I'm returning to UX after 3 years off. What do I need to know to catch up?

Hi,

I’m returning to UX after taking 3 years off. I’m looking for advice on where I need to do some catch-up to become competitive again.

Learning Sketch is at the top of my list. I’ve already signed up for a General Assembly Sketch workshop. There are tons of other tools that have matured since I’ve been active in the field, but it’s difficult to identify which are important. What software and services should I check out?

I’m also looking for insight into the current UX practice. Prototyping, Product Design and Design Thinking have gotten really big. Are there other topics I should brush up on?

Finally, I’d love to hear additional advice or any stories about re-entering the field after a long medical hiatus.

A little more about me… I started UX in 2004 after finishing a Masters program, have 6 years of high-end agency experience, and have led UX work for many large clients - typically in the content, media and mission-driven industries. I’m currently in the SF Bay area.

Thanks! DavyR

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welcome back to the industry!

Sketch is a big one, and i’d look into using Craft to sync it with InvisionApp. This is a good setup for basic wireframing and prototyping.

In terms of more advanced prototypes i.e. data input, variables, interactivity etc, id look into Axure or Proto.io.

You mentioned Design Thinking and given the success of Apple, Uber, Airbnb etc, I think companies are becoming more aware of a product-first or design-led approach. I’d also look into design methodologies such as Double Diamond and User centred design.

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Thanks lykc! Is InDesign still a common wireframing tool? That’s what I’ve been using for over a decade. I’ve looked at Adobe XD, but it seems like just a collection of many many plugins.

Welcome DavyR – let’s tag in our @Experienced-UXers to see what advice they have here.

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@DavyR Welcome back. Hope you are doing well.
Adobe XD is gaining popularity, although it’s still not fully fleshed out. Sketch for sure. InVision. Also Figma.
Agree 100% with what @lykc said.
The SF Bay area has gotten a lot more competitive in the job market. (I am in the same area.) A lot more companies are hiring designers though, which is good. :grinning:

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Can you give me any insight on how Bay Area job titles are lining up with career experience? Is there title inflation from the high demand for UX, but a limited number of folks available with lots of experience (10+ years). There are tons of people entering the field who are only 2-3 years into their careers. Are they finding their way into Lead and above positions? I come in at 15+ years and am not sure where on the ladder to look.

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I would suggest using Figma, it’s a thousand times better than Adobe Xd and it’s free too. The only inconvenient is that if you want to have more than 3 projects at the same time you must pay 12$ a month. But you can have multiple designs in one project so… Unless you are working for a company I wouldn’t pay for it, and if you are working then 12$/month means nothing. And it works on Windows too unlike Sketch.

PS: https://www.figma.com/pricing/

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Ugh, honestly, it’s been tough. I have 20 years experience in the field, and the past few years I have been teaching full-time. I feel like people look at my teaching as a sabbatical. They want recent shipped work. Then, the fact that I have 20 years experience and didn’t take a managerial route is confusing. I know one or two other people in the same boat.
People with 3 to 5 years experience are getting lead and senior positions. Have to have an amazing portfolio and tell a great story of your value. I am working hard on the storytelling right now. :slight_smile:
I feel like there are a lot of people available so it’s competitive. But the experience is bookended. Recent grads, both boot camp and Masters degrees and then people with 12+ years.
I would definitely look at lead positions.
Hope that helps!

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I too have 20+ years and I have been told I could teach at general assembly, but the policy in my company changed so any entry level person (with a two week crash course at general assembly) came in at my level and were prompted very quickly, despite the fact that they need hand holding and I have had to been training up their managers!!!

With getting skills up to speed, I think the software is a side shoot of what UX is about.
Quick hand sketching and prototyping are the key skills.

Also understanding Agile, knowing how to integrate in to an agile environment, working alongside multidisciplinary teams.

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Welcome back @ChickPea71 – it’s been a while since we saw you!

Definitely learn about Agile environments. They are the most important things to companies right now even though half of them have no clue about it.

Design Systems are big right now and the latest buzzword. They are important to learn to get your head around.

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Thanks! I’ve had management positions in the past (XD at several agencies) but want to get out of that world into an in-house track. Sounds like your experience is the latter. What are some of the obstacles you’ve seen? I’m not very familiar with in-house work, and have only had startup experience via agencies.

Do any of you have recommended UX books that have been published in the last few years? A few of the topics I have in mind are UX+Agile, UX Copywriting, Storytelling and Design Thinking. Thanks!

[Edit: Changed to a more general request for book recommendations.]

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Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf (2nd edition)
User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton (Agile and UX)
Org Design for Design Orgs by Peter Merholz, Kristin Skinner
Writing for Designers by Scott Kubie
Sense & Respond by Jeff Gothelf
Build Better Products by Laura Klein

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I’ve done both in-house and agency. Managing is basically the same for either type of work.
In house, they want to know you’ve shipped products and have the KPIs to show what you learned. They want to know you’ve been through a couple product development cycles and can show iterative improvements.
It can be hard to crack into in-house work from agencies. Startups will be the best way to go.
Hope that helps!

Hm, I’ve heard the opposite too. I think it may be a question of scale. I’ve had old colleagues go directly into Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and other very big players.

From your experience, do you feel that if you have not made it as a manager you are not employable?

I have found it really tough and very demotivating. I have been in the industry for over 20 years.

In my current role I was originally brought in by very highly regarded people and leaders in the industry, one of which had previously worked with Peter Morville, Lou Rosenfeld, Jacob Neilson and Don Norman.

They still regard me highly. Even though they left the company years ago. They tell me I should actually be teaching at General Assembly.

However over the years the company I am in the characters of management and those that get promoted are disgusting. Utterly disgusting. I have totally lost confidence and struggle to find motivation.

I have never been promoted over 13 years, even though I have gained skills that are 5 years ahead of the curve, I have trained up senior management, I am a certified scrum master, and teach UX how to work in an agile environment, I have a product design mindset, always have, I have had my work presented at world leading conferences, but they refused to acknowledge it, and downplayed my contributions, as a result they are embarrassed and I have been offered a demotion and a reduced salary, been kicked to the curb. On that salary I will lose my home.
This all came about because I helped very self serving and incompetent senior management who have no industry experience, and wanted to cover their embarrassment of being incompetent.
I wonder if the industry is now filling up with narcissists that all look out for each other.

Just my view, based on experience.

I don’t think if you are not in management you are not employable at all. You just need to tell your story and be specific about what you are looking for.
Teaching at General Assembly only requires three years of experience. It’s not a big deal. They go through a lot of people because they hire people as contractors. They rarely hire full-time instructors.

Sounds like you should quit your current place and find something else. That environment sounds toxic. There are a lot of resources, at least in the San Francisco Bay Area, for finding UX jobs. Just make sure you have a good portfolio and a good story.

Hope that helps!

Yes. It was a truley toxic place.

When you mean a story? You mean what my process is on a project. Or overal career?

I’m not ui design. My leaning is information architecture, ux architecture, ux design, service design, content strategy and business analysis, enterprise content management, headless cms etc.
But been out of coal pit so to speak. And have lost confidence.