In my performance review last year (2020), I wrote my 6-month career goal to ‘be the best version of me’.
I know how I want to work and the processes I want to put in place with my work which will make me feel like I’m “succeeding” as a UX designer. It might help to create myself a menu of the minimum things I’d like to be doing for each workflow I tackle to ensure I’m keeping on track with this.
My manager questioned me as it definitely wasn’t a SMART goal; it was more of a me goal. I didn’t feel I was doing the work of a real UX Designer. I knew what I perceived that ‘real’ work to be, and once I started doing that, I’d feel that I was doing justice to the name UX Designer.
So what had brought me to this point?
Everything I’d read and learned about Design Thinking was around the iterative loop of empathising, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing. And it’s not the framework itself that’s the problem, but the way it’s often taught — or, maybe how I interpreted it.
I felt that if I wasn’t following the process to a T, I was failing as a UX Designer. There were all these fancy things that I had to do to solve problems properly like:
And so on. The list is almost endless.
Every one of the techniques a UX Designer has at their disposal is valuable, but only in the right circumstances. Unfortunately, the only time I’ve been able to create an environment that allows the perfect Design Thinking process is in personal projects where I’m in control of everything. That was fine a couple of years ago when I built my first UX portfolio as I felt confident in my abilities because I could demonstrate the ideal methodologies. But it’s not so fine when working a full-time job.
After I started my very first UX role, I realised pretty quickly that I wasn’t able to create those perfect environments anymore. The simple fact is that businesses throw challenges that personal projects don’t. It’s rarely possible to go through the ideal Design Thinking process when solving user problems within a company. Time constraints, lack of resourcing, stakeholder buy-in and financing all play a part in determining the approach available to you.
It’s been difficult for me to accept that I am a real UX Designer if I’m not going through the perfect process. Although I knew I was doing my best with the constraints and was improving user’s experiences, I still felt like I could be doing more to get closer aligned to the holy grail of Design Thinking. My answer was to create a UX Playbook to keep me in check and help with my six month me goal.
I found it all too easy to jump into a project and start coming up with solutions without putting in more groundwork. Partly due to time limitations, partly due to not keeping myself accountable.
The UX Playbook had to be something that worked in parallel with the company constraints and relevant to the specific work that we're doing. I pulled together a loose process that I knew would be achievable for myself and others in the UX Team:
This first step was about pulling together all the founding information. Some of the questions include:
When working remotely, tasks like reading articles are essential to the process, but often I felt I was wasting time and not actually working. The exploration step is about allowing yourself time to read and review and say “Hey, it’s ok for me to take this time to explore this task further”. Activities to help can include; doing a competitive analysis (do our competitors already solve this problem and how do they solve it?), reading — articles, documentation or case studies, and looking at UX patterns that already exist.
Here we want to question what we are trying to achieve. This can be done with the Four W’s —what is the problem? Who is experiencing the problem? Where does the problem occur? And why does it matter? The Five Why’s is also useful to make sure you are getting to the root of the problem. Then we can define the problem statement and potential use cases.
These two serve more as reminders to not miss the steps. There is a suggestion list of different ways to achieve these steps in the UX Playbook like ‘how might we’ statements, brainstorming, user journeys, wireframes, Figma prototypes and Maze usability testing.
The last step is a list of requirements for handing off to developers to ensure we have covered everything. This is the only compulsory part of the UX Playbook and includes tasks like:
After I put the UX Playbook into action, I thankfully found that it improved my mindset. It gave me the permission I needed to slow down and make more considered decisions, even in a fast-paced work environment. The UX Playbook worked because it was explicitly suited to a UX Designer’s role at my workplace — not just a generic process found online.
I think that’s the key. You need to find the best process for your environment. What works at one company may not for another, and it’s not fair to compare yourself. I stopped comparing what I was doing to the ‘ideal process’ because I knew that the way I was working was best suited for my environment. At this point, I did start thinking…
Maybe I am a real UX Designer, after all?
The final realisation came (unknowingly) from Femke, whose YouTube channel is all about UX and Product Design and her experiences working at Uber. Femke has excellent videos on YouTube and also co-hosts a design podcast called Design Life. To me, Femke is a real UX Designer.
I watched her video called ‘A day in the life of a product designer at Uber’ and thought, “Hang on a second, Femke’s day sounds suspiciously similar to my day”. And that’s the moment I could finally see myself from the outside. If my working day was similar to a real UX Designer, then that must mean I’m a real UX Designer too.
When I think back to that short-term career goal I’d set, I honestly didn’t believe in myself and the work I was doing, even though others could. Developing the UX Playbook and seeing another Designer's daily life changed my perception of myself for the better. I was finally able to see myself for what I am — a real UX Designer.
I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing imposter syndrome, and I think the best way to combat it is to be as transparent as possible. Femke was transparent to her audience about her life as a product designer, which was a huge wake-up call. I hope this article can help you begin to change your mindset and value yourself as much as others value you.