5 wrong reasons to start a UX career

Across our UXB Facebook Group, LinkedIn and beyond…we’ve only seen an increase in the interest for UX jobs. This phenomenon goes beyond U.S. borders, with global demand for UX skills increasing across Europe, Australia and the Asian markets.

After Covid-19, we’re seeing a shift to consumer services—more online shopping, streaming entertainment, and food and grocery deliveries, to name a few. The pandemic has disrupted other industries, like education and tourism, to improve the UX of their digital experiences.

Given the design industry demands, making a career change is no joke.

Starting with the right mindset will give UX beginners the most staying power as they pursue the hard road of career change.

Consider these top 5 reasons as a reality check starting a UX career.

Bad reason #1: “UX is a hot new tech trend”

Honestly, after my convincing introduction of the change occurring in the design industry… This reason seems like an elephant in the room. 

I hate to say that this “stereotype” has some truth to it. Why? At the surface-level, there’s a lot of misconception that UX is just web design or UX is about making things more aesthetically-pleasing like advanced graphic design. Sure, there are lots of job postings that lump all those things together (and are unrealistically seeking for a whole design department in one job listing) but that doesn’t represent what UX is. 

I can agree that skills from web design like HTML and CSS and an eye for colors and fonts  are all important components for an overall design but I think that underneath the iceberg, there’s a lot of research and iterative problem-solving that gets overlooked. 

Bad reason #2: “I want to help others”

This response brings me lots of nostalgia of my days in undergrad when I was practicing for my med school interviews. A classic question is “why do you want to attend medical school?” I remember struggling to come up with an elegant response besides that I wanted to “help people.”

My mentor was disappointed and suggested that reflect deeper on my decision to pursue medicine. She indicated that any career would allow me to help others in different ways, medicine and UX are no exception to improving someone’s day-to-day. 

If you’re a career changer hoping to improve people’s experiences, no doubt you will. However, this often isn’t specific or deep enough of a driving force because user experience is technically embedded in everything we interact with.

Small things like how a door is designed to open, the shape of kitchen utensils, the layout of your apartment, the classes you’re taking, those all have an experience.

cartoon girl pulling a door

If the people designing those things (whether they are architects, professors, or interior designs) considered the user experience, those jobs could do the same as a UX professional. 

Bad reason #3: “I want to work at a big tech company “

This motivation isn’t “wrong” per say but possibly a mentality that will come with lots of hoops to jump over on top of an already rigorous application process (typical UX interviews are composed of multiple rounds of conversations with recruiters, design teams, and leadership, a design challenge, portfolio walkthrough before a potential offer). To set the stage, I am assuming that IT giant companies are Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Adobe (other things located near Silicon Valley in San Francisco) etc. Because these large corporations are well-known, there is a lot of competition. What you bring to the table should be a little more than a UX bootcamp or a couple of years of working experience. 

On another note, UX opportunities go beyond large corporate jobs – there’s the option of startups and agencies (check out this UXB exclusive to get a sense of what the different opportunities have to offer you!).

Instead of focusing on what company you’d want to add to your job experience repertoire, think about what area of interest you want to make improvements upon. For example, my personal niche is in higher-ed and e-learning because it’s so fascinating how people learn, especially online. 

Bad reason #4: “No programming knowledge is required!”

Programming knowledge is probably the most debated upon skill in UX. At UX Beginner, our answer to “Should designers code?” is (spoiler alert) “Only if you want to.”

The desire to get a UX job based not wanting to code is a what we call “setting goals by subtraction.”

Avoid this mindset of picking a job because it’s easy, because that doesn’t mentally prepare you for the actual difficulties of a job.

UX is often far more difficult than people assume. In Oz’s UX coaching practice, he’s helped developers who’ve struggled to transition into UX, despite coming from a technical background. With any job there’s not going to be a shortcut or a way around certain things. 

But it’s worth noting that programming knowledge could serve as a better middle ground for collaboration with developers and engineers. An understanding of how the product works—including basic knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JS—are all great to help you navigate technical considerations when working with developers.

Since collaboration is a great soft skill to continue your upwards success in UX, don’t cross programming knowledge off your list quite yet. But it’s just the wrong motivation to get into UX because you don’t have to code.

Bad reason #5: “UX jobs pays better”

It’s no secret that UX jobs tend to pay better starting salaries than other design jobs. But why? Because it’s more work. Just consider the breadth of UX skills students should master.

UX Design Salaries by Country

image source: What Salary Will I Earn as a UX Designer (2021 Update) (CareerFoundry) 

I empathize with the desire to make more money, but an intrinsic motivation to work in UX is more sustainable in the long-term.

That intrinsic motivation will help you through the ups and downs of the rigorous UX job search process.

Many applications require a portfolio in addition to a resumes and cover letters, and unfortunately even submitting these doesn’t guarantee human contact. Without a deeper motivation than money, it’ll be hard to keep up with the job search, let alone the changing trends in UX.

We recommend carving out a path that makes you engaged over the long term versus excited in the short term. You can worry about ways to make more money later on whether it be climbing the ladders upwards or doing passion-projects!

So…what are good reasons to start a UX career?

If you nerd out about formulating UX research questions, awe over UI components, embrace iterating on multiple versions of designs, and enjoy collaborating with product managers and developers…then UX might be an awesome fit for you!

Does this spark joy?

Marie Kondo

It’s also a great motivation if there are deep problems in specific industries you’d like to tackle. If you think improving the UX can help patient outcomes in healthcare, or financial outcomes in finance, then your “reason of being” give you staying power in your a career change.

UX design is a meaningful career that connects psychology with human-centered interactions and technology. UX isn’t just the next hot trend, it’s here to stay and the competition is fierce.

Designers will be faced with a higher bar to demonstrate expertise and empathy to design products and experiences that are more considerate, effective, and efficient.

Did you find this useful? Then you might enjoy reading Getting a UX Job: Do You Want it Bad Enough? or 4 Easy Steps to Get a UX job, which are both “reality checks” on entering the UX industry.


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