How did I become a UX Designer

First of all, let’s state the basics, UX means User Experience and it’s the main discipline that revolves around the journey of the user.


Why is the Main discipline?

UX is like the main subject that contains other sub subjects, such as UI, User research, Interaction design and so on, based on the industry where you are working.


What do I need to know to be a UX designer?

There is an open debate about what is UX designer. Specially in the gaming industry where the UI designer is often confused as UX designer and viceversa, or in worst case where the Technical artist or the UI artist requirements are copied and pasted inside a UX designer description.

The main reason is that the UX designer didn’t get acknowledged since a decade ago. Around 2008, most of the design faculties could only offer Industrial Design, Graphic Design and Interior Design, but the job market became more fragmented and positions such as Webmasters or Industrial Designers, evolved into Product Designers, UI Programmers, UI Artists and so on. The industry wanted people with a specific expertise in their field, but what about UX Designers?

UX Designers came from various fields, from products which where literally physical, transitioning into the digital market, from graphic fields to a more functional based environment: we needed to adapt and we created our field.

Personally I came from Product design, where I was literally making chairs, tables, devices with various shapes, but that was my bachelor degree, and before moving on to that field I sensed that the world was turning into an intangible reality, that’s why I moved into the Service Design field.

In Service Design, you have to deal with the human interaction, user experience pretty raw, means that you needed to talk with people, design with them, create a whole mental network between touchpoints and foresee the user behaviour. It was more psychological than what I used to do, but don’t get me wrong, the basic of Products helped me a lot, you can apply ergonomy to an app or to a packaging for your smart box, you can apply interior or exhibition design to the spaces your service will be delivered. Everything comes back, evolves but never get lost.


Ok, very nice but WHAT do I need to know to become a UX?

The power of knowledge is something that we designers should always search for but to be fair, is not about knowing and becoming an expert of everything, is about understanding everything that can help you to achieve a goal.

I worked as UX Designer for many years, and most of them were in the videogame industry, which we can simplify for this example in a team of producers, programmers, artists, game designers (super simplified!!).

So what a UX designer should do with this team? In my experience, he/she should learn how to listen carefully and learn the language of all these team members.

Artistic skills? Nice to have, but the important is that you understand the visual and the look and feel that you are asking the artist, in order to make them visualise the same idea that you or someone else have in your mind. And another thing is building an artistic sensibility, it means that you don’t need to be an artist but at least understand when something is bad or wrong.

Programming skills? Nice to have, but not mandatory. Programmers in the videogame industry or any digital related industry are the core, so you should understand what they are talking about, how long doing a task takes because is definitely not correct to assume that “it’s like a couple of minutes of scripting, right?”. Programmers need time to coordinate with other programmers and to check their work. A good UX Designer should totally have a programming vocabulary to ask the right question and understand correctly. “can you start a build?” “we are going to submit the beta, can you work on a separate branch from now on?”.

As a UX you will always interact with Game Designers, Level Designers, Art Directors, Producers and so on, so you need to be prepared and patient to listen to everyone and explain correctly your point, making all of them understand.


Ok cool, so do I just listen? And ask for stuff to be done?

Not really. Being a UX, means being a facilitator, which is keeping the machine running smooth and detect any possible issue and solve it before it blocks the whole system. For example, if a programmer cannot implement the new character because the 3D model is not ready, you should go to the 3D artist and see what is blocking him, and in the meantime, check in the backlog if there are some extra tasks to give to the programmer in the meantime.

But that’s not the answer to the question. A UX designer, designs the whole experience.

It depends on the project of course and if you started from the beginning, but famous deliverables that we are usually asked to do are wireframes, flowcharts, mockups.

Imagine and design how to reach point B from point A, how to make it enjoyable, simple, understandable and so on, based on the requirements.

It looks useless but it will help the artist to focus more on the “making it cool” part, instead of thinking of where an element should go or how many characters can be fit inside, etc. The programmer also will ask you things like, where it should be clickable, which link leads to which page, and so on.


But why under the UX/UI Designer job listings there are artistic or programming skills required?

The good side, is that this behaviour is disappearing in most of the big companies.

The bad side is that there will be always a confusion with this position.

Most of the cases, is because those companies relied until now to their personal taste or idea of UX, as I mentioned before, this role was directly incorporated into the Artists or Programmers at the time.

“We’ve been doing it for 10 years, it’s not hard”, that is a wrong attitude but it comes from the idea that they managed to survive until now, but is quite hard to keep up with the competitors who have a specific UX team.

I  joined the gaming industry as a Game Designer, shifting from my previous position of Interaction Designer. I really loved the Game Design field and all the thoughts behind it, but leaving the UX ignored and seeing the mockups way priettier and functional than the outcome was hurting my eyes.

That’s why I started to do by my initiative some UX design while being also a Game Designer, with the support of the producers who appreciated my walking back a forth between artists and programmers. My mockups and wireframe were definitely faster to produce than a perfect mockup from the artists, and they worked a lot during the presentations, plus by being also a Game Designer, it was easy for me to communicate the idea behind every interaction. It helped everybody and I felt happy on improving something.

I then moved to China, for a bigger gaming company and then the reality was slapped on my face.  I was a UX Designer in a UX Department, divided in UI programmer, UI artists, UX designers, UX researchers, UI testers, and there were a lot of them. That’s when i realised that what I thought was a made up position, which luckily fitted by skills and interests, was actually a real deal.

But yes, you will still find job listings with the mystical unicorn designer, a designer that can draw perfectly, animate everything and put in codes everything.

UI, which is User Interface is only a part of UX, it deals with the tangible interfaces that the user will interact with, layouts, animations, graphics, transitions, while UX is deciding also why it’s like that, what kind of feeling do you want to trigger when that product has been used, what is the goal and how to reach it, and how to improve it.

Hiring a UX only as a UX, is a hard to accept investment, there are studios that pull their luck and try to draw the wild card, but is not always the case and people tend to become tired of being just a tool and not an owner of ideas.


So what now?

Now the industry is evolving and probably there will be new labels and new branches to explore, but I think that as a UX, we should always be updated with the latest trends, latest tools, and be present in every meeting, convention or whatever involves various disciplines where we can put our thoughts into. There are no specific boxes to check to be a better UX but you should understand which boxes you can provide to them and explain why do they need your boxes and not just the one that they are searching for.