If you read one short and sweet book on design, let it be this one, all the more so if you’re just starting out. Mike Monteiro points out potential pitfalls that come with the territory and gives tips on working with clients, crafting a contract, and negotiating payment schedules among other things. No matter what your experience level, whether you’re freelancing or working in-house, there’s something in here for you.
Here are some of the most poignant takeaways from this book:
• Focus on developing and refining a process
If there’s one thing I wish I had focused on when I got started in UX, it’s this. Devising a design process is very much like learning a language. Learning techniques like card sorting and crafting personas is on par with expanding your vocabulary, while learning how to present your design solutions and recommendations is like learning grammatical structure. The goal is to get “fluent” in UX, ideally in a setting where you can listen to and observe experienced designers, and have the space to make mistakes and recover from them.
• Don’t work for “portfolio fodder”
It’s one thing to volunteer to do a project you think is worthwhile, but Monteiro advocates against working for free no matter what your current skill level is. Yes, even beginners have the right to say “F*ck you, pay me.” If at all possible, don’t take on work that doesn’t pay enough to keep food on the table and a roof over your head – a race to the bottom in terms of rates drags everyone down. If you don’t know how to negotiate rates and “[c]ompete on quality, value and fit,” (35) it’s good to learn sooner rather than later. It also helps to only work on projects you find genuinely interesting or meaningful, as the deliverables that come from such projects are ones you’ll be proud to share to potential hires.
• Think in terms of selling, rather than just presenting, design
Chapter 7 of Monteiro’s book is worth reading and re-reading. Do the research, understand the problem, and reflect these in your design solutions. (70) Have rationales for every element in your designs – think and articulate how your designs will meet client goals and user needs. Show your designs in person whenever possible, and be open to constructive feedback and criticism (be sure it’s objective, not merely “Do you like it?”)
• Make friends with other designers, not enemies
While freelance gigs and full-time positions may be scarce in some areas at present, there’s no need for designers to view each other “with the catty competitiveness of contestants in a trashy reality TV show” while searching for work. (102) You can learn from anyone you encounter in the field, and that includes people who have less experience than you. Bounce ideas off each other, and challenge design decisions in an objective way so when you sell work to clients you’ll be confident in your work since you know that it’ll yield results.
“Sometimes when you can’t find what you need it’s just because you haven’t made it yet.” This doesn’t just apply to UX design, but also in regards to becoming a UX designer. If you can’t get in on a real-world project, design your own so as to develop your process. If you can’t find a local mentor, find a remote one to keep in touch with via Skype or email. It’s okay to even have multiple mentors (it’s not infidelity!) Focus on gradual but continuous improvement.