Any advice on how to get past my skill-growth plateau at my first UX career?

design
training

#1

Hey everyone, I haven’t posted on here in a while.

Let’s cut to the chase, because this is kinda long. First off, my education. It’s not in visual design, (I graduated in May of 2017 with a bachelor’s in psychology). I went to General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course, a full time 3-month course from February to May of last year. That’s all the background I have.

I got my job as a UX Designer in late August of 2018, and I’m working 27 hours a week making $25. Due to the structure of the company, I am unable to do much of the research side of UX… instead I focus a lot on the visual design side. Anyway, I’ve been there nearly five months. Oh, and I’m from Austin.

I want to be working full time, but when I had a conversation with my supervisor (the only other designer there, who is MUCH more experienced), he gently let me know that while there is room for me to grow within the company, I need to improve in my visual design skills and speed. But I feel like I’m not progressing fast enough in my skills. It may be the impostor syndrome, but I think that there is some reality in the fact that at the current rate, it could take years for me to get to the point where I’m as skilled as he is (he has been doing design for more than a decade).

On top of that, he let me know, very respectfully and privately, my thoughts about the fact that he is looking for a more experienced designer to help lighten his load. He let me know my job is very safe but I’m just not at the point where I can offer the kind of help that he needs right now, hence him looking to hire a third designer.

Real quick, I have to talk about the culture of the company. It’s fantastic. I have always had a lot of anxiety around coworkers, but I genuinely get along with everyone here. It’s a small group, less than 10 people, with two designers, three developers, one QA guy, two project managers, and a business analyst. They have assured me that I don’t have anything to fear, that my job is very secure, that they value their employees and they don’t get rid of them unless extreme reasons. Everyone is motivated and it feels like a tight-knit family. Work-life balance is extremely respected, and if I want to work from home, I can without much fuss (I never do, I like to be in the office.) As my first ever career, I feel extremely fortunate.

I do feel like the least experienced one there by far, however. They don’t ever rub it in my face or anything, but I can just tell that everyone is very skilled at their craft.

The thing is, I’m trying to build my life and a serious future with my girlfriend. But I feel like I’m progressing at the pace of a glacier. It’s been suggested that I leave this job and find another one, but I don’t think that I’d be as lucky to find such a nurturing place, nor one as patient with my growth. And I very much value work life balance – I just want to work more hours.

I am open to applying elsewhere to keep my options open, but I only want to leave if I find something with the same culture but more pay/hours.

So, two questions:

  • What are the best routes to quickly improve my visual design skills and speed? Do you suggest any courses? I want to get to the point where I can convince my supervisor to give me more responsibility and then more hours.

  • What is your opinion on leaving for another job? Am I sabotaging my growth to put emphasis on work culture and respect for employees / work-life balance?


#2

Can you say more about why you are being advised to do that?

I’m afraid that I have a big fat, “It depends”, for you here. I think I look inside to figure out if you are genuinely pursuing the work/life balance or if you are making the decision to stay out of fear. I believe that fear may lead to make poor choices.


#3

Some people in my life are of the impression that I’d get paid better and get better hours if I were to be among people who are on my level, so that my skill doesn’t pale in comparison to, say, my supervisor who is a rockstar. Personally, I disagree. It may be a short-term way to make more money, but my supervisor is a very patient mentor who I am able to constantly talk to and ask questions any time of the day. We literally work in the same room, just the two of us.> Blockquote

Of course there is fear of change, I can’t deny that. But I think that just because there is fear doesn’t mean that what I’m afraid of is automatically a good idea to do. I really enjoy my work. It challenges me in the way that a good puzzle does. I look forward to going to work. On the other hand, after General Assembly where I would spend 70+ hours a week (with very little sleep) on my projects, I felt exhausted and burnt out, and it took a couple of weeks to get back to wanting to jump back on the horse. I want a happy medium between what I have now and my bootcamp experience.


#4

Hey Geoff,
Great to hear from you, it’s been a while!

It sounds to me like your workplace is amazing and that it solves all of the issues that others frequently come up against (lack of communication, no mentoring etc) so that’s a winner. I hear you on the working more hours thing but I also understand your employer’s position.

I think the first thing to do here is not to get shaken and lose your confidence. If it were me, I’d stay in this job and use the extra hours to up-skill. I’d set a deadline for yourself to revisit the situation – perhaps 3 months – and let your employer know your plan so that they are onboard, can support you, and understand how strong your work ethic, loyalty and desire to learn are.

When you reach the deadline you can have another frank conversation with them and see how you both feel about things and if they feel like you’re making progress.

There are lots of great online courses. @jdebari is probably in the best position to recommend something that is strong in the areas you require.

I’d also love to hear from @joenatoli on it because he always has really solid advice in these kinds of situations.


#5

@geoffparker1988, I’m inclined to agree with @HAWK here. A jump doesn’t necessarily make sense for you, particularly if your skills aren’t at the level where you’d be able to attract the kind of work — and environment — you want. I also think you’re in a fortunate situation right now in many ways; supportive environments are hard to come by, and the flexibility you’ll need to improve your skills is equally hard to come by. So in general, if it were me, I’d stay put and get stronger (by learning more) in the down time.

Specifically, my thoughts are as follows on your questions:

I’m going to suggest one of my courses — if you’re looking specifically to expand your Design skills — because (1) it was created to address a ridiculous lack of fundamental visual design principles in every UI- or UX-related education program I’ve ever seen and (2) I really think it may help you. The course is called DESIGN RULES: Principles + Practices for Great UI Design, available on Udemy, and I think it’s a measly $11.99 right now. Over 7,200 students have taken it, and 1,400 people have given it an average 4.6/5 rating. I say all that so this doesn’t sound like I’m trying to pitch you — I’m not.

The core things that make good visual design effective — meaningful, useful, usable — have been around for hundreds of years. But most curriculum, online and in Universities, glosses right over all of it in favor of “tips” or “tricks” that don’t teach you anything about how to be a BETTER designer. That’s this. Nothing here is hard — and if you master these concepts and their application, your design work can’t help but be head and shoulders above the mass of meaningless decoration sites like Dribbble are littered with.

Let go of that word — “growth.” It’s a dangerous buzzword that induces paranoia. It is impossible, in my opinion, to “sabotage your growth,” unless you’re crashed on the couch every single day of your life drinking beer and eating Cheetos.

There is no time limit on your progression as a human or as a designer or UXer. Everyone works at different speed, pace; there is no specific path or pace you should be aspiring to. No age by which you should be “accomplished.” That’s all bullshit, and chasing it creates a paralysis I know all too well — and one that young designers and UXers tell me about every day.

Work to be better, period, as long as that takes. And again, if you’re in a respectful environment where you’re treated well and feel like you have time to actually live, that’s worth its weight in gold.

Take your time, be patient with yourself, go slow and keep learning. One thing at a time.

Another job won’t solve your current problem. But expanding your knowledge and capability will.


#6

Hi Geoff,

Since you really like the culture and the people, I would at least stay where you are and look at the same time. I wouldn’t quit without another job. One thing that sounds concerning is that sounds much more like a visual design job versus a UX job. It’s good to have some work experience, but I think you have a lot more to offer. With your background in psychology, you could be doing a lot more.

Have you tried any networking in Austin? I would say to get out and meet some UX Designers in Austin and see what their jobs are like. For Visual Design there are a couple of good Udemy courses and CareerFoundry has a UI course. I’m not sure how you like to learn, but you could also check out the book The Non-Designer’s Design Book. It has good rules and explanations for visual design. White Space Is Not Your Enemy is another good book.

A lot of improvement with visual design is practice. Does your boss mentor you? Review your work and give you feedback? If that’s not happening, then you are stuck there and it will take a long time to improve.

Hope that helps a bit!


#7

See why I love these guys? ^^


#8

HI Geoff,

I totally understand where you are coming from. I’m currently the only UX Designer at my company and my bosses have been assigning me graphic/UI design work for a while, and I’ve felt like I wasn’t refining my UX skills. So, I took matters into my own hands and started doing freelance UX projects for clients on the side, and it’s cool because I have a secure form of income while I get to improve my skills. Although it does take up a lot of time, but hey as young designers, I feel like we should work hard to improve and better ourselves if we want to end up in a good working environment.

What are the best routes to quickly improve my visual design skills and speed? Do you suggest any courses? I want to get to the point where I can convince my supervisor to give me more responsibility and then more hours

I learned by myself by reading books, learning from graphic designers, watching videos, learning more about best practices and principles and constantly practicing and applying what I’ve learned into my designs. Maybe you can find an opportunity where your supervisor really needs help and then take the initiative to help them out and prove to them that you can do more?

What is your opinion on leaving for another job? Am I sabotaging my growth to put emphasis on work culture and respect for employees / work-life balance?

I think the best would be to stay, but continue to keep improving and looking for a new opportunity. I think your current environment is great because you have seniors who can teach you. For young designers, I feel like we learn best from our senior peers, so definitely stay and learn as much and find a new opportunity with a designer-friendly and supportive environment.

Good luck!


#9

Honored. Back atcha. :wink:


#10

Before jumping into anything work and skills related I would do some self refection and ask some simple questions. You could end up overwhelming yourself with things that arent necessary at this stage. So, let’s be a little more strategic and step back once in a while.
I recently read an awesome book called “Story Driven: You don’t need to compete when you know who you are”. You don’t have to read it (very short book) the jist is: if you know your story (who you are), you can differentiate yourself and get the career/goal you want without having to compete with others and waste time. Simple questions like:

  • What part of UX, UI, or any discipline makes you excited and do you spend free time thinking about, tinkering with without realizing the time? What kinds of articles do you end up spending time on the most?
  • Where do you want to be now, in a few years, in 10 years? Some people are happy just being a junior / mid/ senior UX designer and cruise a long at their won pace, some people want to be the founder of a disruptive SaaS product and build it from scratch… we all have our ambitions and work/life priorities.
  • What are your values? what do you believe in as a designer and as human being? How do these tie into your over all goals? Maybe you could be valued more in your current org. if people knew this or maybe you’re in the wrong industry, you could be more valued elsewhere. Being transparent can do wonders.

These might seem trivial however not knowing who you are, what you really love, where you stand and where exactly you want to be is more costly. It has helped me recently pivot my priorities and who I want to work for / with and the types of projects I enjoy most adn what I need to maintain this path.

If you already know the answer to all these then there’s nothing you can do but go into Super Sayan mode and just work on whatever you think you are lacking that will make you a stronger candidate for whatever it is you are aiming to achieve. What I love to do is look at some roles or projects that interest me and see what skills / experience I lack Icopy them down into a bulletted list, then I lock myself in a room and work on a plan to build them up with clear goals and deadlines to reach for each skill. It sounds brutal but it’s how I work and it works for me. It’s gotten me fro being coding up email amrketing campaigns for 8 hours to being a UX designer with a decent reputation. Do it in your spare time, do it on weekends, sacrifice Netflix or whatever it is that sucks up your time and utilize that instead on leveling up. Because if you don’t, someone else is doing it instead of you and this is the nature of the game.
Lastly,but most importantly - Don’t undervalue yourself, you’re probably much better than you imagine yourself to be and just the time and place needs to be aligned

Hope I could help and good luck!


#11

Wow. I’ll bookmark your comment. Super inspiring!


#12

Do you want to be a visual/UI designer in future? If so stay and try learn more from your team, and double down on learning in your own time. Sounds like a good environment for a designer like this.

If you want to be a UX designer or researcher, I would say start looking elsewhere and putting the feelers out with recruiters. Doesn’t sound like a good place to grow your UX experience or portfolio. IMO based on what you’ve shared.