November 23, 2023
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Set your Sights on Stodgy

If only I could land that one great Lead UX role at Great-Design-Driven-Startup-X I could finally do some real UX work and fulfill my wishes of becoming an impactful Designer. I’d like to ask you to consider a different route.

If only I could land that one great Lead UX role at Great-Design-Driven-Startup-X I could finally do some real UX work and fulfill my wishes of becoming an impactful Designer who influences how my customers solve their problems. Have you ever caught yourself thinking something similar? Don’t worry, I’d say we’ve all been there.
In the early years of your career, you are overjoyed just being able to do the job, but as you grow in seniority, your expectations of how you might work grow with the level of your skills. But all too often, the limitations of everyday work life make it hard to live up to them. As budget constraints, lack of understanding by stakeholders, or just plain time pressure get in the way, switching to a company with design at its core looks like the only source of relief and work-life satisfaction. And so you start becoming disengaged to the point of quietly quitting or leaving your job in one final raging outbreak of „They just don’t freaking get it.“. I have had numerous conversations with highly skilled and equally frustrated designers about this pain, and I have certainly been there myself.

But let’s consider what working in such a seemingly attractive company might look like. Many companies that we consider a design-driven culture have rather big UX teams. In such teams, the chances are very high that you’d be one small cog in a large and well-established machine; your area of responsibility would be rather small. With all processes established and well-oiled, your contribution would be reduced to execution. Admittedly, you’d probably work on some large products, with high-profile names that look great on your resume, but being impactful yourself might be something different.

And with the recent waves of lay-offs and cuts, it may have become transparent that the perceived security of large firms is just an illusion, and very few things that glitter are gold.

Today, I’d like to ask you to consider a different route. Set sights for the „stodgy job“ instead. Disregard the formal UX maturity and join a company for its mission and openness to learn instead of what they already know how to do.
If you’re looking to create impact, as a senior UX professional, I believe your chances of success are much higher in a company that is less mature in UX design. Imagine yourself coming into a team that knows how important good UX practices are for success but doesn’t have it all figured out yet. For such a usually relatively small, setup, one experienced senior who can help them raise design levels can be an extremely important asset. In my experience, this often means that you get quite a bit of freedom in defining deliverables and designing how you work as well as the product. With fewer people on the job, the need for efficient and effective UX practices only increases. You might be assigned sole responsibility for a whole product experience instead of „just the onboarding“. Granted, you will have to be open to educating your peers and stakeholders along the way, and you might have to use your UX skills to create understanding for your non-design team members. But isn’t that part of the job?

In addition, another aspect is worth thinking about; as UX professionals, we believe in the importance of our trade and how great UX can impact people’s lives beyond commercial success. If this notion holds true, there is real inherent value in leveling up as many design teams as possible; even if we have to begin at ground level, the foundations we build within our teams grow with all the team members and us along the way. And if more Non-UXers know about customer-focused design practices because they got to experience them firsthand in working with you, they’ll know what to look out for in future setups as well.

I believe that our field of UX still has enormous potential to grow, and by joining „dull companies“ we can continue the work of the pioneers that have come before us and pave the way for those who follow.

Merriam-Webster describes stodgy as moving in a slow, plodding way primarily as a result of physical bulkiness or boring and dull, a definition that I found very fitting to the notion I am trying to address
[Stodgy Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster]

Written by

Marvin Olukayode Hassan

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