Building Your Skills on a Daily Basis

reading
self-education

#1

I was recently interacting with @laciwhite48, talking about how I go about building my skill set each day.

I get a tremendous amount of good out of establishing a daily practice of self improvement. Being relatively new to UX myself, I constantly feel like I have a lot to learn. Imposter syndrome has always been a particular bane of mine, especially when staring a new job in a new field. In a career that’s ever changing and evolving, keeping up with the fluctuating best practices and research can be challenging as well. By spending a bit of time each day working to make myself a better UX’er, I’ve found that I’ve been able to slay all of these proverbial dragons.

The big question, then, is how to go about honing your skills, especially when you’re not on a project team.

For me, there are a handful of things I do on a daily basis that I’d recommend to any UX’er looking to bump their game up a notch.

1.) Read something. There’s so much written knowledge out there about our field. I find that reading something each day is always a great first step to build my skill set. There’s quite a bit of good stuff here on UXMastery.com, User Testing Blog, UX Booth, UX Magazine, and many others. I have a Feedly feed setup that drops in all the articles from these groups so that I can pick out a couple to read every day.

2.) Interact with the Community. The UX/UI community is notorious for being welcoming. I don’t think I’ve ever met another professional group that’s more approachable, even at the higher levels. Apart from getting started here, you’ll probably want to look at ux.stackexchange.com to get a good look at what questions others are asking. On Twitter there are some excellent people to follow: my favorites are Tobias van Schneider, Daniel Burka, and Jonathan Colman.

Shameless plug time: my twitter handle is @5280_CS, if you’re at all interested. I try to retweet the articles I like best each day, and to post any unique thoughts or scenarios I come accross. It’s a great way for me to meet people in the business, and to hone my skills while doing it.

3.) Problem solve. One of the best ways to get experience in a field is to work on tackling real-life problems other people are facing. UXMastery’s forums is a great place to start, but don’t overlook ux.stackexchange.com either. Take a problem that you feel is just a little out of your comfort zone, and get to work. Approach it like you would if you were working on a UX team. Do research, whiteboard, iterate, and test.

You don’t have to post your answer the question if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, but posting will help you get used to putting you work out there for public consumption, and defending position as well. Additionally, you can compare your approach to others to see how your outcome is different, and analyze how your process may have affected that outcome.

With such an open community, I’ve never met a UX’er with their salt who wasn’t patient when asked to describe their process or logic pretaining to their solutions.


These are my best practices for self-improvement, but I know I still have a lot to learn about how I can keep moving forward. What are your personal practices when it comes to improving your own UX skill level?


#2

This is gold @dougcollins. Thanks for taking the time.

I can add a few Twitterers that I follow.
@steveportigal
@kimgoodwin
@NathalieNahai
@jmspool
(@dszuc) @dszuc
(@ruth1) @RuthEllison
(@maadonna) @maadonna
(@feather) @feather
@gerry @gerrygaffney
@indiyoung

I totally agree with your point about reading as much as possible. I’m fortunate that a part of my job here is sourcing articles to share with our Twitter followers, which means that I have to hunt down the good stuff. It keeps your eyes open.

I also think there is value to be had in taking online courses, even just to stay sharp on the basics.


#3

Brilliant topic, @dougcollins :slight_smile:

In addition to your three points, I can also suggest:

  1. Teach someone a new thing you’ve discovered. I stole this one from Seneca (“by teaching we are learning”), but there’s a whole movement behind it known as LdL (German: Lernen durch Lehren). In addition to sharing the love, it helps embed the learning in your own head, as well as helping you discover the methods and didactic approaches for thinking about it comprehensively and building neural networks.

  2. Write about it, another method of active learning. Meditating about a topic, articulating it, finding ways to explain it elegantly and concisely, referencing related sources, and being part of a larger discussion.

Both of these require a bit of humility as they really help you confront what you don’t know, and are open to criticism when you get stuff wrong, as well as potentially leading others astray. But in a wider context I find them pretty essential to maturing language and critical thinking about topics I’m passionate about.


#4

I 100% agree with this. Where I currently work, we do knowledge sharing sessions but we switch roles. For example we have 2 BA’s, if one BA wrote the requirements, the other BA will explain the project to the developers so that they both have a full understanding. Both BA’s are there so that none of the information is passed on incorrectly, but we find it works really well and helps everyone to understand.


#5

I did that for a while with a bunch of UX blogs, but I got overwhelmed with articles. Now I only have a few blogs, like A List Apart and The Hipper Element, in Feedly, but I also subscribe to a few UX newsletters: UX Design Weekly, UX Booth, and uxdesign.cc. I pick out articles that peak my interest or ones that end up on multiple newsletters and save them to Pocket.

Also, if you follow a lot of UX thought leaders on Twitter and then connect your Twitter account to Medium, you’ll automatically follow them on Medium, which will allow you to see both the articles that they write and other articles that they like.


#6

I love this idea, for a number of different reasons. I always recommend starting a UX blog, even if nobody reads it but yourself. It gives you a forum to put your thoughts into words, helps you build your skill set, and can be a great tool to show potential employers that you’re worth your salt when it comes time to look for your next position. Due to some legal issues with a past employer, I had to take down my blog (lostmegabites.com). I’m just getting it back up and rolling again. This topic was actually my first new post!


#7

I’ve started doing this recently, and its just a great thing to do. I don’t expect any likes, but do it because it helps me think a topic over. I have rule for myself, that I must write one UX blog every week. This is on my mind all week. Anytime I notice something, or think about something, that becomes a new topic for that week.
But a blog MAY be read by other people, so it has to be sound. I research it, think about it, talk it out with others, and put it on my blog.

Another great thing I discovered: having a number to hit for anything. One blog a week, 2 articles a day, 100 ideas for a solution, and so on. One of my professors used to say - “Quantity is its own quality”. I’ve found that very useful.


#8

@dougcollins what a fantastic question, and equally excellent advice. Here’s my two cents on the topic:

My first and primary rule for myself has always been to never stop learning.
I consider myself an Information Sponge. Absorb and learn everything you can about…well…all you can. Every topic. The more you check out, the more you know. The more you know, the wider your capability and understanding becomes. In terms of UX, that means ALL areas of UX — don’t fixate on any single aspect of UX or UI design or development. Take a wide, holistic view, because ALL of these things have to work together in order to create a valuable User Experience.

Design isn’t enough, technology isn’t enough, good ideas aren’t enough. Consider Interaction Design, Information Architecture, Ethnography, Graphic Design, Programming, etc.

You may not be able to do all of these things equally well — and you don’t have to. But you do need to understand what role each discipline plays and what impact it has on work in other areas. You DON’T need to know every new practice or process or method that comes out and is talked about on the Internet.

To me, the most critical stuff isn’t what you DO; it’s how you THINK.


#9

Couldn’t agree more about point #1. I would have no career at all if it weren’t for the incredible generosity of design professionals (rockstars, some of them) taking time out from their lives to answer this young kid’s questions and point him in the right direction. Immeasurable, and important to pay forward.


#10

I checked in with Marli Mesibov on this and she said:

I first came across the idea of “practicing” UX from this article by Jared Spool, back in 2011. I’ve since developed my own practice of constant learning for content strategy. I spend an hour every Tuesday morning reading articles from Twitter. I cull my feed so that the articles coming in tend to be relevant to my work, and I often find new ideas or trends that I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. I also attend a few conferences every year, including at least one focused on design (or other areas outside but related to content strategy), and I specifically look for ways to improve and adapt my work while in sessions. Lastly, my team at Mad*Pow is really awesome about project retrospectives, which can be one of the best ways to learn from your own experiences and put those lessons to work in future projects!


#11

I love all your enthusiasm for constant learning and it’s one of the things I love most about UX - there is ALWAYS something new to learn and a push to adapt my existing practices.

I especially love your suggestion to be involved in the community as a method for learning, and I’d recommend that you take it a step further by finding people local to you to interact with in person. There are tons of UX meetups, professional groups, etc. in most areas. Not only do they often host free or low-cost workshops, talks, etc., I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned just by showing up and chatting with other people in our field, seeing how their roles differ from mine, how they approach similar problems, etc.

I also love, love, LOVE Luke’s suggestion to teach someone else something you know. I just put together a course for lynda.com and not only did it crystalize what I already knew, I also learned a lot of corollary skills and found it super-rewarding to boot!

Keep trucking!