After my last articles a lot of people wrote me in Facebook with questions about how to choose correctly a workplace for a designer. I answered everyone, but understood that this topic isn’t covered. So, I decided to write what are criteria for interviewing your employer, because a specialist is strongly influenced by the place he goes to and the work he do there. It determines his future.
So we can meet the following roles on the market:
- UI – Designers provide consistency of visual elements.
- UX – Designers work with the feelings about a product it’s logic and interaction. Cases, persons, JTBD.
- Motion designers work with animations, screen transitions from one state to another.
- Visual/Graphic designer is that personage who moves pixels, as laymen see. This specialist produces a quality of certain elements/typography.
Optionally we can also add:
- Front-end developer for the technical realization of an experience designed at the UX and UI levels.
- UX- analyst for work with metrics, analytics systems, collection of quantitative data and math data analyses.
- UX-researcher is for interviewing people and getting quality information.
Each of these roles requires a certain set of skills. Such a division into roles doesn’t speed on a work, so at the market appeared Product Designer, which has competences of all listed professions. Which skills allow people to become such a multifunctional person? First of all, it is a curiosity, then a passion and an empathy. If the first and the second one are characteristics of the personality and start directly from a desire to do something for people, then an empathy develops through reading books and empathy to characters. An empathy greatly affects the quality of a design. And a science fiction is the secret of a successfully generating ideas.
Besides an empathy, a critical thinking is necessary. At the school where I studied were court hearings about affairs of book’s heroes (it was in form of a game). It learned us not only read for a quantity, but to ask questions and understand motivations. If an education based on simply remembering the information, the brain becomes lazy and it loses an intellectual autonomy. A thousand pages of a landscape description is not the most useful work. To be smart and be able to learn, it is necessary to understand the world and interpret it, not just memorize a knowledge. Of course there will be mistakes, but the development is based on understanding them, not to be afraid of them and not to repeat of them. This one develops curiosity, passion and empathy.
In the above, there is no difference between designers in a studio or on a client side, specialists everywhere should be as qualified and comprehensive as possible. And Love the job. The level of the team is always determinate by the weakest participant, because he provides the minimum posable quality of the product.
One of the most important differences of workplaces is mentoring. Usually your mentor is an experienced specialist, he doesn’t do work with you, but tells how he would do it. An experienced specialist is «loot box» with knowledge and experience. Using analogy with games, you can use such «loot box» for speed up your skills, but who knows how useful this particular «loot box» is. In any case you shouldn’t wait an explanation from the basic to the final result.
From the above, it is clear that your success will not depend on Art Director. You will follow advises of your supervisor, but an advice, even from Jony Ive, is not a guarantee of your success. It is a question of the depth of your involvement. A good mentor like a psychologist, doesn’t tell what to do, but asks right questions. A good mentor will ask you good and universal questions, leading you to the right decisions in the context of companies’ goals. And what are goals of the product companies and digital agency? Is it to make a product or finish a contract? Answer this question for yourself.
The presence of a nerd developer in a team, who knows a product very well, will be very good for you. Just believe.
In good places you must be educated to make a dialog, to argue and to understand clients’ tasks, and surely you will be educated. If a leader is closed and tries to press on opinion of a subordinate, by his personality, there will be no development of a subordinate. In my north Europe there is a common phrase that a designer should be a strong person: and he should be able to force through his opinion any way. But in my opinion, it is selfish. I believe that a designer should be a strong person: and should be able not only stand up for his opinion, but also be strong enough to percept others’ opinion.
In bad places they always will criticize designer’s work, will ask to make 1000 edits, and will ask to make a design better then Apple or Google has. But really most of the companies don’t need such a design like Apple or Google has.
To work on the side of product increases your chances to get a quality feedback, because you’ll have to work with the informational architecture and the content. And it’s very cool especially if you know several languages. Experiments with the text can rise a conversion in 2–3 levels. Also on the side of a product you rarely will be asked to make decisions, it is more about thinking over and find out a core and consequences of a problem.
But on the side of a digital agency there are more opportunities for working with a visual style. The visual style is changed rarely in the product, you have to work with the same guidelines and graphic constructions, because the consistency is more important. That is why a digital agency often forms a style, and specialists from the side of a product work with this style for years. Digital agency can afford more creativity as authorship, in working with a product there is no authorship, there is a team and a product.
If you are a beginner it makes sense to choose a place to work, where there is a set of already-made components and wireframe, so you can create models on this level.
At more advanced level you can create elements or links of elements. The understanding of how to make small areas without a wireframe adds.
The next step will be a creation of a whole system. It can be a site, a part of a site or a separate experience.
At least the understanding that a site and an application are only a part of a business appears, and a designer should also improve a work of the sales department, the work of sales offices. To create a business design, so the new long journey begins.
To move from one level to another you can use such criteria: for example, you already work and feel yourself good enough — this is a comfort zone. Your development begins when you leave this comfort zone, because here you’ve grown as much as you could. Otherwise you would not feel comfortable.
Imagine this as steps. You should push yourself from the step of your competence. Your company and your product will need new competencies in any case, so the company can buy them on the market or find these competencies in you. Each of your new competence is a step to the success for both, your company and you.
A very important point is how you will move from step to step. If the company doesn’t welcome development of the employee and prefers to hire new people instead of developing already existing, you can express your disagreement only with your feet. Or rather, leaving this company. If the company has an assessment of your growth by a mentor, your own plan of development and a map of your skills, then your growth is much easier to plan and estimate.
Sources of knowledge
You can get the experience from mistakes or a success. When you are learning mistakes are helping you. If you make a decisions basing on your own experience, you will learn only from mistakes. You as specialists are always not representative. And it will always be too expensive for an employer to make mistakes. So it is important to test hypotheses based on problems of business or users to avoid mistakes. You can make strong-willed decisions while market assessment, but while hypotheses assessment it is better to rely on another tools.
So it is better not to relay on cool specialist’s charisma, if the hypothesis is made up, it means that it doesn’t exist. And no matter who was an inventor. Even if a man for years takes a wild guess, and find a right decision, sooner or later a fortune will leave him.
In most cases for an acceptable level of hypothesis testing a funnel of sales and Google Heart Framework is enough. While hypothesis evaluating in a good company you will correlating online and offline, connecting all these with seasons, day time, including inner factors such as: traffic source, devices, geography and many more. If the final goal is sales, then metrics ROI, LTV, cohorts are added.
Product metrics allows to understand how the introduction of hypotheses influences a product. Thanks to metrics you can become a designer, who not only solves problems, but understands that he solves problems.
In custom development, in not very good place, they can make you to increase metric, as a main properties of a product at the current time. Let’s take a popular example with increasing of a button size for rising a number of clicks: a product doesn’t become better, but a click rate is rising. Don’t go to such places for getting an experience. An experience of rising a multiple growth with the help of a spam and a traffic surfing is not appreciated too. That is a simple selling and not a development of UX. A good UX to the smallest details depends of an analytics and cool people in a team.
So, we need analytics, and let’s make it clear. While working with a product you need three type of analyses: business-analysis, technical- analysis and product -analysis.
· A business-analysis is about a dynamic of a main indicator. The answer like: “5% of our traffic is the purchase of traffic, and 3% is the market story”. And a decision-making because there is a strong knowledge of how business is structured. The main metric is money.
· A technical-analytics is exploring. Advises made with a recommendation’s algorithm (Netflix). I’ll try to make it clear: this is an analytic of the algorithm constructing. In the same Netflix the analytics works with many nonlinear connections, and while working with classical methods of analysis the information is lost. You can google, for interest, Stochastic bandit Model, it is tailored to find patterns. A technological analytics is a scientific work, as in a fundamental science.
· A product-analytics works for business growth, searching for new points of growth, operational history: interfaces and tests. It’s an applied science, almost like a startup.
When a designer has an opportunity to get an information from these three sources, he can provide a thoughtful decision. If a work place has all three types of analysis it is a very good place, you can interact with these knowledge carries and level up.
Working with an analytic you should always keep in mind: companies are ruined not because they don’t make a product. They are ruined because nobody uses their product and doesn’t pay for it. A product dies first of all, because the market doesn’t need it, or it’s price is not correct. It is also a question of a proper research. In that case it is easier to work in a company which is too big to fail. It’s easier to make risky decisions and taste hypotheses worth millions.
It sounds good, but in practice is not so rosy. To connect data from back-end with data from front-end at the analytics’ level is quite the task. To do all things according a documentation and wait that everything will be ok, it won’t. For example, a second session in Google Analytics can be counted for many reasons: because a user returns after 30 minutes, or reloading a browser tab, a day ends, angular or single page broke a session. You surely bound to face the problem of curse space of dimensionality, and a data constantly will not be enough. There will be millions of such problems, and risk will never be reduced to the minimum while making a decision. There are no decisions without risks even with a strongest analytics. Also, the more you work the hypothesis with analytics, the slower you work with decisions and lag behind the market, it slows down both your development and status of the place you work.
That is why decisions at the level of authority and opinion leaders must be and will be. This doesn’t contradict all I said above about inadmissibility of authoritarian decisions, but in condition that such decisions help to cure the root problems, and not symptoms.
A new product or long-lived
New products are cool, interesting. You will tell about your new ideas at a conference, will write an article, will get likes, they will shake your hand at the lobby. But it is a big risk, because a new product is likely a startup, and not the fact that it will survive and will be profitable. A popularity and an income are not the same things. You will think about money more often with a new product, about a monetization and market share, and not about image features.
There will be not many analytics with a new product or it will not be at all. But indie way of analysis will rescue you: ask Google. Ask a question in Google: “how much money is in such an industry?” “what is better smartphones or pads?” Yeah, smartphones have a higher market share, so we take smartphones. “what are details of using a smartphone?”, yeah, these are short sessions. So we form a Core Pillars by this way and make a product.
· Who will be your leader, and how this person used to lead
· Up to what level you can grow
· On what base decisions are made.
· What opportunities of analytic will be available.
Ask questions to your employer, till you will have a clear understanding about these four points. There are enough criteria about these four points in the article. And I hope, after reading this article, your chance to start your career badly will reduce to the minimum. Today the world become a better place :).
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