When it comes to User Experience (UX) Design, people often ask, “What skills do I need to learn?” or “What tools should I familiarise myself with?”
In an exclusive interview with our UX Transform instructor Ben Gilmore, we’ll unravel some of the misconceptions, in-demand skills, and trends that you should be on the lookout for when it comes to UX Design.
Q: So Ben, on a high-level, what makes a good UX Designer?
Ben: A good UX Designer is not defined by your proficiency or aptitude with different software but through the adoption of a UX mindset. As a UX Design teacher, it’s these soft skills which are most challenging to teach.
Why UX is a mindset
Q: If we take a step back to basics, how would you define UX Design?
Ben: At its core, UX Design is about producing things that are useful, usable, and meaningful. To create an experience that meets all of these criteria, it’s important to speak to users and understand their needs at an empathetic level. Once you’ve identified a user’s goals and drivers, it’s essential to iterate on that research to refine your solution.
Q: What misconceptions or false beliefs do people have when it comes to UX?
Ben: A common misconception is that UX requires specific artefacts at different phases of your solution. While there is value in creating artefacts such as customer personas or wireframes, the purpose of these deliverables is to communicate a story — to paint a picture of what you’ve uncovered. No artefact is useful in isolation but they collectively add value when used in the context of the solution.
My UX Design philosophy is this: Design is a verb, not a noun, thus any artefacts produced in the process of UX is an output of design itself.
A second misconception is that UX Design is the sole responsibility of one person: the UX Designer. This is not ideal as UX Design should be a collaborative process that involves end users, business stakeholders, and any other parties involved in the experience.
Attributes of a successful UX Designer
Q: What advice or tips would you give for a student or potential student looking to pivot into a UX career?
Ben: For students or anyone looking to embark on a career in UX Design, curiosity is key to developing a UX mindset. As the three main drivers for humans are autonomy, mastery, and purpose, having the willingness to explore and understand the problem space will help students develop mastery over their UX craft.
The best UX Designers are able to blend both creative and analytical thinking and switch between modes quite rapidly. This allows the production of a lot of ideas, in the process known as Divergent Thinking. Through Divergent Thinking, UX Designers are then able to refine their multitude of ideas into one refined, tested, solution.
A little tip: To test a junior UX Designer’s curiosity, I always ask what books they’ve read recently. If you want to become more curious, you have to ask more questions. Gaining knowledge about UX and the outside world is invaluable to creating human-centred, customised solutions.
Trends and methods of UX
Q: What trends should UX Designers or UX students be on the lookout for?
Ben: With close to 20 years experience in UX, one fundamental trend hasn’t changed: understanding people. Whether it’s disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), or Mixed Reality Design, if you don’t understand that the essence of UX Design is centred around people, you won’t be able to create an optimal solution.
If I had to call out one emerging UX Design trend, it would be UX writing. UX writing is a discipline that seems to have risen to recent prominence with more roles popping up. A second trend would be the increase in voice interfaces rather over traditional Graphical User Interfaces (GUI).
As brands speed to market accelerates, adopting agile methodologies is crucial in helping UX Designers obtain validated learnings as quickly as possible. One method I teach is called ‘Jedi’ or ‘Just Enough Design for Iteration’.
Jedi abandons the need for perfection, effectively decreasing the risk of waste when a designed solution is not fit for purpose. Thus one of the biggest takeouts for a lot of students is how to prevent designing too much upfront.
The importance of gaining UX experience
Q: Could you explore one area that students struggle with in UX Design, and how would you recommend working through this?
Ben: I think the major challenge that UX Design students face exists within the education system itself. At school, we’re taught to colour within the lines and that there is a black and white answer to everything. In design, there are no right and wrong answers, instead, you progress towards the ‘right’ direction through research and iterations of work.
Increasing your experience through projects and developing a portfolio enable students to gain more confidence and insight in forming solution hypotheses. As students become more experienced — just like a muscle — they begin to strengthen their UX mindset.
Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets to this process: it comes with exposure and time. There’s no discrete formula for creating a universal experience as every situation and client is different.
Q: Can you tell us about your career journey to date?
Ben: Unlike students today, my journey into UX Design was less structured and involved a lot of self-learning. After having completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art in London, my foundational programming skills landed me an internship working on sitemaps and Information Architecture.
It was through my Master’s Degree that I became exposed to usability and user experience, ultimately landing my first job as a hybrid UX Developer.
Since then I’ve worked at a number of design agencies and was awarded the esteemed Golden Pencil; the International Design Award with the team at BBC for a London 2012 Olympics project.
Eventually, I jet set across the globe and landed in Australia, where I’ve worked with wonderful companies such as Telstra, The University of Melbourne, Isobar, and of course, Academy Xi.
Q: How has the experience of teaching UX Design been like for you?
Ben: I’ve been fortunate enough to have taught one part-time UX course, and I am now teaching my second full-time UX Transform course (soon to be third) at Academy Xi.
Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm.
For 12 weeks.
Three client projects.
One personal project.
Finalising portfolios and a final showcase.
It’s been a thrilling ride, and I have also learned a lot about the process of learning UX as well as teaching it.
Learn how you can adopt an empathetic, problem-solving mindset in our UX UI Transform course. Find out more here.