What is a mid-weight designer?

It’s your first ever job and your purpose is to soak everything up.

Just like a foundation course at college, being a junior designer is all about understanding the foundations of your craft, picking a specialism to hone into and becoming a T-shaped person; or in the case of UX design comb-shaped.

The average duration of a junior role is around 3 years. Beyond this point you will often start to see adverts for positions described as a mid-weight designer. You may even be in a place where this is how you are described today.

The question I have been posing to myself and have opened up through The UX Coach podcast is, what does that really mean?

Is it time to drop the 10,000 goal?

For most people moving into a creative career, our goal in life is to become a master craftsperson, an expert practitioner.

Through repeating design efforts we become efficient in our discipline  and During this period of your career you are becoming highly skilled in a specific area, or if you’re a UX designer maybe a few areas of deep knowledge.

For a long time we’ve talked about this as developing your 10,000 hours; the length of time Anders Ericsson in his paper The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance back in 1993 claimed it took to become an expert at anything.

You could argue that the concept of being a mid-weight designer is the act of becoming a master. Using this derogatory labelling of mid-weight can lead to people feeling they are not good enough.

The truth is we are simply designers.

By allowing ourselves to be bought into the concept of the 10,000 hour theory is that it is virtually impossible to gain this in a linear fashion.

Unlike a concert violinist for example, who will only ever play violin and even a specific style, a UX designer is likely to learn a multitude of instruments, some with a basic grasp and others with strong proficiency.

Being classified as a mid-weight designer can make you feel lesser, and is emphasised in the workplace by the fact that in many cases, whilst carrying this label you will be unable to access other areas of design or the business that you may in fact excel in, or be truly passionate about.

How do we overcome the mid-weight rut and get access to strategic senior roles?

Beyond being a designer is the notion of a senior designer.

Asking a variety of people throughout the industry what this means, gets mixed opinions. A conversation with Mark Branigan for The UX Coach podcast, gave me the best framing I’ve heard so far.

Seniority should be driven from your experiences – not time. One person can have the same experience over a decade as another has within just a few months.

Context is everything when it comes to seniority. Unfortunately for most of us being senior comes with pros and cons.

In most organisations being senior shoulders you with responsibilities you are unlikely to be experienced or equipped to handle because you’ve spent your career perfecting your practitioner craft.

  • Being responsible for people
    Leading a team of individuals of varying capability and experiences
  • Managing a department, or team
    Involves finances, money in, money out. Costing out projects, budgets, you may even be responsible for generative the income streams for the business
  • Strategic thinking
    Being senior usually entitles you access to work that is of a more strategic nature, or considered to be complex

From this list, the responsibility for people; their work and their wellbeing, and the ability to work on strategic work are where I have decided to focus my research of late.

It seems crazy to me that we are missing the opportunity to have incredible talent supporting others in management capacities, and working on strategy because they haven’t earned their stripes.

The Designer Career Path doesn’t involve people

The learning and career paths for digital design disciplines is infantile. Much of our practice has existed for less than 10 years, and an international education system that is failing new designers with outdated course materials, even more outdated modules and a distinct lack of understanding as to what is expected of today’s workforce.

What is troubling me of late is that whilst we have hundreds of pop-up businesses providing training for career switchers, side-movers and graduates to develop the foundations of digital design it is only increasing the knowledge gap.

We now have far more people who want to be practitioners than we do people that want to support and enable others to do great work.

Staying for longer in a company should mean you become a Manager of people

Purely by staying in one spot for long enough people are elevated to positions of Manager, Senior X or Lead but rarely have experience in what it means to be responsible for other people. It’s not often I find there are any tangible training and learning opportunities for these people to gain those skills either.

Equally as common is finding out these people never wanted this responsibility. It isn’t their passion or desire to be developing and supporting other people to do great work – They are confident and impassioned by doing that work themselves.

These roles manifest or are taken on by practitioners because it bumps their salary and because it is considered to be an acknowledgement of their experience.

When this happens it can be a big problem for everyone in their team as they may not get the support and development they need. It’s just as important to consider the stress and strain that can take on the individual suddenly responsible for them.

This is when I find I am being contacted the most.

The disconnect between practice and enablement

There are no clear opportunities for people to explore within the earlier stages of their career roles that relate to management. It means there is no career path that is intended for leaders or managers – people who want to enable others.

Gia Puha Lihua laid this out well in her post Mapping your UX career trajectory.

Career progressions in the Practitioner and Managerial route by Gia Puha Lihua


The diagram shows that these are laid out in two distinct camps but highlights that there are no obvious joining paths from column A to column B.

I believe we can change this story.

How the ‘Ops movements might save us all

Last year, along with hundreds of people across the world I became part of the ResearchOps (https://twitter.com/TeamReOps) community. A group that has become increasingly aware of the need for operational support for people working in user research.

I took part in the first international workshop in London before co-hosting another. Workshop were carried out all over the world with 100s of attendees.

Almost all the participants were research practitioners.
Results to the workshop questions resulted in the same things emerging when it came to our point of global synthesis – practitioners wanted support in various ways in order to get on with their jobs – the craft.

As a result, one question kept coming into my mind.Do you want to help others do great work?

At some point in time you should reflect on what you enjoy and what energises you.

Do you find that the thing that gets you truly amped is knowing that today you’re going to go in and be helping a colleague learn something new, or overcome a challenge they’re facing?

Then I would say you are destined for a successful career in some kind of managerial design role and we certainly need more of you to step forward.

What can we do next?

Be clear and honest with yourself about what gives you passion.

If the idea that more of your time is going to be spent ensuring others can be successful and very little is going to be carrying out studies or designing interfaces, then think twice about accepting that lead design or head of design role – and don’t be ashamed to admit it.

You can explore this at any point in your career because there will always be something you have to offer others. Become a mentor, volunteer your time to work with someone in your company, or outside of it.

Setup a mastermind group within this community here, or register yourself at the UXPA and offer your knowledge back to others.

There’s some work to do for company founders and leadership teams too. Let’s not get them off the hook too easy.

I believe that:

  • Senior shouldn’t mean responsible for people
  • Shouldn’t mean able to now work on complex projects, systems design, strategy etc
  • Management and leadership roles should be considered earlier in career development
  • Title does not dictate behaviour (Thank you Kevin Smith)
  • Age does not equal wisdom

I want to keep this conversation going and ideally to help with the eradication of the derogatory label of mid-weight anything.

To do this, I put these thoughts and a few questions out to the design community and got an overwhelming response.

This has resulted in the creation of The UX Coach, a podcast series to hear how others feel about this, what their career paths have looked like, what the future holds and advice on making those difficult decisions on roles and responsibilities.

You can subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and pretty much anywhere else. And if it isn’t where you download your podcast feed from, let me know and I’ll make it happen.

Further reading

The Role of a manager has to change in 5 key ways
https://hbr.org/2018/10/the-role-of-a-manager-has-to-change-in-5-key-ways

The Brutal truth about becoming a design manager
https://medium.com/@martynreding/the-brutal-truth-about-becoming-a-design-manager-1eca101b55e1

How to become an expert at anything (Anders Ericsson)
https://www.businessinsider.com/anders-ericsson-how-to-become-an-expert-at-anything-2016-6

Mapping your UX career trajectory Pt1
https://medium.com/@giaphualihua/mapping-your-ux-career-trajectory-part-1-2-a9be795ba41f

Exploring natural and multimodal applications

In the second module of the MIT CSAIL HCI degree, we’re discussion natural and multimodal interactions and their applications.

The discussion element for this module asked us to:

Think about the natural and nontraditional interfaces that you encountered in the enrichment activity in this unit. What potential opportunities do they represent? What part of multimodal or multi-sensory interfaces would you be most excited to be able to use?
Bethany LaPenta, MEng at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Continue reading “Exploring natural and multimodal applications”

Amazon Music Dark Patterns for Cancellation

After discovering that children and Alexa don’t mix (unless you enjoy high card bills every month) I needed to find a way of cancelling Amazon Music subscription.

I discovered a rather dirty dark pattern in the form of switching action states. Every Amazon user will be familiar with their button sequences, yellow buttons = positive / primary action with grey buttons action as cancel / secondary actions.

Throughout the entire Amazon Music subscription cancellation process they’ve switched the button logic around. Here’s the flow in it’s gory detail.

 

Notice how this first question is in fact a feedback survey – and you can skip it using the standard link below the action buttons – but you can’t select submit and confirm cancellation until you have selected an option.Amazon Music then tries a final attempt to keep you based on your response, in this example, I’m not using it enough it shows me all the things I’ve probably not utilised yet and that there’s really a lot on offer et et et et.You’ll see that even up to the point of confirmation the buttons are reversed. Also notice that the progress indicator implies you’re finished. i wonder how many people close the window at this point never actually cancelling their subscription?

Webinar

You can now watch back the full Webinar on how to run a User Experience Mapping Workshop that was live on 10 Aug 2016 with UI Breakfast.

The slides for this are below along with notes

[slideshare id=64872791&doc=webinardeck-160810140321]

Want to learn how to run this workshop?

Perhaps you need an experienced workshop facilitator to run this exercise with your team?

Email andy@byandyparker.com or call +44(0)7534405473.

Webinar: Running a UX Workshop

I’ll be hosting a webinar this coming Wednesday 10 Aug 2016 on how to run a workshop for User Experience Journey Mapping. This is in association with UIBreakfast and will be run via Crowdcast.

If you miss it on the day, don’t worry it will be recorded and published somewhere on Youtube.

Reserve your seat at https://www.crowdcast.io/e/uxmapping

Employability and expectations in the workplace

In April this year I was interviewed as part of a study by now graduate, and soon to be secondary school teacher Larna Pantrey-Mayer as part of her final study on the current state of the design industry as an employer and what to expect as a new member of the workforce so to speak.

Larna interviewed a number of business owners in Brighton, from well established companies in the area and having seen a recent talk of mine contacted me for an alternative perspective. Continue reading “Employability and expectations in the workplace”

Engadget’s dreadful mobile experience

Most days, I read Engadget waiting for a train, or otherwise in a position where using my phone to read is more ergonomic. I for some bizarre reason still visit Engadget, and again, almost on a daily basis.

Problem is I am forever hounded by this crap.
A massive cookie disclaimer (that is NOT required – when are people going to bother reading up on that law?) and then this content blocking navbar which I really do not need, nobody does, other than when the page loads.

What really pisses me off is that this would have come up before dev even started, every front-ender knows fixed elements are problematic still on mobile browsers, but how could this have made it past the first round of testing let alone to live?

It is such a cheap fix, and so utterly shitty when it comes to the experience of using their site. And don’t get me started on the page jump whilst patiently enduring several MB of ad downloads into incorrectly sized placeholders.

Talk UX 2015

Back in March I spoke at a new conference based on Manchester, Talk UX. I was part of a curated 300 seconds talk session again, alongside people who have either never spoken in public before or are only just starting to get out there.

Designing the URL

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the design of URLs which has been spawned from the crazy idea from browser vendors to start hiding the url for the page you are looking at and only display the domain. I’m not sitting on either side of this. I think that we are in a territory now that means you should be navigating websites through the user interface that has been designed and crafted within the browser portal – not the address bar. But I do also have an appreciation for good, sensible URL design.

As part of my ongoing bashing of the BTSport services, this subject popped into my head as i typed something that made sense to me.

http://www.btsport.com/watch

Now why would I do that? Well because the core service of BTSport is – dun dun duuunnnnnnn! to watch sports! Is there a view there? Is there fuck. Instead, this is the URL if you want to see what’s on and watch live sport:

http://sport.bt.com/watch-bt-sport-01363810618853

There are no words to describe how utterly shite that URL is. In some respects I can understand the domain redirect and it is good that they acknowledge that btsport.com is actually what people will search or type in. That’s OK – but they really should have considered whether it was OK for them to create an entirely different domain for this service rather than creating a sub-domain of the parent. A similarly gigantic site is BBC. Frankly, they do amazing URLs. You want news? /news, weather? /weather. They have designed their URLs and sub-sites to work on URLs people will instinctively enter. The value of a good domain URL is the difference between people getting to it regularly or not. In the last few years I have all but stopped using bookmarks. In fact, I think it will be a dead feature within the next 5 years on all browser. The devices we use today and the power of auto-complete from Google search, and its incorporation in the Chrome toolbar mean that having the ‘bookmarks’ page is just not that helpful anymore. I also believe that the majority of users use bookmarking as a compulsion and the majority of sites bookmarked will never be revisited.

The landmine that is CXO

Yesterday a title I had not heard of started being banded around at the From Business To Buttons conference which has filled me with dread.

Chief Experience Officer, or CXO. My problem with this is that I can help feel it’s a rebranding exercise. Isn’t the idea of someone who is responsible for the service or product already with us under the monicker of Product Manager, or Service Manager? Why is there still this misguided need from the UX Community to create little Generals?

Throughout the talks of the day there was references to the creation of UX Teams, but I think this is wrong, I always have. User Experience is not a specialised skill. It doesn’t require someone with the magical powers of a creating great experiences, like some kind of conjurer, it is a value for whatever you create and it needs to radiate from every single member of the organisation, not just a team of 6 unicorns trying to battle against the rest of the company.

The idea of requiring a Chief Experience Officer to me sounds like the creation of a role to let everyone else off the hook of doing a shitty job and not thinking about how and why they are delivering and creating customer services. It would be the same as hiring for a Happiness In The Workplace Directory, responsible for making sure that everyone is happy, that cakes are bought on birthdays and that everybody walks away with a spring in their step at the end of the day. It just isn’t possible (although I know a Brighton company who actually tried this. It failed.)

Values can’t be enforced either. Yes, you can explain and share values with another person and in turn they can form their own ideas about them and perhaps then they will share your values, but fundamentally you either agree or disagree with a particular value. This is why I don’t believe in company values either because once you reach a particular size it is impossible to only hire the people you need based on shared values, there will eventually be a point where not everyone agrees on what is being done in the organisation and with your service.

As long as the founders retain the integrity that we hope they had at the start and that their values are strong and just, your service or product, or whatever it is you do will thrive, evolve and grow.

We don’t need new titles, we need to stop thinking about User Experience as the responsibility of a few people who are just good at listening.

What I learnt about UX from Fast ‘N’ Loud

Over the years we’ve had some addictive bad telly brought to UK shores by Channel5. But something has changed and in the last 12 months Discovery, a channel traditionally respected as the younger, perhaps late teen sibling of National Geographic has become the home of what @jvbates has referred to as Red Neck TV.

Lately, my favourite has been Fast ‘N’ Loud, a show where the boys at the Gas Monkey Garage buy old cars, put a bit of work into them and flip them by the end of the episode. Watching how Rich and Aaron, the founders of the business operate, I’ve become inspired by what they do and how they put it all together, but more importantly what they consider a good job well done.

Defining the User Experience

Ultimately, car restoration is a true user experience. If you’re a mechanic, the sound of an original 68’ Coupe DeVille is like sweet music, the craft put into the blend of design and power of the American classic could be equated to the love some of us in the web have for Swiss Type, or the nuances of a well defined stylesheet. To the consumer there is the dream of owning something they could never have from new, or because they weren’t born when the ‘77 Bandit Trans Am hit the dealership. For some it will be the opportunity to relive their youth, the glory days of an era gone by.

Then you have the collectors & petrolheads, fanatical about the finess of a well laid out dashboard, the blends of steel, carbon, plastics, wood and the smell of leather and gasoline.

All of these personas must be considered when they set out to find something in the auctions or local ads for a ride to buy and bump After all, it is no good putting your resourcing into a car that will never be bought, never be driven, never be cared for.

Roles and responsibilities

The GMG workshop is a small team. Richard and Aaron run the business, they pick the cars that get brought in and between them work out what they need to do in order to get it into the state they need to turn a profit.

Sounding familiar? It should. We are doing this every day, except where many of us fail is where the Gas Monkey boys succeed. They don’t try to create the perfect example.

It’s got to be-e-e-e-e-e perfect

I have written in the past about my disliking for working with anyone who has the notion of pixel perfect design, a print-bred notion that you can’t control on the web. Well here we have a group who are taking the anti-pixel perfect approach to physical products.

Quite often the cars brought into the garage are pretty beat up. On the outside there could be tragic rust spots, clapped out interiors, but the engine block may be OK. Most certainly it needs a service and it may even need a major component completely replacing.

Still sounding familiar?

Aaron sets about the strategy for getting the car to the point they need it. They have a fixed budget usually set in man days in which to turn the project around plus an idea of expenses before they buy the car. You can tell that this is a pretty accurate estimate based on experience.

Meanwhile, Rich is off getting in the next project, he wants a car in the parking lot ready to be wheeled into the garage once the last one is finished.

Teaming Up

During the procurement phase of a project Rich will often consult with friend Dennis Collins, a car collector on whether it’s a good project to go into. Occasionally Dennis will also invest in the project to get it off the ground.

With the overal concept for what they want to do mapped out, Aaron assembles the team, this may include one or all the mechanics in the workshop, a paint sprayer and when required he’ll call in specialists like detailers, surface experts or upholsterers.

With a team put together they get cracking. There’s just the one primary job going through the garage at the time and having the whole team work on it at the same time means that things come in on-time.

Incomplete to you – completed to me

Crucially what has inspired me is that their projects are not complete. They work on how do we get this shitpile rat run and turn it into something that does what it needs to do. It isn’t always about delivering the wrap around bow, that may well be the fun part that the next owner wants to get their fingers on – so let them!

In doing so, more often than not the guys turn a profit on the project and things still look good but crucially every car they restore gets driven away – not towed.

In one of my favourite episodes the crew needed to get an engine block cleaned up and sent it away to be resprayed. When it came back it had been completely restored in a striking cherry red to match the engine bay. Unfortunately, they’d purposefully left the patina of the chassis giving this hot rod a rather nice Mad Max vibe. What did they do? They dripped paint stripper and brake fluids all over the block and bay to allow the paint to corrode back to match the outside.

Don’t over design one area only for it to get let down by its surroundings (there are few examples of this I have seen lately).

Takeaway

  • Assess the damage
  • Come up with a tangible delivery
  • Get your team together and bring in help when you need it, don’t be limited by your own capabilities
  • Don’t over do it, it’s a car all it needs to be able to do is drive on the road legally
  • Not everything needs go faster stripes

Is Google+ introducing dark patterns?

I discovered over the weekend that by disabling and removing my Google+ ‘account’ the other month I in turn disabled my Youtube account, which I do use regularly.

I hadn’t realised this until I went to post a link to a video I shot a while back onto this blog only to be greeted by a note saying, “welcome to Youtube!”. Shortly after my girlfriend quizzed me saying she had just received a notification that I had ‘joined’ G+ and asked me how come as I had said I had deleted it ages ago. Continue reading “Is Google+ introducing dark patterns?”

Working from content diagrams

This week I have been working with Rich and Paul at Clearleft on a quite different project to what I would normally be involved with – designing an intranet.

With Rich leading the project we met with the client to talk about the main objectives for the project and were pleasantly surprised with the amount of background, research and thought they have already put into what is going to be the primary resource for everyone within the organisation.

The biggest thing that has been highlighted is that they want to avoid one common pitfalls of many intranets, becoming a dumping ground for documents which quickly become out or date or have infrequent use. Instead, the intranet will centre around the people within the organisation and the work that they do. It is intended to facilitate collaboration and communication between individuals. By making people the heart of the service they hope to get more mingling going on between groups and new ideas coming out of that mingling.

We kicked off by writing a list of all the things we want to see on each of the page types and spent about a day checking that we hadn’t missed anything as well as throwing in some ideas which were a little different to what you would normally see.

By the end of it we had a pretty comprehensive list. We’d merged items which were too similar, refined some that were too broad and had a complete map of the system using nothing more than some pen and paper and an itemised list.

The next step was for me to take this list and put each item on it into a hierarchy. As I had been doing this as we were going along already, this afforded us some extra time which I used to take each of the page content diagrams and throw them into html pages. At first, I just put everything from the list in as h1 tags; basically showing where each section would start. By going about it this way you’ve suddenly got the beginnings of a simplified mobile-first page layout.

Over the last few days I have extended these page diagrams by sourcing similar or exact content to populate these diagrams, again keeping away from marking it up with anything that could be considered layout related, it is still purely text content and a few images semantically ordered.

I wanted to get the markup to be as rich as possible and provide the ability to interact with other systems if it needs to in the future. I’ve done this by applying microformats to certain patterns within the system. For example, being centred around people, it is was more than obvious to add vcard/hcard formatting to the people pages. But I’ve gone a step further than that, events are covered, as are references to peoples publications whether print or online using bibliography microformatting.

Hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to write more insight into approach on taking a UX project quickly through discovery and into a prototype state without the need for faffing with wireframes and design mockups – something which I am very much enjoying on this project. That’s not to say there is no place for these tools and methods, of course there are, but with the nature of this project and the way we’re working through it, these would only be relevant for a few hours if not minutes.