I’m fortunate enough to be frequently asked to speak with designers who are at that stage in their career to grow from junior to senior roles. I vividly remember being at this stage of my own career when I was transitioning from being an individual contributor to becoming a manager. Being responsible for another person’s career and leading a team for the first time was both exciting and terrifying.
Making this important career jump requires multiple skills, but foremost is the ability to adapt. Of course the capability for adaptation is necessary for growth in all roles and functions to varying degrees. However, for UXers the ability to quickly adapt is fundamental to operating at a senior level across three key areas:
Adapting to the “unexpected”
Successful businesses are underpinned by regularly reprioritizing, reorganizing and refocusing based on both internal and external events. UX needs to be at the vanguard of such changes in order to ensure the needs and constraints of users remain at the forefront. As UXers we are, after all, the main advocates for our users. Meeting the needs of the business as well as those of our users are not mutually exclusive — we can do both and we have to do both.
As a UXer involved in project or team changes, ask yourself how you can use your design or research skills and knowledge to make the changes come to fruition as effectively as possible. What are the potential opportunities that this change unlocks?
Adapting to new information
The ability of development teams to instrument their products, and speedily analyze the resulting usage patterns, creates opportunities to evolve and hone multiple aspects of design throughout a product’s lifecycle. Rapidly adapting aspects of the interaction design and research program to stay close to the needs of users can provide the edge needed to differentiate from the competition.
To take advantage of this capability as a UXer you need to remain constantly alive to the potential for recognizing, reacting and adapting to the possibilities that new insights, data or market information bring to bear. User needs and behaviors are constantly evolving and this allows us to remain relevant in a rapidly changing consumer landscape.
Adapting to team changes
The most rewarding aspect of working in UX for me is fostering the kind of strong interpersonal relationships that allow different disciplines to create successful, effective and user-centered products (while of course having fun). Maintaining a shared focus and vision as people join and leave a team requires the adaptability to track and respond to the resulting shifts in energy, motivations, dependencies and working styles. Transitions of key team members can be difficult but it also presents opportunities for others. Diversity in talent as well as diversity of ideas leads to ongoing innovation.
In a team that is changing its make-up you have a critical role to play in spotting changes in the dynamics of how it is collaborating and executing, and using the skills you have in understanding user behaviors to help it quickly adjust and settle back into an executional mode.
My first job as a manager was at a company called Mambo. We were in direct competition with Evite but struggling to monetize. This caused us to pivot but the lack of business vision led to me to question whether it was worth the long hours. One of my key product designers, Ryan Donahue decided to leave and join the start-up of someone he met at a bar in Palo Alto. Ryan asked me if I wanted to help build the UX team since they were looking for leaders. Even though I didn’t have an interest in online payments— after meeting with some founders I realized I wanted to be there. That company was Confinity, which eventually became PayPal, and that changed my career forever. The best opportunities come when you least expect it and I will always be grateful to Ryan for bringing me along for the ride.
Adaptability and resilience continues to be central to my own current role at Google where I lead UX for Search Apps and News with teams in the USA as well as London, Bangalore, Tokyo and Tel Aviv.
The Search Apps team in Bangalore is rapidly expanding and currently has both senior design and research positions open so if you’ve got relevant experience, possess that all-important aptitude for adaptability and want to work with dynamic team members then we would love to hear from you. This just may be the opportunity you are looking for!