This post has been sitting in the “drafts” folder of my site for a few weeks, as I’m still not 100% sure where I see myself in the future. Over the past year, I feel as though I have been going through a bit of transition in my career where I am becoming more focused on design. I am still however, still doing web development, mostly front-end. I love doing design, and I love doing front-end development, so I’d really like a design focussed role that still keeps an element of development.

At the end of last year, I gave my notice of resignation from my job as UI Team Lead. It was a really difficult decision. Throughout my career as a full stack web developer, the front-end design and development was always my favourite part of the job.I was very fortunate during my last job to be able to focus on this full-time when I was given the opportunity to lead the UI team (which is what I’d wanted for a long time), which not only helped my improve my front-end development skills, but also really helped my build a good foundation for doing visual design and allowed me to steer the design direction for the team. I enjoyed the job.

Despite the job title, my team were not just UI developers. We also developed a lot of fairly complex stuff in Groovy using an MVC framework called Grails (so we were also, in some way, Java developers too). It was useful to have exposure to how our systems worked behind the scenes, but I really wanted to focus my skills in what I love, which is design, HTML, CSS and JavaScript. With such a broad scope of responsibility, I felt that I couldn’t build up any expertise in any one area.

After a year or so in the job, I became really interested in how things are designed, not just how they look. Why do we design things in a certain way? I felt there was a lot we could be doing in order to improve our design for users.

The term User Experience has become extremely popular during recent years. I began reading and studying the subject, and realised that design should be centred around the user. It was quite obvious really. I got the sense that there was common misconception about what people thought User Experience was, and that it was mostly around building pretty user interfaces.

Screen designs were put together without any proper understanding of our users, their goals and the way they work. We didn’t pay enough attention to the information architecture. There were no prototypes. There was no usability testing or validation of our designs. There was no design iteration. We didn’t include users in our design process.

I was responsible for the overall user experience, and I wanted to design a good experience. I wanted to design for our users, not myself or anyone else. Sometimes, it was difficult to get my points heard, and I had some interesting discussions on the subject along the way, where I had a lot of support, but there seemed to be resistance into following this approach. There was the feeling that this process would take too much time and the deadlines we were working to were too tight. When we finally delivered products to our users, we found ourselves spending months redeveloping parts that just didn’t work as our users had expected. Why not just spend the time understanding our users and their goals a bit better beforehand?

I don’t believe that anything should be designed and built without understanding the people that it’s being built for. To me, that is one of the simplest principles of design to understand (even if it is the most difficult to do). In my mind, there is no way to justify not doing it.

A new (but familiar) challenge

I left my role as a developer for an organization I used to work for five years ago. I worked with a good bunch of people, and I kept in touch with a lot of the friends that I made there.

They are about to embark on a huge project and were looking for a Systems Analyst to help support the design, build, and some of the other technical aspects of a whole new system. When I was looking through the job posting for this role, one part that really caught my eye was that they were looking for someone with skills in the area of UI and UX.

Luckily, I was able to talk more about the role over a cup of tea with the manager of the team. I was pleased to hear that there was a lot of scope with this role to really focus on what I was interested in, and that is user experience design. After a formal interview, I was offered the job.

A few months later, I have a BSC Foundation Certificate in User Experience, and am really eager to learn more and improve my skills as I try to define how we are going to introduce a user-centric design process. So far, everyone seems very receptive to this. The next few months will hopefully be very interesting and challenging. :-)