Ben Judy is a UX designer and strategist with over 20 years of experience designing digital products to be more human-centered. He’s currently a User Experience Lead at Flexion and a Designlab mentor. He loves sharing what he’s learned and experienced with others as they’re entering the design field.
Years ago, I was hired as a Web Designer at a company with a large user experience team and a roaming gnome as a mascot. Since then, I’ve worked in many different roles and in different environments. (Cue the old country song, I’ve Been Everywhere.)
Here are just a few of the full-time roles I’ve played:
- Information Architect at a social video startup
- UI Designer at a digital marketing agency
- UX Lead in a consulting company working with government clients
- UX Lead for a travel software corporation
- Lead Designer for an innovation lab at a commercial real estate corporation
- Senior Interaction Designer for a tax software corporation
- Design manager for a software product team within a health care corporation
- Group UX manager at a retail corporate headquarters
Notice the pattern? They read almost like Mad Libs: role or skill set at an industry or market sector in a type of organization.
Starting out, I never could have predicted where this road would take me. I lacked awareness of the possibilities. I also lacked a framework for figuring out where I could thrive as a creative professional.
Perhaps you’re looking at UX job opportunities and wondering:
- “What’s it like to work here?”
- “Is this employer a better fit for me, or would I be happier down the street?”
- “What questions should I ask during my interview?”
To help you answer these, you need someone to illuminate the landscape and help you ask the right questions. When I think about different environments for UX practitioners, three categories come to mind:
1. The organization
Facets of different organizations that hire UX designers (or product designers, UI designers, HCD experts, et cetera. Let’s not get hung up on titles.)
2. The UX discipline
How UX is structured, led, and matured within the organization.
Your skills, natural abilities, and passions.
With those topic areas as our outline, let’s talk about what it’s like to ‘do UX’ in different places.
All kinds of organizations need UX designers, and any organization you might work for has a set of attributes that can be examined and compared. Let’s explore some of these aspects so you can think about where you might be a good fit.
Type of Organization
The following table lists several types of organizations who hire UX designers.
Better user experiences are needed everywhere, and you can work in almost any industry or economic sector. Here are three things to consider: your experience within the industry, UX maturity, and constraints.
Industry or Market Sector
Other types of organizations include governments and academic institutions. If you’re entrepreneurial and self-directed, you can also forego working for someone else’s organization and become an independent consultant or freelancer—but consider whether you want to take on the pressure of running the business while also doing the project work.
Your Experience Within the Industry
Designlab Career Services students often ask: “Do I need to have industry experience before I’m qualified to work somewhere?” The answer is usually, no. You can learn on the job by working alongside industry experts within the organization. This is how I have cycled through UX jobs in various industries such as travel, healthcare, tax software, retail, and more.
Some industries seem to have a greater commitment to mature UX disciplines, compared to others where UX is less of a concern.
“Leading industries include healthcare, pharma, IT, advertising, transportation, and automotive. These industries have fewer low maturity companies than the average overall.
Industries with the most room for improvement include education, nonprofit, research & development, retail, consumer durables, and (surprisingly) banking.” - The New Design Frontier, Invision
Organizations must operate within the constraints of their industry as regulated by the government. For example, in the United States: financial institutions must adhere to SEC regulations, while health care companies must handle patient data with respect to PHI laws including HIPPA.
“There are different constraints on design—what you can or cannot do—not based on what is best for the user, but based on legal compliance and business model constraints.” - Michael Tinglin, Senior Product Designer—Enterprise Innovation Team, Fannie Mae