11 years ago I got my first job in UX. I was a relatively recent college grad with an English degree. The job was as an Information Architect at a small digital agency in Chicago called Tanagram Partners (pour one out for Tanagram; alas they are no longer around).

This was not my first real job. I had an account management/sales job for a large B2B tech retailer. I didn’t see that as a career. As a liberal arts major, I didn’t really have a specific career. I was still casting about for what I really wanted to do.

All I knew is that I did not want to do sales.

I didn’t know much (or anything) about UX. I had interviewed for a Project Management position with the agency and was runner up for the role. But I had apparently made a good impression on the owner, Joe. He brought me back in the following week and ran me through some exercise and thought experiments.

I evidently said something right.

I got a job offer. It was certainly unlikely. I didn’t fully know what an Information Architect did. But I began to study. A lot of my friends hadn’t heard of UX either. Keying on the last word in my title, one thought it very unwise to have someone with zero experience or training designing buildings.

Back then, it was possible to get into UX without any prior experience. It really was the wild west. Now when I hire for design teams, I review resumes of candidates with masters degrees in Human Factors and such, not just undergrad work (I still don’t think this level of education is a requirement, but that’s a topic for another post).

I had a (very) steep learning curve. I remember a few weeks on the job asking a developer why the page he was building was filled with latin text. But I kept at it, and I learned.

As I mentioned, I had an English degree. I graduated from a creative writing program. I had an artistic mindset (hopefully without the pretension suggested by that statement). At the same time, I came from a more mathematical-minded family. My dad is an electrical engineer with a masters from Northeastern. My mom is an accountant and tax preparer. My sister is an aerospace engineer.

All of this is to suggest that while my passion may be for creative pursuits, in my DNA I have a strong leaning towards the analytical. In UX, I found a career that supported both mindsets. I did fall in love with UX. It was only a short time on the job before I felt as though I had found my calling. And I do love UX. I’ve always been a problem-solver. I can’t leave things unexplained. And so with UX, I get to serve that desire. I solve problems for a living. And I can do that creatively. Awesome!

I worked at several agencies over the years since Tanagram. I’ve had the opportunity to work on some big and crazy projects. I’ve helped design and build a number of ecommerce sites for big-name brands. I’ve build a score of mobile apps across various industries. The opportunity to work on so many different and complex projects is another aspect of why I love UX.

Changing landscape

Back in my early UX days, companies outside of agencies didn’t really have UX designers. All of that was outsourced. And usually we spoke with the IT side of the house. If you followed up the chain of command, you’d usually arrive at the CIO (if it was a big enough company).

Some time in the intervening years, that shifted. We started working with the marketing side of the business. And then with the actual business people. This progression of whom we work with suggests the interesting evolution of how UX has served companies.

When working with IT, we were helping to build the infrastructure. The digital platform that was becoming necessary for any and all businesses. As we worked with marketing and advertising departments, we were helping to build the system of promoting the business and the products and services they sell. And now we’re working with the business to help actually shape the way the company makes money.

What’s next

UX designers are being asked to do more than make something usable. The basics of that are pretty well understood (and generally applied; with a lot of room for improvement). Applying design thinking — developing useful solutions to customer needs — to a business’s approach is the current trend. Companies understand that differentiating on customer experience is how to capture market share.

It’s a very different type of problem I was often asked to solve early on in my career. Back then I had to figure out where to put all of the pieces. Make it logical and hopefully intuitive. Now I’m tackling core business challenges.

I’m a long way from that sales job and not knowing what lorem ipsum is.