The story of how I stumbled into UX Design
As I talk to more and more people in the UX community, it is clear that many of us seemed to have stumbled into the field. This is my story.
Like any child, I often got asked the question 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' I certainly didn't know how to answer that question and the world of work rang alarm bells in my naïve head. I didn't want to dress smartly; I didn't want to sit at a desk for 8 hours and I didn't want a normal job. However, I soon became inspired. Once every year a wildlife photographer came into my school. He would show us images from his travels around the globe, everywhere from the Sahra Desert in Africa to the Glaciers in Greenland. Over the years my bedroom walls became plastered with his prints and I became captivated by the idea of becoming a photographer: I thought I knew what I wanted to be when I was older.
On my seventh birthday, I found myself to be a proud owner of a tiny digital camera. There was simply a viewfinder - no screen; it would only take 20 images before it ran out of memory. The garden was my muse and it became well documented on my dad's Windows XP computer. This seemed to be the first step in pursuing my dream career.
At 18, I started University, where I studied Photography and took on a handful of photography jobs. Yet, something didn't feel right. When taking the same photograph 400 times, of 400 different runners, I questioned my decision. Was being bored stood behind a camera any different to being bored sitting behind a desk? The plan was to avoid a lifetime of monotony through photography, yet I had just walked straight into it. However, the course was brilliant. We were taught about Post Photography - which asks why a photographer would want to shoot new images in a world full of them. Another module was on multi-disciplinary practice. I soon found to enjoy creating VR videos from appropriated video footage and screen printing interactive digital experiences through my work.
By the time the third year came around, my portfolio was full of zines, videos and websites: it was clear that I was not going to apply for a role in a photography studio. To this day I still have a passion for Post Photography but, I struggled to translate that into a career path, no mind an entry-level job. Then it dawned on me, I could apply the content design skills that I had developed through my work to a career in digital marketing. The only problem was - there were thousands of marketing and graphic design graduates going for the same roles.
I was then lucky enough to be offered an apprenticeship in digital marketing. Part of the course included a qualification in HTML and CSS and I was dreading it. Coding was not for creatives like me, or so I thought. After designing and coding a few pages, I became hooked. It felt like I had unlocked an area of my brain: I could think in code.
As the course was ending, the pandemic was just beginning. Every UK office worker was sent to work from home and all gyms, restaurants and nightclubs were closed. With a newfound abundance of time on my hands, I set myself two goals: to get better at design and to read more.
Let's face it - anybody can learn pretty much anything online. There is a wealth of resources about design on YouTube, SkillShare and Audible. I spent evenings and weekends studying design principles and putting them to practice. In June I learned how to use Adobe XD and I was introduced to the world of UX Design and Research.
At work, I had a growing internal battle. Design is used to improve a product and you should complete research to ensure that you are successful in that. I was concerned that the product was not being improved as decision-makers sent lists of design amendments based on their tastes; not what would help the customer. As it turns out, customer-centric design can have no bearing on the reality of a customer experience - it is just marketing.
Then I read David Graber's essay, On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant. Fundamentally, the essay asks if your work makes the world a better place. Above all, it questions the purpose of meaningless work. I wholeheartedly related to the essay. Graber describes Hell as 'a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don't like and are not especially good at'. At this point, I didn't enjoy work as I was just carrying out meaningless design changes that didn't improve the product or customer experience. And I realised that as a child I was not afraid of sitting at a desk all day; I was afraid of committing most of my time to do something that I didn't enjoy.
So, what needs to change?
I want to change careers and enter the professional world of UX Design as I believe that it will improve my happiness through completing meaningful work. UX Design is a process of iterating on a design in pursuit of a better user experience. This excites me - the changes that I make will be purposeful and formulated from research.
The role of a UX Designer is the ultimate example of meaningful work as every design has the potential to improve someone's day by being useful and a joy to do so. All of the products that we make have the power to influence millions of people's lives - let's have a positive influence on the world through design.