(Part one is here)

I don’t hate interviews.

Infact, I really enjoy them. Not because – as a friend boasted recently – I get every single one I go for, but because I enjoy finding out how a company works, what the people are like, etc etc. I always consider them an opportunity, and it’s as much up to me whether I feel I would enjoy the role, as much as they think they would like me.

I once had a 4 hour interview for a usability role in a very famous online poker company, it followed two 1 hour-long telephone interviews. I was introduced to everyone, they fed me (crocodile was on the menu; I didn’t have it), I did some tests (same one twice as I was given the wrong instructions the first time), I was asked the same questions twice (the woman who interviewed me didn’t take a single note on paper), and given the guided tour of a very “Google-esque” office.

It was incredibly draining and intimidating, and I couldn’t wait to be out of there. I was glad when I found out they had hired someone who had more experience than me. It was the only role I had gone for where they didn’t say that they thought “I would be bored.” Had I gone for the interview now, I would be upset that they hadn’t hired me, but at the time, it was too much for me.

So I learnt a lot from that experience, particularly when the recruiter never called me back to inform me I hadn’t got the position, and I had to call the woman who interviewed me directly.

I could write an entire blog on recruiters, I could also write a 3 part blog on that particular interview… maybe another time.

When I secured myself an interview in the 70-mile-away alley, I was excited. I knew things were coming to an end at my current position so I didn’t feel bad. We discussed Facebook, we discussed Twitter, we discussed my thesis about gender-bending. Luckily enough, I had done my research on who would be interviewing me, so I was able to ask educated questions about one of the interviewers research into affective-computing. We also brushed onto user experience topics, like user journeys, use cases, wireframes, sitemaps, card-sorting etc.

I knew about it all, but I had never really done a lot of it.

My current job had never bothered with any user experience, and only designed designs from 9 years ago, thinking they would still be in fashion today. This new company based in Poole, were ahead of the curve even, dealing with brand-new design concepts, and constantly striving to be on top of the latest techniques in design, marketing and usability. They were a London agency, only in Poole, Dorset, and beside the sea.

At the end of the interview, I was shown around the building, and then sent on my way. Things were promising when the recruiter reported back to me. I remember walking along the harbour after my first interview, and being able to see the Isle of Wight in the distance, I just knew I had to be here.

They offered me the job, and the 4 hour daily commute didn’t even deter my positive response.

I literally high-tailed it from my previous job, never had I been so glad that I was moving on. No more abuse. I would work somewhere where I would be respected. My work would actually get to be discussed without being repeatedly slapped down at the first hurdle.

I didn’t exactly slip right into the job, I certainly didn’t take to it like a fish to water, it took a few weeks for me to find my feet and understand the way in which things are done. It was scary and intimidating for my first few tasks. Due to how I had been treated in my last job, I was terrified of getting something wrong, and was extremely defensive whenever anyone questioned me. It took me 3 months to get out of that habit. It still happens every now and again.   I’m dealing with some amazing clients, and some incredibly talented people around me, as well as trying to keep my head above water.

The 4 hour commute wasn’t easy, it was a real killer. I didn’t get home till 10pm some nights, and I would be up at 6am the next day to go back into work. I felt like a zombie some days, and it was very difficult some days to complete work which was presentable. This was the career I wanted, so I was going to stick at it. My skills are random – which is what previous employers have struggled with. My new job also struggled a little too, they wanted to know where I fit into the company, and they are pushing me towards Information Architecture. Seems to be something which I can work at.

I have learnt that usability is definitely not the same when you’re out in the Real World.

It’s far more difficult, with a huge amount of random considerations that need to be accounted for. Clients have different needs, as well as different budgets, and that all needs to be taken into account when deciding whether or not to include a “use case” and how many “personas” need to be composed in order to fully represent the audience.

I’m not sure whether this is what I expected it to be, but I do know I am actually enjoying my role. My first job role to really enjoy, it’s challenging but doable, and I’m responsible for my own work as well as having other people to refer to. It also helps that my 4 hour daily commute has finished, and I’m now living 5 minutes away from work, so I actually have a life now.

So, what is a User Experience Designer?

In my case, a User Experience Designer designs the most optimal experience for users when navigating through a website.

What do I do?

I create (not necessarily in this order) personas, user journeys, concept maps (we call ontology diagrams), sitemaps, use cases, wireframes, interaction-pattern documents, and potentially a whole lot more. I am also involved in usability testing.

userlifexperience

I enjoy it because I’m easily bored, and so quickly distracted. There’s something new all the time, something challenging too. When I look back on my previous job in particular, it makes me embarrassed that a company like that still exists in this day and age, and that I worked for them! If I felt I wouldn’t be sued, I would post the name of the company up on this website, but to be careful I’ll keep quiet for now.

I’m still young-ish and I’ll experience miles more in my job-filled lifetime, and I’ll blog about those too.

I’m still working out my own life experience, and I have much more to do đŸ™‚

User (Life) Experience

July 23, 2009

I am a User Experience Designer.

So what is this supposed to mean? What does it encompass? What does it involve? These are questions I frequently get when telling people what I do.

I could have had an educated guess 4/5 months ago as to what this would involve, and I was mostly correct. Mostly.

Now, after 4/5 months in my role now as a user experience designer, I’m starting to comprehend everything that it involves.

My usability based academic background has involved various topics, such as user journeys, the UCD process, wireframes, storyboards etc etc. I don’t think in academia you will ever fully 100% understand in what way these things work in the real world, and why they are important and in what order.

I suppose that’s why I decided to forgo the unrelated job offers after my under-grad, and stuck around for something that was low-paid but extremely related to my degree. If I was going to make a career out of my life, I had to sacrifice the job that was quite well paid and easily accessible to me, to something that was 1 hour 30 minutes away from me, and paid less. Relevance was key to me when I eagerly walked out of college with my degree in my hand.

A year in a junior web designer / developer role, with a key focus on usability practices really increased my attractiveness to potential future employers. I gained XHTML, CSS, Javascript skills as well as general layout, usability and design skills in that position without even realising I was learning. I went from thinking that CSS was a music band, to being able to code an entire site using it. My gentle prod for a salary raise went unnoticed, and a two month job hunt yielded nothing of interest or suitability. My main desire was to work in a primarily usability role, with web design / developing as a secondary role, most roles were the opposite way around.

Thus began the UK job hunt.

Seems the UK was further ahead than Ireland for general web design practices and put actual money into making sure websites were usable, some companies hired in-house usability experts to ensure that their website was consistently usable. Some companies existed purely for selling their usability testing services, agencies hired usability experts to work on projects and to provide depth in respond-to-tender briefs.

A couple of flights later, I had secured a job role in Camberley, UK. The interview had gone well, I had ensured I understood all of what the role encompassed and within 6 weeks of me moving across the water, I started my first day. Really, I should have seen the warning signs when they gave me a title of “Design Engineer.” My inexperience showed as I was excited at being titled something which sounded so professional and important, when really it showed they had no idea what my skills were.

The next warning sign was obvious when they asked me to learn everything about Google AdWords in the two weeks before I was to start. Again, being inexperienced and eager, I did it.

When I started, it transpired I was head of all things Google! AdWords, AdSense and Analytics. For in-house, for clients, for the bosses friends. Nothing like the usability role I had been promised during my interview and conversations with the recruiter.

False advertising, but in this case, I couldn’t take it back to the shop to return it.

returns

Instead, I knuckled down, inhaled anything AdWords related that came my way, determined to make the best out of my situation. The designs I did deal with were created using tables, not CSS or web standard XHTML. One website I worked on for 6 weeks, 1 week away from being published the plug was pulled. Three months went by; probation time. Having not put a foot wrong, and having learnt an amazing amount of information in a short time, I was convinced they didn’t have a bad word to say about me. Sitting downstairs in the bosses “Mobile Boardroom” (tatty old camper van), I was informed I had been late to start work too many times over the past three months, and consequently, would not pass my probation this time. My next probation meeting was in another three months time.

Upset, but determined to improve, I soildered on.

A friend in work informed me that in the three months I had been late three times. Two of which I had genuine excuses for. I had worked through my lunch on these days, and during the past three months I had stayed late many a time. In my mind, this is not something worth failing my probation for.

I could now see clearly that the end was indeed nigh, and I needed to look quickly if I was only guaranteed a position for three months. The operations manager began to take a particular disliking to me, being obtuse and argumentative, my reasoning was ignored and overlooked, my work was continuously sent back. There were times I would cry as soon as I got into my car when I left work. Being defensive without wanting to appear as though I was being defensive was hard work. Continuously being knocked back when I would put so much effort into my work, was soul destroying.

Hundreds of sneaky recruiter phone calls later, one seemed to come along that was right up my alley, only this alley was 70 miles away from me.

(Part Two is here)