After completing an internship with global design firm Sand Dollar Design in 2020, I joined their user-centered design team in South Africa in 2021 as a UX Analyst (aka a Junior UX Designer). While starting out as an intern or junior may be daunting, it really helps to be guided and mentored by experienced designers that have a solid foundation in human-centered design.
I would like to share a list of five key things I learned during my first year as a UX designer. Design work can be a handful and I hope the following tips will assist other junior designers out there:
1. Do your Research
When working on a new website, mobile app or system design project, it is imperative that a sufficient amount of research has been conducted. This will assist you greatly during the actual design phase. This research should cater to what your current competitors are doing (both excellently and poorly) all the way to macro and/or micro economic trends that might have an impact on your digital project. A good design team will conduct as much user research as possible, which includes user interviews and observation.
2. Apply Critical Thinking
Be very intentional when gathering, analyzing, and evaluating information that could potentially form part of your project. This method of working, trains you to skillfully conceptualize ideas and figure out how those ideas can be beneficial towards your designs. Asking yourself what different users would find useful at every step, or what the key pain points are that need to be solved, helps a lot with this process (this needs to be informed through research). Understanding the positive and negative paths users may take, as well as some edge cases can also make for a more robust solution.
3. Know your Stakeholders Business Requirements
A crucial thing to be mindful of is knowing the business’s requirements, processes, and rules for the project you are working on. These business requirements are parameters within which designers are expected to work. It is about knowing which designs will work best for users and whether these designs are consistent with the business’s processes.
4. Always Keep in Touch with your Stakeholders
During every step of your design journey, keep in touch with your stakeholders. It is important that they are aware of what you are doing and how far along you are in the design process. This also gives your stakeholders the opportunity to provide constructive criticism based on the work you have done. By involving the stakeholders in the user-centered design process, they understand why certain design decisions are being made, which typically results in greater consensus within the stakeholder group, rather than stakeholders arguing about which design each one prefers, where the HIPPO’s (highest paid person in the room’s) opinion normally wins.
5. Take Sufficient and Necessary Breaks
When constantly looking at your screen and working on app or website wireframes, high fidelity designs and clickable prototypes for your digital solution, you may experience multiple creative blocks and frustrations. This is absolutely normal and part of the process of working as a designer. When this happens, take a break: go for a jog, watch a movie, or listen to some music. Do what feels necessary to help you regain your confidence in the work you do. And put all your ideas down in some form, whether it’s digital or on paper – just seeing some progress is sometimes a stimulus to get the creative ball rolling.
The work of a designer demands progression more than perfection. Once I grasped this, I became more confident in my deliverables and saw significant growth in my areas of weakness. Anything can be achieved with the right mindset!
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it!”Mary Engelbreit
Mika Guliwe is a UX Designer at Sand Dollar Design, a global design consulting firm, she also regularly hosts the UX Joburg Meetup Group.