My Wish for 2014: Let’s Open Our Doors to Future UX Practitioners

At last year’s IA Summit, I proclaimed during Five Minute Madness that I would help one person land a job in UX by the end of 2013. Luckily, I succeeded. My goal for 2014 is to encourage my peers to do the same. Our field depends on it. Here’s why.

The Problem

“It’s a great time to be a UX designer.” – Jared Spool

I agree with Jared. I love being a UX designer. But our field has a problem: While it’s a great time to be in UX, there aren’t enough experienced UX designers to fill the demand. And while hiring managers clamor to find experienced UX designers, there are eager, smart, and talented people without experience who want to become UX designers. The problem is that no one wants to train these would-be designers. So we’re left with a Catch-22: Companies want people with experience, and they aren’t willing to train them. People without UX experience desperately want to begin a career in UX. But there’s no path for them to take because no one wants to train them. And so the cycle continues.

If I had a nickel for every person who took me out for coffee in 2013 asking “How do I get a job in UX?” I’d be a wealthy woman. (Well, I’d have a pocket full of nickels. That’s for sure.) Most of them are women in their 20’s or 30’s with jobs that they’re not satisfied with. Some of them are already in tech, but struggling to cross over to UX. Others are looking for a career change and eagerly hoping to get into UX.

I give them all the same advice: Become a part of your local UX community; read Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things; follow people on Twitter and keep up with the latest dialogue. It helps, but it’s not enough to get them there. We all know that when it comes to UX, you need actual work experience to learn the craft.

The Solution

Thanks to input from Leanna Gingras, Alla Zollers, and others on this topic, I realized that one way I could address this problem was to start training junior UX designers myself.

Armed with a lot of passion and feeling stretched thin as a UX team of one, I asked my boss in the spring of 2013 if we could hire a UX intern. So we posted a UX internship position on our site and promoted it to the local design and UX communities. We were bombarded with resumes, which wasn’t at all surprising to me. But what was surprising was the number of applicants who weren’t college students. Some of them were working full time and willing to leave their salaried positions with benefits to take on an hourly paid internship in UX.

We hired a career changer, Jana Veliskova, who left her full-time, salaried job for our UX internship. It’s amazing what I was able to teach her in a short span of 6 months. During her tenure, she went from knowing only the basics about UX to running a user research study with minimal oversight. At the conclusion of the internship, Jana left us for a full-time position doing front end development and UX for an eCommerce consultancy. While we were sad to see her go, and while we wanted to hire her full time, she chose to take an outside position. Regardless, I consider this a win-win situation for everyone. Jana provided tremendous value to AWeber during her internship, and she acquired the skills she needed to land a full-time job in the industry.

One Down, Many More to Go

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can tell all the would-be UX designers out there to read Don’t Make Me Think until they’re blue in the face. But until we take it upon ourselves to teach them our craft, this problem isn’t going away.

But I Don’t Have Time or Budget to Train Junior UX Designers

I realize that training people is expensive. It takes time to get them up to speed. You’ll spend money paying senior members to train junior members that would otherwise go to paying senior members to do the work. I get it.

But, as Alla Zollers put it in her Apprenticeship Now presentation, do you have the time to spend a year or more recruiting and interviewing for a senior UX position? Can you afford to have a senior UX leave you for another company, then have no available talent to fill his or her position?

By not taking it upon ourselves to create more UX designers now, we’re leaving ourselves with an empty talent pool, positions we can’t fill, and projects that we don’t have the resources to complete.

What Others are Doing to Address this Problem

Unicorn Institute

To address the gap between formal education and industry demands for UX, Jared Spool and Leslie Jensen-Inman have created the Unicorn Institute, a training program for UX designers. The program is still under development but looks to be very promising. I have no doubt that the students will be fully prepared for the industry upon completion.

UX Apprenticeships at the Nerdery

Fred Beecher is spearheading a most awesome UX apprenticeship program at the Nerdery. I spoke with Fred in detail about the program. One of the cooler nuggets he left me with is this: To get stakeholder buy-in for the program, he created a cost-benefit analysis that quantifies the business value of apprenticeships. While there is an up-front cost to training the apprentices, they gradually become more skilled and autonomous, and before you know it, they’re generating revenue for the employer.

Let’s Start Training Like it’s 2014

Hopefully by now you’re as eager as I am to make this happen.

My suggestion to you would be to do what I did: Hire an intern for 6 months with the potential for the position to go full time. Hire someone who’s not in school (or finishing school after the internship) so that if the internship goes well, you can hire him or her at the conclusion of the internship. Having talked to Fred Beecher about his apprenticeship model, my relationship with my intern was essentially an apprenticeship: she shadowed me for a while, gradually began taking on more responsibilities, and was working autonomously on several projects by the time she left. Asking your organization to bring on an intern will probably be easier than getting approval for an apprenticeship, as the latter may come across as too much of a commitment or too foreign of an idea.

Any other ideas or examples of bringing new UXers into the field? Let me know in the comments.

Like Jared Spool said, it’s a great time to be a UX designer. Let’s make it easier to become one.


  1. says

    Working at AWeber as a UX intern was a fantastic. I wanted to emphasize the work and commitment that went into this from both of our ends which led to creating an invaluable experience – for both of us. :)

  2. says

    Wow, you were right on about what is happening here, and it’s exactly what I’m going through right now. I have so much trouble getting into this field because no one is willing to give me any opportunities to train. I only took a 12-week UX design course at a place which the teacher was first time teaching, so the design thinking and portfolio flow taught in the class were quite vague and basic. Not to mention I was the only student with a non-design background….Therefore, whenever someone saw my resume and my (very basic) portfolio from the course, they just flat out rejected me.

    It has been very, very frustrating. I asked around professionals in forums, and I went to meetups and met some people to network, but that didn’t make much different either just because of my current experience and background. I know that practice makes perfect, and I just need to get in so I can learn by doing. Books and classes are good, but real-life practice is how I learn the best.

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