“User Experience? How can I even explain this?” I asked myself this burning question when I started my first job as a Product Manager of a User Experience (UX) team in 2018. Back then, I found UX so complex that I couldn’t explain it to my friends. Only when I was conducting user research, doing design thinking, building customer journeys, and creating prototypes did I develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for UX.
Three years later, in May 2021, I applied to UX+ University. What differentiates this online program from others I’ve applied to before is that UX+ University allows me to apply what I will learn through case studies from real companies.
Because this course was a 16-week commitment, I was scared and thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the program. I also felt pressured by the other 30 applicants because of their expertise. The negative self-talk kicked in, “Maybe they’re better than me. They have more experience than me. I don’t think I’ll do well.” Despite this, I still took a leap of faith, and it was the best thing I have ever done. I have learned so much about UX within just 4 months, and below are some of the many lessons I’ve picked up during the program.
1. First, define the root problem.
I guess you could call it baptism by fire the first time I presented my website design to Marco Palinar, one of the most analytical mentors I have ever met. The task was to redesign a local bank’s website, and I had countless ideas in mind such as onboarding, payment structure, and new features — boy was I in for a treat. After explaining my design to Marco, he asked me one question, “what’s the root problem you’re trying to solve here?” I literally froze because I lost sight of which among my ideal solutions was the most needed one by the end user.
Marco explained that in the real world, you can’t solve all the problems all at once especially with tech and budget limitations that companies face day-to-day. By identifying the root problem early on, you become clear with the intent of your design solution, which leads to a more productive discussion with your business and tech counterparts. Your design solution is only as good as the problem you are solving, so allocate enough time to find that root problem.
2. Ask, “What does success look like”?
Identifying what success looks like is just as important as identifying what the root problem is. From user research all the way to testing, it is integral to set the right expectations in each stage by asking your client “What does success look like for you?” Phil Smithson, co-founder of UX+ University who has led countless workshops, advised us to always set a north star by asking this simple but crucial question so that we don’t lose track of our main goal.
To be honest, it’s easy to lose track of the end goal because the research and design stages can be rigorous. So how will you make sure that the features you are designing can lead to your definition of success?
3. Outcomes over outputs.
This brings us to the next lesson, “outcome over output.” The outcome is the goal or your idea of success (ex: improve discoverability), while the output is the action that you will take in order to achieve this success (ex: increase button size and change its color). The last thing you want is to have successful actions (outputs) that don’t achieve the intended goal (outcome).
In the illustration above, the desired outcome is to improve customer satisfaction while iterating the product. From the two strategies above, the second execution is more ideal because your outputs (ex: parts being created) are consistently tied to your outcome (ex: getting good feedback), each stage provided enough value to the end user that greatly improved customer satisfaction, which is the intended outcome. In contrast, it was challenging to even improve customer satisfaction in the first execution because the outputs did not even make the product useable for the end user. The output is not the same as the outcome, always bear that in mind when thinking of features.
But what if the desired outcome of your end user is not aligned with your business or tech stakeholders? (Ohhh this is a hot topic believe me haha).
4. Collaboration is key.
As a UX designer, it is your responsibility to make sure that the features you are designing are impactful and usable for your end user. But what if your business or tech counterparts do not agree with you? I’m not saying that you should vehemently challenge them, but rather work closely and collaborate with them.
For example, if there is a feature that does not sit well with you, try to understand the full context first before calling it out to your counterparts. It’s possible that you may not know the constraints they are experiencing as well. By getting more information on the intention of the feature, you begin to empathize more with your stakeholders, which can further encourage them to collaborate with you to find an alternative feature that can produce a better outcome for the end user. The worst thing that could happen is for them to respectfully disagree with you at the moment, but at least they would take note of your concern on the succeeding iterations.
You can proactively raise concerns as a UX designer, and be respectful at the same time. Be that kind of UX designer, and you will go a long way.
After successfully aligning and planning the feature roll-out with your stakeholders. What’s next?
5. Take advantage of online tools.
I seriously did not know how many online tools were available for us before the program. In the fours months of studying UX, we’ve dabbled in at least five online tools that made our design process easier. Below are three of my favorites.
Miro — is an online whiteboard where you and your team can effectively collaborate. The tool offers a wide array of templates such as but not limited to Kanban Framework, SCRUM, Mindmap, Customer Journey, etc.
Loom — is a video recording tool that is perfect for your user interviews, as it helps you capture the user behaviors of your interviewees.
Grammarly — is your writing assistant that checks your spelling, grammar, and punctuations. Perfect for copywriting, which is also an important skill that a UX designer should have. (I’m even using Grammarly right now haha)
Cool, with all these online tools, is it now time to make high-fidelity prototypes then? Not quite yet.
6. Don’t fall in love with your prototypes, especially in their early stages.
Ahhhhh this was a hard one for me to learn. When I design prototypes, I already put the colors, the shadows, etc. Why? Because I want it to be perfect. Guess what I learned, my designs will never be perfect. Chasing perfection never helped me get better. The more invested I was in my prototypes, the harder it was for me to receive feedback because I was already biased, and this is not how a UX designer should approach the design stage. An effective UX designer should be open to hearing feedback from all stakeholders and should take advantage of having gained these valuable insights.
How did I go about this? It was Anj Garong, one of our mentors, who taught me to be OKAY with greyscales (not adding the colors just yet). By just providing the greyscale and barebones of the design, I found myself less invested in and less biased towards my designs, which allowed me to welcome feedback more willingly and openly.
As you go through the next stages of your design, be very mindful of the processes you will undertake because these will be meticulously examined by recruiters.
7. It's your process over your title.
What I love about the UX+ University program is that you can talk to any mentor about ANYTHING. I had an interesting chat with Christian San Jose (CSJ), founder of UX+ University. I was amazed by how he created the online educational platform we use in class without coding, he merely just used webflow. So, being an eager beginner who wants to do everything (lol), I asked “CSJ, I want to be a good UX designer, where do I start? Should I learn webflow? Should I learn how to animate assets? Should I learn how to even code??” I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START!?!
CSJ calmly told me that learning code and animating assets are a plus, but they shouldn’t be the fundamental basis of what should make me a good UX designer. To be a good UX designer, you have to clearly show your design process: how you thought from product inception, how you conducted research, how you prioritized features, and how you iterated designs. He mentioned that anyone could easily put “UX designer” on LinkedIn, but what will separate you from the bunch are your case studies. Recruiters won’t just look at how well you designed a website but will ask you how this finished product came to be.
Here are examples of great case studies.
8. Forcing functions can be good.
Speaking of design processes, one of the case studies we did in class was to create a new website using the Design Sprint framework which is a five-day activity for planning, strategizing, and designing. The main intention of a Design Sprint is to use time as a forcing function to help cross-functional teams prioritize the most critical and feasible features.
It was daunting to be given just 5 days to redesign an entire landing page. Interestingly, as the days went by, my groupmates and I were consistently focused on each activity. It seemed easier to tap into our creative side because there was a time limit and we had no choice but to finish. I then realized how amazing our brains can operate when given the right amount of pressure. In behavioral psychology, this is called Parkinson’s Law, the law suggests that we humans tend to allocate more time to finish a task than necessary. The reason behind this is that we want a “buffer” period to delay and not think about it at the moment, we don’t set shorter timelines and constraints because that will just give us too much pressure.
But in reality, according to studies done in Harvard University, “when there are no constraints on the creative process, complacency sets in, and people follow what psychologists call the path-of-least-resistance — they go for the most intuitive idea that comes to mind rather than investing in the development of better ideas.” So if you are stuck with the same ideas, try implementing a forcing function that is healthy enough to tap into that creative part of your brain.
If for some reason you still could not think of a solution to your design problem (and this happens to me a lot), simply ask around. Asking around can go a long way, there is no shame. This leads to the next lesson.
9. Being in a community exponentially speeds up learning.
Our batch consisted of 7 mentors and 31 students, each one was willing to help another out. Imagine being surrounded by individuals who are experts in their field, and who are willing to help you — UX+ University became my playground. I knew what my weaknesses were as a UX designer: conducting quality research and building interactive prototypes. What did I do? I sought out experts from the field. I reached out to my mentor Cedric Lee, who is now a UX Researcher in Paymongo, and I learned how to question my initial assumptions and how to ask the right questions during interviews.
How about prototyping then? I reached out to my classmate Catt Perez-Juan, who has done a phenomenal job in presenting her engaging prototypes to the class. Thankfully, we became groupmates in one project, and I incessantly asked her how to create animated prototypes from one frame to another (yes, I was a bit annoying haha). She was always more than happy to teach me. Now, I’m more confident conducting research and more comfortable in designing prototypes all because I took advantage of the power of community.
Even after the program, where 100% of my classmates now have jobs mostly related to UX design (something I’m proud of btw), we still share our designs to get meaningful feedback. This is what having a meaningful community looks like, we care so much for each other that we want to see everyone win, and I’m blessed to call these amazing individuals “family.”
Another great platform for UX Designers to join is ADPList, a global community of 4,500+ mentors, where you can book a session to kickstart your User Experience journey.
By having supportive people around you, you expose yourself to new ideas and get valuable pieces of advice that can help you create more effective designs, but you’re not done yet.
10. Designing versus explaining.
To be an effective UX designer, you must also learn how to communicate your design to different counterparts. It’s one thing to create a design solution and completely another thing to explain your thought process behind it. In class, we presented the picture above to an actual client and received positive feedback because of how clear and understandable the intentions were in changing their design system.
In real-life, you only have limited time to present your designs, so don’t waste it with UX jargon that others can’t relate to. Instead, explain the reasons behind the design changes in a manner that your stakeholders could understand. The more your stakeholders understand, the better feedback you can get. The better feedback you get, the better iterations you can make for your end user.
11. UX is not just a field; it's a mindset.
They say it takes 21 days of deliberate practice to learn a new skill. Having attended approximately 104 days of UX classes, I slowly began to see UX in a different light. Who would have thought that the well-known Design Thinking framework could also be applied in real life?
As you can see, life is a game of iterations, the principles used in improving designs can also be integrated on a more personal level. For me, I empathized with myself when I followed my gut by joining UX+ University. I defined theroot problem by being honest with my limitations as a UX designer. I ideated by exploring multiple ways to improve. I prototyped by presenting my strategies and processes to classmates and mentors. Lastly, I tested myself by getting feedback from my presentations that would help me become an even better designer. This was a big jump from May 2021. I’m no UX expert yet, but I know I’m progressing. This is my iterated game. I’m excited to see what yours would look like? Take that leap of faith.
I hope these lessons, although geared towards the UX community, show other stakeholders how essential UX is already becoming in the Philippines, and I hope it shows everyone how these UX principles are also applicable to our daily lives more than we think.
A huge shoutout to our mentors at UX+ University (Christian San Jose, Phil Smithson, Frances To, Anj Garong, Marco Palinar, Cedric Lee, Marianne Ho), thank you for changing the lives of 31 individuals, who then had limited knowledge in UX but now are capable of being great UX designers. Thank you for building a community with a support system that allowed us, students, to rise above our limitations, and to play our own respective iterated games.
- Your solution is only as good as the problem you’re solving, find the root problem first.
- Don’t chase perfection in your design, but focus on progress.
- Understand the context of your stakeholders too, this can encourage healthy collaboration. You can be proactive and kind at the same time.
- Constraints are good. They force you to tap into your creative side. Let it flow.
- Practice explaining your designs coherently. The combination of designing and explaining is a powerful one-two punch.
- Harness the power of community. Seek out mentors, they can show you the right path because they’ve already walked it. Plus, it saves you so much time.