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Black Tech Fest 21: Building a career in UX

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At the end of October, Eliga Services attended Black Tech Fest 2021. We joined Fifi Kara, Product Designer at Facebook, Orezi Aki, Product Designer at Twitter and Elliott James Sainsbury, Content Designer at Facebook to discuss their UX career journeys and gather tips.

One of the most rewarding aspects of UX design is seeing the effects of the work designed. The ever-changing nature of tech, allows UX teams to pivot and understand how people are using their product. Expectations can be completely different of how the product is used in the real world and this is one of the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of UX.

 

Different avenues to getting a start in UX

While everyone agreed that there is no one way to enter a career in User Experience, the UX panel highlighted different entry points.

Elliot admitted that his start into UX was 'completely accidental.' As a Fine and Studio Arts graduate from Central Saint Martins, he started his career as a copywriter. At the time, he was overseeing landing pages, ensuring the language was consistent as well as writing and editing product descriptions, banners, and emails. He got pulled into some projects, creating technical, microcopy for a checkout journey, when someone suggested he pursue UX.

Orezi started as a Biomedical Engineering major. She knew she wanted to work in prosthetics. However, her studies didn’t match her focus. She switched to Industrial Design, before shifting to UX. She noted that Industrial Design and Product Design are two worlds that live very closely together. The transition wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be at the time. The panellists noted that having a background in Industrial Design can be very useful and that people often switch between the two.

Fifi learned UX though editing friends’ photos. From this point, she moved to designing websites and logos. Her interest in design evolved organically. She grew her knowledge through reading on the internet and watching YouTube videos to learn about Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. She went on to study Social Policy & Government at LSE. She learned code to design digital applications. This varied experience led to her current job working for Facebook Reality Labs, helping build hardware products.

 

Companies are visibly changing

The UX panel spoke about the rise of more diverse talent from Africa, including Nigeria and Ghana. With this shift, companies are visibly changing, which will only strengthen their UX strategies. The panel noted that people are now coming from everywhere. However, Elliot added that Content Designers still have many barriers to a more diverse and inclusive pool of talent. Most content design is written in English. He noted that this is an obstacle that the industry will need to face in the future.

Instead of looking at a candidates’ work history, Elliot looks at the work they show. This approach is relevant for both recruiters and candidates. The work must speak for itself.

 

UX career levels

The issue of the ‘muddiness’ of titles in UX was addressed. The panel helpfully outlined the ‘overreaching expectations’ of each position and the change between levels.

When working as a Junior Product Designer, the quality of the execution is a big focus, designs specs are the ‘holy grail’ of a designer's work. At this level, talent may have had a part in the design and execution.

At the mid to senior level, Product Designers come up with ideas, get involved in research and strategy. At this stage, it’s important to distinguish between soft skills versus hard skills. Junior Designers focus on developing soft skills, gaining hard skills with cross-function teams.

Orezi said she ‘felt a shift’ in her confidence as she gained experience, describing it as ‘an assertion of who you are as a designer.’ With confidence, seasoned designers know how to bring those skills into strategic thinking, understanding how they can help build products in select spaces.

Fifi added that understanding your strengths and weaknesses is key and the ability to leverage others’ skills. The panel agreed that influence becomes a big part of the role of a senior designer. The ability to influence people that aren’t just Designers or Direct Engineers, but also working with Product Managers and other people across the organisation, getting them to believe in your vision and your ideas is essential. This isn’t something that can be learned overnight, it’s something designers develop over the years.

Elliot said his journey was similar. He chose to focus more on his craft as his career progressed. By polishing his execution and delivering really good content, using more insights, representing his decisions better and getting more feedback, he grew, shaping future experiences.

 

Breaking the mould

The UX panel acknowledged that there is a sub-culture within design. Some designers beginning their UX career may feel the pressure to fit in to have a good experience. Fifi said she thought this was changing. Orezi agreed, stating that events like Black Tech Fest are helping break the mould of what a typical designer looks like. She explained that no matter what job she found herself in, the Imposter Syndrome was very much real, attesting to the anxiety many creatives share in respect to the quality of their work and the fear that they don’t fit in. She added, 'The more we democratise design and the more we talk about UX as something anything anyone can come into as long as they are passionate and they really want to put the work in, I think the better it would be for our field.'

 

Want to learn more?

Please visit Colorintech website to learn more.

Colorintech has programmes and resources for students, entrepreneurs, and experienced professionals. Founded in 2016, it started with the belief that a more inclusive tech industry is better for products, innovation, employees and leads to a larger generational impact when it comes to wealth creation and closing opportunity gaps.