Each month we introduce you to one of our Mentors and ask them a few questions about their career and thoughts on UX.
This month we talked to Andy Parker…
Growing up on message boards and chat rooms in the 90s and turn of the century, I have been known as The Evangelist online for several decades. A overly passionate person who believes in the DIY punk ethos of the 80s DC music scene. Why buy it, if you can learn how to make it yourself?
How did you start your career in UX?
My career has been so broad. at the start of 2000 I was finish a B-Tech in Music Technology that had introduced me to multi-media design like photography, graphic design and motion as well as acoustic science and design technology, making effects pedals and repairing studio equipment.
I started out doing software support for a startup before moving into network administration and database architecture, all the while I was the go-to-friend for band websites, then the myspace revolution happened just at the same time as some of our clients were looking into how to do e-commerce. I started designing the sites and CMS for them and found myself as a lead front-end developer for another SaaS company.
It was really there that I began to question more. Why? Why am I being asked to build this feature that has no value to our customers? Why does every decision I make on design direction, flow and performance get questioned and overruled by a salesman?
Doing my own research I discovered I wasn’t alone and that this UX movement was emerging. I read Netmag religiously, went to local meetups with other people feeling the same and before I knew it was Head of UX for another SaaS company.
What is a typical day for you?
My life has moved on considerably, even just looking at the last 3 years. My days are spent speaking to designers, product managers, business founders and business leaders. I focus on coaching, taking all those things I have learnt in the last 20 years and continue to learn and sharing it with people who want to make their businesses meaningful and ultimately, make the right decisions on what they produce for their customers.
Right now, I’m heavily involved in the #ResearchOps movement and at the time of writing have just finished collating insight data for one of the many global workshops being held to understand what people need to do great research and how this concept of operation roles might progress our industries.
What do you recommend to someone who wants to start a career in UX?
Don’t waste your time with expensive courses with this latest swathe of independent learning organisations. Instead, find something you truly care about and start your own company. You will learn more, and faster by doing that and meet lots of smart people to gain knowledge from.
The truth is the UX market is on the decline, finally. Believe it or not this is great news because it should never have been a job title in the first place. The first thing I tell anyone is that UX is not the job of one, it is the outcome of everyone doing great things together.
Great UX Designers are people who have a solid understanding of how their medium works, whether that is the web, native apps, desktop software, hacksaws or tooth brushes. A UX designer is a generalist who will end up with a very deep knowledge in a specific space. For a long time my focus, because I had been a database architect, was information architecture and content design.
It forever shifts. If you decided to join a company, be prepared to spend the first few years of your career doing needless wireframes, sitemaps and other dated artefacts that get little use. The other thing to watch out for is the slash roles. UX/UI Designer, UX/UI Developer and so on. What these often tell you is that the company is looking for the tool first for delivering a thing and less the thought process of how it came to be, or simply don’t believe there is value in user centred design practices. Not always of course, but most of the time.
What is the best advice you have received in your career?
If you aren’t happy ask yourself how much you care about where you are. Are you willing to fight for it to be something that you believe it could be? Then stay and keep trying to encourage that positive change. If you don’t believe it can happen – quit.
People spend too long worrying about money, it means nothing. I’ve had years where I barely made rent, and others where I’ve travelled the world, it’s all peaks and troughs. The important thing is the people you meet along the way.
What is the future of UX for you?
Like I said above, I think UX design is quickly merging into a prerequisite skill set for Product Managers, or Product Owners which ultimately is what we’ve actually all been doing for decades. We have been leading the direction of how a product evolves and trying to reduce the risk of waste both in time and expense by doing just enough pseudo-science research to justify our concepts and learn by getting them out.
Already there is a colossal shift of people who have been UX Designers moving into Service Design, whilst Project Managers are back filling the hole that’s being left.
It’s a natural shift for some. We all end up at a point where we are working on a project and realise that the real problem is not in a graphic interface but relates to the technologies and people behind them.
I’m no different and I’ve learnt that whilst most of the “design thinking” transfers it goes against the UX directive of “do not be constrained by technology” because suddenly you’re analysing that technology and understanding how all the pieces work together and crucially how the people work together for that single touchpoint to work the way intended.