

Advanced Non-Design Education

I have three letters for you. M. B. A. I’ve been threatening to get one for years now (though the idea of suffering through Corporate Accounting 101 is mind-numbing). Getting an education in business is one of the most important career moves a designer can make. It can be the key to expanding your influence beyond the tactical side of UX design and into the unicorn-filled fairyland of design strategy. UX designers have the potential to be really valuable to business, but to show that value we really need to understand business and speak its language. What’s even better is that these programs are everywhere and many are targeted at working professionals. Chances are you can get into one without having to uproot your whole family.

There are even a couple of Design + MBA programs out there that I know of.

The IIT program is full-time and onsite, but the CCA program has taken a more unique approach. You spend one four-day weekend in San Francisco per month for the duration of the program, collaborate on projects in person, and work remotely during the rest of the month. To me, this is very, very attractive.

Of course, an MBA is not your only academic option. There are some MFA programs in Interaction Design starting to crop up, like the one at the School of Visual Arts in New York. You could even consider advanced education in related fields like cognitive psychology or anthropology.

But if getting a Masters of anything seems like too big a production, there are plenty of other educational opportunities you can take. Are your visual design skills utter garbage like mine? Get a certificate in Graphic Design from your local community college. Or get a certificate in whatever technology is your medium, be it VisualStudio, viagra online 25 mg Processing/Arduino, or Web standards. Maybe even a class in filmmaking or screenwriting!

Go Indie!

Yes, this is a huge leap. Most of the people who’ve gone independent or who have started their own consultancies readily admit that it’s really, really hard at first. But then they turn around and say that nothing they’ve done has been as rewarding. Again, this is an area in which I am far from expert.

First thing, read some books by people who are experts. There’s plenty of information out there on the nitty-gritty of what it takes to go independent. If you want to learn about what it’s like to be an independent UX consultant specifically, take a look at Whitney Hess’s blog. She went independent within the last couple of years and has done a fantastic job of communicating what she’s learned from the experience. Also, check out the Freelance UX Ning community that recently sprung up.

A Final Thought

In these two articles, one thing I have not touched on is how to increase your chances of landing safely after you take a major career

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leap. Fortunately, my friends Russ Unger & Mario Bourque have that covered for you. If you’re going to the 2010 IA Summit, Russ & Mario are giving a free (yes FREE!) pre-conference workshop about how to find the right job for you and land it. It’s the Career Workshop for Information Architects and Other User Experience Professionals, and it will fill up fast! Sign up now if you’re interested!

I am sure I have missed some juicy UX design career options. If you know them, I want to hear about them! I’m sure everyone else does too, so please share! But hopefully there’s enough here to keep you feeling good about getting into UX design and to get you excited about your next move.

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