Provided by Catherine Delcourt, Assistant Professor of Computer Scienct at Wellesley College, and Wellesley alumna
What is this industry?
The field of UX (user experience) is a user-centered design discipline that is central to the Tech industry by ensuring that technology solutions solve real human problems. It’s an interdisciplinary field with people coming from CS, arts, psychology, social science, and other backgrounds – all with the common interest in understanding people and innovative technologies. There are many different roles within UX teams (sometimes called design teams or product teams, depending on the company) such as product managers, UX designers, visual designers, UX researchers, UI architects, UX engineers. Most of these roles collaborate cross-functionally, for example a product manager likely interacts frequently with engineering teams and business units.
What is a “day in the life”?
How to ace your interview
This will also depend on the role you are interviewing for, focusing on UX design and UX research here.
For a UX design position, you can expect to discuss your portfolio in detail and/or do a design case study. In both cases, be prepared to explain your thought-process as you go along. It’s more important to show that you can critically think about a problem and that you know the steps/tools to tackle it, than it is to properly solve it during the interview. UX design can mean a lot of different things, make sure you are clear on what your skillset is within UX (research, wireframing, architecture, prototyping, graphics…) and what you will bring to the table. Some companies know they need a UX designer but aren’t clear about what they need the designer for, you may need to educate them about why they need you.
For a UX research position, you can expect to solve a case study by mapping out a research plan and/or presenting your past research projects. This type of position tends to be more specific than UX design and more commonly found in larger and more established companies. Because of that, you can be expected to conduct a usability audit of their product – so make sure you come prepared with your own research of the company you are interviewing with!
Resources for learning about this industry
There are so many, I’ve listed some above that can be a good starting point. Some other helpful online resources are UX collective, the Interaction Design Foundation, the Nielsen Norman Group, Smashing Magazine. Conferences like UXPA international. There are great youtube channels and podcasts as well, lot’s to browse around and find.
Typical industry entry process & career trajectory
There really isn’t a typical career trajectory in UX, there also isn’t a standard entry process. It would strongly encourage anyone interested in the field to start with a course that introduces the user-centered design process (like our CS 220 course at Wellesley) to understand the different components involved in UX. As a student, you can benefit from internships that often provide mentoring support to learn about how a company/team works. There exist certifications and graduate degrees for higher-level roles, but starting in UX can be done after a bachelors. The exception to this may be for UX research, where graduate research experience (MS or PhD) might be recommended.
Typical challenges in this industry and how to deal with them
I think that entering the industry can be challenging. As mentioned above, UX is very broad and means different things in different places. So finding the right fit as you embark on your career can be a challenge. This is why, I think it’s really important to do a lot of self-reflection as you enter this field: What are your strengths? Where do you need to collaborate with others? What kind of company would you be most excited about working for? Size? Domain? Team structure? Diversity? I think that a subsequent challenge is to continually prove the value design brings to a company. It can be challenging, particularly if your salient identities are underrepresented at your company, to advocate for the value of UX.
Companies to know in this industry
The neat thing about UX is that almost every industry needs it today because they at least have an online presence, if not an app. You can go to the ‘career’ page of almost any website/company and find a UX-related position. The big tech companies (FAANG) have some of the largest UX teams with very specialized roles, but there are also many opportunities in small companies.
On-campus resources related to industry
Some events related to CS or MAS are focused on UX. You might be interested in exploring the HCI lab. We also have some courses that will teach you about the user-centered design process and provide a structure for portfolio projects. The CS club is a campus org that would have some UX events.