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Shape your career with design thinking.

“How did you know you wanted to be a UX Designer?”

A question I’ve been asked a few times.

Honestly, I didn’t. You could say I fell into it by accident, trying a number of paths in digital and ending up in UX. Or you could look at it entirely differently. You could look at it as a series of small experiments which led me to a career I love.

In your career not knowing which direction to move in can feel uncomfortable. Without an obvious route forward you can feel a bit…stuck.

As designers we regularly feel stuck. We are faced with problems to overcome where we can’t follow a simple process to reach the answer. Through our craft and education we’ve learnt how to work through a these situations to become unstuck.

It dawned on me recently how this thinking can be applied beyond design and perhaps how I’ve applied it to my career without realising.

Solving ‘wicked’ problems.

When talking about problems we come across, Dave Evans, former designer at Apple, splits problems out into categories:

  • Tame – an A ←B problem, you know how to solve it. Just get on and do it.
  • Wicked – there is no clear route, it’s hard to know where to start.

When you hit a “wicked” problem there is no clear solution, there are many routes you could take and many potential answers.

Instead of navigating you have to explore and way find. Understand the problem. Accept the constraints. Come up with ideas. Prototype, test and iterate. We call this design thinking.

We look at a problem.

First we need to think clearly about what the challenge is.

When I graduated University and was trying to decide what to do with my life it felt like I was answering “What do you want to do for the rest of eternity?” – a pretty scary prospect. Simply finding the space to understand the problem will help you shape the challenge into something you can work with.

In reality the real problem was answering, “What direction do I want to take my career first?”.

We accept the constraints.

In an ideal world we’d have complete freedom, but in reality there are always constraints. If you can’t do anything about it, it isn’t a challenge – it is a constraint, it is a fact.

In your career this could be the job market, the location you want to be in, money you want to earn. These are things you can’t change.

You can either feel sorry for yourself or you can keep going. Accept it. Free yourself of that worry and go and do something you can do.

Don’t sweat the things you can’t control.

We come up with ideas.

Now you’ve defined your problem and freed yourself from worrying about the things you can’t change it’s time to start problem solving.

Articulate to yourself the options you have. When you think you’re out of ideas, push yourself to come up with more. You won’t get creative until you’re pushing yourself.

For me I thought I wanted to work in web so I was thinking about front-end development, back-end development, SEO, design. Thinking more broadly I looked at marketing, product management, print design.

We prototype, test and iterate.

Picking a route forward is difficult. It’s easy to feel stuck at this moment. How can you be sure you are making the exact right decision? Unfortunately, you can’t.

As designers we can’t know that the system we design, or the flow we create is going to work. We can use research and testing to be better informed though.

You can do this with your career. Ask in your current company if you can shadow different roles. Read blogs of people who are in roles you might be interested in. Try projects in your own time. Discover what you like and what you don’t like.

In the early years of my career I did many side projects, I found small businesses I could provide a variety of services for, I did pro-bono work and I found a job at an agency small enough that I could learn a variety of trades.

Select a route, and give it all you’ve got.

Once you’ve tested out the various options you will be better informed to move forward. Now it’s time to make a decision and make it happen. Now the hard work begins.

Eventually having taken roles as a designer, front-end developer and SEO specialist I learnt that I really enjoyed certain aspects of design, I loved helping solve problems for businesses and I was an advocate for users within the places I worked. This let me to UX design.

Key takeaway.

Be at ease that you don’t know the future. It’s tough to predict. You will hit obstacles in all aspects of life but rather than spending precious energy worrying and staying still think about how you can apply design thinking to keep learning and moving forwards.

“Will you be a UX Designer for the rest of your career?”

Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that either, but I’ll certainly keep trying new things.