Job Title: Interaction Designer
Degree path: Informatics B.S. with Human-Centered Computing Cognate, Indiana University (Bloomington)
Hometown: Evansville, IN
Current City: Indianapolis, IN
What led you to your getting into tech and this occupation? What was your first job in tech?
I was good at math in high school, so my math teacher asked me to take her first class on computer science for AP my senior year. I ended up loving the class, and it really energized me about tech when I started as a CS major and later transitioned into design. I wanted to blend visual design, ethics, and tech into a human-centered career, and so I found UX with this criteria. My first job in tech was a graphic design/product internship at hc1.com, followed by my first UX design internship at Salesforce.
What has been your career path so far?
I went from a CS major to an Education major to an Informatics major in undergrad to my first job, where I am working currently, at SEP as an interaction designer. I have been able to work with many designers on one project as a joint team to being a lead designer on a project team. This is where I am now.
When you think of a day in your life, what are the main work activities you do or responsibilities you have?
I have a responsibility to build information flows, diagrams, wireframes, and maps to communicate the user’s workflow and process, but I also need to communicate with the team, client, potential users, or experts on the users how and why we are taking design approaches the way we do. There is a lot of domain research needed to understand the problem space, along with learning user stories and understanding needs and goals. Most importantly, I collaborate with engineers and tech leads to ensure we can implement the design and build the right thing.
Help us picture your work environment.
I work in a very open floor plan where I move around a lot, sit at my own desk connected to other people, raise my desk to standing, relax on couch chairs, sit at booths with tables alone or with one other, and huddle team rooms. I can work at home when I want, but since I collaborate with many people at the office, it’s easier to be in person. I am in meetings about 30% of my time, and the rest is work time or team time.
What do you love about the work you do?
It is always challenging with high risk and high reward. My work focuses on people and how they might use the products we build the right way, the unexpected way, and the “wrong” way, and then we work to mitigate risk and still produce releases in a lean manor. The design is important and I love understanding the process and how something will work. Watching it form from code is really exciting too. I love building for people and working for people.
Which personality traits, interests, and abilities are important or common for a person to succeed in and enjoy this occupation?
You have to be willing to be persistently curious. We do plenty of process and information architecture, and when it gets difficult or seems too complex, the mind willing to carry on for the solution out of curiosity is well-equipped. We also love design for not only how it looks in pixels but how it makes the person using it feel and act. We must care about ethics and safety and accessibility as much as making something work or be innovative or look beautiful.
Which tools/technologies or technical skills are particularly important for a person in your job to be proficient in?
Most interaction designers use the typical Adobe Creative Cloud Suite or Sketch (and the like) or InVision, but what is important is that proficiency in this field is about getting ideas and thoughts out of the designer’s head and the client or user’s head and onto a sharing space. If that means by hand, so be it! There are many tools for many types of maps and diagrams, but it’s more important how they are used than what is used.
Which soft skills (aka general business skills or employability skills) are particularly important for a person in this occupation to be proficient in?
Creative, imaginative, communication, negotiating, collaboration, empathy, time-management, perseverance, diligent, confidence
From your experience with new grads applying for and beginning jobs in this occupation, are they missing any particular knowledge, skills, or experiences that hold them back? Please describe.
Sometimes we see beginners too tied to their design and the final output when most of every project will have many hands and limitations on it, so the process and how you work with others to land on a design is where the pride should come. Also, many confuse design with art. These are very different subjects and while there is a little overlap, learning about user interfaces and grids won’t likely come from fine arts backgrounds.
Which resources, people, books, websites, etc. would you recommend to those who want to learn more or advance their skills in this occupation?
Recode Decode podcasts hosted by Kara Swisher on product and connecting innovative tech companies to human outcomes
Articles from Clark From InVision weekly newsletters about design solutions
Articles from Medium weekly newsletters about user experience interaction ideas
Articles from the Nielsen Norman Group weekly newsletters about UX and UI connections
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden
How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert
What encouragement or advice would you offer to others considering this occupation or wanting to stand out amongst others?
Find why you want to make it easier for people to do stuff with your software. What is the core reason you think this job matters. Knowing your values and how you might approach difficult situations involving understanding the psyche of people is hard, so why do we need an interaction designer and not only the UI designers for a project? Once you have your reason for the purpose of this field, the rest comes with practice and time and opportunity. You really must care about the ‘why’.