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How to Advance as a UX Professional

I answer questions about UX, Information Architecture and other topics on Quora. A selection of these answers will be reposted on Medium with occasional, minor editing for clarity. 

One of the things that makes a very good UX designer is developing empathy not just for the user but also for your entire team. Knowing what the user and your teammates can and cannot do, what frustrates them and how you as the designer can make their experience easier or more enjoyable is a key part of UX. What I have been doing to advance in the field is start to expand my professional development beyond the usual design conference or Agile sprint Meetup. I have started to attend conferences and networking meetings outside my specific field of IA/UX. With a mentor’s encouragement, I have even begun going to the kinds of events that may seem a little scary to the average designer, like cybersecurity, cloud computing and semiotics/philosophy groups.

My approach to these events going in is understanding that much of what I will see be gibberish at first. I once attended a “search engine usability” event at Columbia Business School that was literally Greek to me: slide after slide of computational algorithms peppered with Greek letters. At first I admit I felt way out place, but I decided to just absorb the atmosphere and observe the people in the classroom. A different feeling washed over me as I stepped into that observer role. These were people who quite literally speak a different language than me and who may have a similarl, “fish out of water” experience at a design-oriented Meetup. I once met a female programmer at a design sprint event who claimed to “think in code” and admitted that the sketching part of an exercise was difficult for her. I think she was doing a similar observation technique as the one I used at the Columbia lecture. That kind of self-reflection about your own experience versus the experience of those who are more (or less) comfortable in a given context can be useful when working with team members or users whose context may be equally foreign to you as a designer.

I’ve had similar experiences attending financial and human resources related events in my role as COO for a financial wellness startup (although these were at least usually in English). Being able to step into the role of an ethnographer or anthropologist without entirely objectifying the experience and humanity of the subject group–in this case fellow conference attendees–is a great way to develop as an advanced UX professional.

Another thing you can do to develop as an advanced UX professional is to mentor another designer. I started mentoring in my local UXPA program after having been a mentee in the same program last year, which has been very valuable and rewarding. I don’t believe I was consciously trying to experience mentoring as a user of mentoring services when I joined as a mentee. I had real needs for which a mentor would be valuable. But the experience allowed me to feel empathy for the mentee when I became a mentor myself.