The UX system of three concepts. Despite a large amount of information… | by Kike Peña | Nov, 2023


Despite a large amount of information, some fundamental, complementary, and timeless concepts may help you to thrive in a design career.

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It has been remarkable to see how, lately, there is a significant interest among young designers to know and have tools to improve their professional careers and aspire to a better position; it is something that, perhaps in my days, was not so common. This phenomenon shows how the profession’s maturity and value in companies have increased, and I’m pleased about that.

From my role as a mentor in a design community, the most common questions I often get from designers about this fantastic interest in being better are how to grow professionally, stand up among other designers, and increase the UX value in a company. None of these questions are easy to answer from my standpoint; honestly, I think the answers to these matters are kind of tricky to articulate because, first, in my opinion, there are no unique paths to take, and second, The definition of growing is subjective and results from self-expectations, work context, and job opportunities.

However, after much thinking, I can point out some fundamental concepts to thrive in a design career. It is a simple system of three vertices that may help you improve your interaction with work challenges from the ground. I built this system from some experiences acquired through my work career; some were pleasant experiences, and others were not. In case you’re wondering why only these three vertices, my answer is they are significantly complementary and timeless.

In this article, I hope you’ll be able to find a simple guideline to use in case your aspirations to be a better designer means the start of a management path. Nonetheless, I genuinely believe it can also be helpful for an individual contributor’s aspirations.

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This first vertex refers to the importance of thinking quantitatively and making decisions based on broad work data sources, such as timeframes, workloads, capability, etc.

What is it about?

When we talk about “taking control” of the situation, we imagine some challenging scenario where we must survive. Still, the type of control I talk about is more about being aware of quantity matters around you. You can’t control what you can’t recognize and organize. Numbers live everywhere as metrics, from the number of teammates in your group (human capacity), the number of hours to take into account when starting a new project (timeframe), the number of projects you can handle (workload), or even the number of stakeholders to seek approval from. We can measure almost everything and, eventually, make intelligent moves or negotiations with this information.

When is it relevant?

As a manager or individual contributor, some decisions must be made based on numbers, especially if you need to negotiate dates or budgets. Numbers are a solid source of certainty that can help you greatly when seeking the next move. The project planning stage, the hiring process, or even a position movement within the company can be the perfect scenario for using this vertex as a solid argument. In the early years of a career, thinking about organizing your work may be fundamental for future steps.

Benefits

If you can move in a planned scenario, your team or you probably will focus all efforts on a clear goal. The certainty of the next step will create a sense of relief, confidence, and joy at work. Some people can quickly move on solid ground, and this benefit works better for them as a shelter from chaos in a company.

Jocko Willink, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

Experience Example

In 2012, there was a lot of movement within the company I worked for. An audit was running, and there was a lot of uncertainty on whether part of the UX team was a possible target for layoff. The way we survived those challenging moments was in part due to numbers. At that time, my boss was brilliant in making numbers-based decisions. So she had track of all our movements and activities, like actual work hours per week, investment of time in meetings, project timeframes, and, of course, the monetary impact on the company due to our work. With these numeric arguments, she supported the relevance of the UX team and the impact we had on the success and expansion of the current digital products. Numbers don’t lie; sometimes, they are all we need to find the answer and avoid bias.

The risk of developing only this vertex

Focusing only on controlling everything around you can generate possible issues. The misbalance of measuring everything can quickly transfer into micromanagement, lack of autonomy for teammates, and burnout in work dynamics with other collaborators. If the control vertex is out of control, there is no room for creativity and innovation.

Here are other sources of information that address this topic from different perspectives:

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This second vertex is about having the freedom of innovation. Sometimes, the answer to a problem relies beyond the rules.

What is it about?

Creativity is approaching challenges from unique perspectives beyond boundaries, which is fundamental in every discipline, no matter the primary focus. Developing a cadence of innovation can make considerable changes in an established routine. UX is all about creatively solving experience challenges by observing human behavior. This capacity in your team or way of working will increase your problem-solving skills, allowing you to reframe every challenge and find fantastic solutions.

When is it relevant?

Every project has a challenge, so daily tasks are the perfect scenario to apply this vertex properly. Creativity is crucial when elaborating on an idea or concept, mainly if you must sell it to clients or stakeholders. Be sure to create a sense of belonging through the concept and connect with others; this is important in pitches, presentations, or even the status of projects. How you communicate is a reflex of great creativity; it doesn’t matter if you have a great design; if you don’t share it properly, it will probably fail.

Benefits

Creativity can trigger a disruptive mindset, which is the source of innovation. The most crucial benefit is to be recursive when looking for solutions, argument ideas, or approaching a problem. By developing this vertex, I’m sure you will stand out among designers and, why not, get noticed by others.

Experience Example

As a lead of a UX team for an e-commerce company, I had the opportunity to expose my team’s way of working to other areas due to their fantastic performance in the last quarter of the year. This presentation came with a particular challenge: to show a design process in a way people outside of technology would understand. To enlighten these steps, we decided to tell a story everyone in the room was familiar with, so we came up with “How we prepare a holiday trip.” With this storytelling in mind, we made a parallel about the stages of preparing a trip and the similarities of our design process: Stage one, “preparing the adventure,” talked about the stage of planning before making a move in any project. Stage two, “When we arrive at the destination,” spoke about acknowledging the context, tools, and usage. Stage three, “action and delight,” talked about findings and pivoting in decisions. Stage four, “the journey ends,” discussed results, engagement, and satisfaction. The session was terrific, and we connected with the audience, but more importantly, they got the message familiarly and straightforwardly.

The risk of developing only this vertex

In an industry where we are results-oriented, just thinking of the freedom of ideas will be insufficient. Only developing this vertex will expose you to chaos and to be reactive to any challenge. Burnout due to a lack of planning may be a harsh consequence for you or your team.

Here are other sources of information that address this topic from different perspectives:

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The third vertex of the system is the one that allows you to move or scale intelligently across a company or a project.

What is it about?

Strategy, in single words, is the proper usage of your available tools to generate an impact, achieve a goal, or make a difference. In companies, we associate this term with high-level positions, but we all can develop it and use it according to our needs. A simple way to use this vertex is through anticipation. Making a move before expected will give you some advantage in decision-making; that is smart. The strategy is not a complex business theory; It can be more straightforward if we know our context’s weaknesses and opportunities. Once we can envision what no one else can see, it is time to make a move and take advantage.

When is it relevant?

There is a moment for everything in the UX world. Regarding taking the next step, as the vertex of creativity, any challenge is the right place to show your magic. However, there is one small window to widen the strategy box: the status with your team or stakeholders; these exchanges of ideas are essential. In these conversations, an enlightening part of your next move is critical; let them know what is in your mind, whether it was required or not (anticipation); this is simple strategic thinking that can allow you to mitigate errors or seek new opportunities no one else can see.

Benefits

Developing this vertex is the ultimate path to evolve as a designer into higher positions. Thinking beyond deliverables will open opportunities, conversations, and ownership in decision-making across projects and companies; people will also recognize you as a fundamental part of developing products and probably spot you as a strong candidate for the next challenge.

Experience Example

A few years ago, I was part of a vast international media company with significant goals in Latin America. The product team initially had a specific mission: to support the global operation coming from the U.S. The Digital director at that time was unsatisfied with that direction, so he used the anticipation to create new opportunities for us. Without anyone expecting it, he assembled a strategic plan to spot possible massive gains in the region if we developed an app for kids and a complete media website. He was clever enough to show numbers (control) as a solid argument, a disruptive storytelling (creativity) appealing to the company’s purpose: “power people’s passions,” after several meetings, we not only took control of the generation of new digital experience for multiple audiences but also our budget increased to hire more talented teammates and expand our range of influence. Because of this strategic movement, we were able to create significant value for the global company.

The risk of developing only this vertex

If you are not in a role where the primary mission is to develop a strategy for some purpose, maybe you should see this vertex as a solid complementary ability of your day-by-day work. Being a strategist is not dangerous; developing only the strategy vertex in hands-on environments can distance you from team dynamics and overlook small details, which are sometimes necessary to consider.

Here are other sources of information that address this topic from different perspectives:



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