Thursday, August 4, 2011

You want a job?

Working in the software industry there is the humorous quirk, almost everyone thinks, they are qualified to comment on a design not only that but they feel they are quite possibly one of the best designers in their group.  Of course statistically that seems improbable but lets leave the math out of this, it takes the fun out of most things.

This is so common, I started to have some fun with this and ask questions like, how long have you been designing?  Usually they answer something like, Oh i designed my first cool program in college, it was a program to run elevators in very tall buildings.  What was it you liked most about the user interface?  Oh the buttons lighted up as you approached your floor or some such nonsense.  What was your favorite design class?  Oh I really loved my forms design class, it taught me the importance of tab order.  Ahh yes, very important to a quality form design.

This all cracks me up because there is one simple test if you are a UX designer, do you have a portfolio?  If the answer is no you are not a UX designer.  Now that does not mean you cannot design software algorithms but I have a different bunch of questions that will show why they are not that type of designer either.  I mean seriously, if you are not the dev working on a project and you want to design the algorithm how are you going to communicate your design?  The answer is almost universally in a spec, to which I say, sure, you will put it in a spec but how will you communicate it?  Usually I get a huh or a slack jaw.  Its hard to "design" an algorithm on paper without using code.  Will it be a flow chart, a state diagram, what?

In truth, I love that so many people want to be designers, it is going to be the most in demand job in the technical arena for close to 10 years, that is how long it will take for the need to get back to the kids who then have to understand they could like design and also make money at it.  After which they need to cultivate a love for it and finally go to school and graduate.  10 years at least.  Here is what you are not thinking about yet there are different types of designers, UX, Interaction, Conceptual, Architectural, Algorithmic, and probably many more.  You will note only the first two have degree programs at colleges.

I was going to build a car that looked just like this, with headlights...

I am a conceptual designer, I cannot draw what it should look like or explain placement but I can identify the important characteristics of the design.  I developed this skill by spending hours thinking.  Thinking about how I was going to build a car.  I designed suspension, transmissions, chassis, engine, etc. all in my head.  I spent HOURS doing this but I rarely put pen to paper.  As a result I cannot design UX.  I am not sure why I thought I could design the guts of a car but not the body.  I was just going to buy one of those kit car bodies.  Talk about a great teenage fantasy.  I knew I was never going to be able to afford a sports car like I dreamed of owning so I would have to build it.  I did other things too, I took apart clocks and fixed them, I disassembled my bicycle, every screw, bolt and ball bearing so I could paint it and reassemble it.  These are the things that allowed me to develop and hold a very complex picture in my head, the big picture of a design.

If you want to be a UX designer, you have to draw, all the time, on your notebook, your jeans, your bedroom walls, every surface that is begging to have color or lines added to it.  How about a interaction designer?  Draw machines, draw software, draw things that have a complex human interaction and figure out how to make them magic.  To make something magic it must be intuitive, effortless, and attractive.  Algorithms?  look at everything around you and figure out how it works, think about the logical set of steps and math that is needed for that thing to exist.  Not just man made things but lots of stuff in nature too.  Take the course that follows your passion then do lots of it.

Apparently Steve Jobs is in here some where but I could not find him

This will get you a job.  Not today or tomorrow but after a while and you will love that job.  In the mean time, if you are not interested in spending hours on any of those things then you are not a designer and you do not want to be one so don't.  And while you are there, stop commenting on designs as though you are a designer and stick with a logical description of what does and does not work for you as a user.  Seriously, you don't really think your Steve Jobs so stop embarrassing yourself.

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