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Meet the UXPA UK mentors – Meet Jonathan Culling

Happy 2017! This month we talked to Jonathan Culling.
If you are interested in being mentored by Jonathan, or if you just want to learn more about our mentoring programme, please email Monica at mentoring@uxpa-uk.org.

Jonathan CullingWho is Jonathan Culling?
I have been a user experience designer and researcher since the early days of the web. More recently, I have had the opportunity to hire and lead talented UX and digital teams. I am also a mentor on the UXPA UK scheme, helping people get their first job in UX, or move up to the next level. Many of my colleagues know me as Uncle J.

How did you start your career in UX?
By accident. It was early 2000, and I’d been working as a designer/producer of CD-ROMs (remember them?). I thought that it was high time I found myself a grown-up job, so I started applying for project management roles. The guy who interviewed me at Agency.com wasn’t impressed by my PM skills, so I left the building thinking to myself “never mind, I have another interview this evening”. Then someone came running down the street after me and said “come back, we haven’t finished with you yet. We want to talk to you about becoming an Information Architect”. So I returned to Agency.com and they explained the role. It sounded ideal, so I accepted and became Agency.com‘s first IA in London. My first project was the re-architecture of BA.com, which was scary – but I learned a lot.

What is a typical day for you?
Because my role allows me to flit between research, design and team management, there really aren’t any typical days. Having said that, I am currently working for a large software development business where UX is (surprisingly) very new, so every day I try to spread the word about the benefits of user experience and design thinking. Our studio, next to the kitchen, has become an oasis of colour and collaboration in an otherwise drab office, and every day colleagues are drawn into it while waiting for the kettle to boil. This gives me and my colleague Fabien the opportunity to explain what we do and how we work. It’s proving very effective.

What do you recommend to someone who wants to start a career in UX?
It’s important to understand that most hiring managers aren’t hiring for raw potential, they’re looking for someone who can join a project team and make an impact right away. That’s why it’s important to rebalance your CV and portfolio, accentuating your UX experience and playing down other work experience that isn’t directly relevant. If you go through this exercise and your UX experience still comes across too light, you should seriously think about how you can get the experience you need. That may be through an internship, doing some pro-bono freelance work, or by going on a short course that’s heavy on project work. This will have the extra benefit of demonstrating your commitment to, and passion for, your chosen career.

What is the best advice you have received in your career?
When I was a teenager, I used to go fishing with my mother in the English Channel. We spent days standing in the cold and not catching a single thing, but there was the occasional time when we caught so many fish that we had to sell our surplus catch to the local fishmonger. My mum taught me to be patient, but also to trust my instincts and strike quickly and decisively when I thought I had a bite. I’ve tried to apply those learnings to hiring unique, talented people. It can take a long time for the ideal candidate to come along – but, when they do, you have to be ready to move heaven and earth to bring them on board.

What is the future of UX for you?
As UX practitioners, we were responsible for creating the first generation of immersive experiences, but these have also had the effect of distancing people from human contact (just think of the people you see in public spaces who are transfixed to their mobile screens, or who you’ve nearly bumped into on the street). I really hope that the next generation of user experiences will rekindle our relationship with each other.  As we start to design omni-channel experiences, we should never forget that human interaction is the most important channel of all.

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