I’ve been the sole in-house designer at the same company for 17 years. I’ve developed a strong understanding of how I can use my skills to best contribute to my team’s success, but I wanted to do more.

I was in the habit of making experience-driven guesses at what end users needed rather than doing research to obtain hard data. I didn’t gather evidence, because I simply didn’t know how to get the data.

Knowing that my designs would greatly improve if I could gain insights from users, I signed up for Springboard’s UX course to broaden my skill set. Over the course of three months, I learned how to get the data I need to make informed design decisions.

During my time, I learned many lessons, but there are five insights that have had the greatest impact on my daily workflow.

Leave Your Island

All too often I have designed on an island by making assumptions based on what I think an end user needs, crafting pixel-perfect mockups based on my assumptions. I’ve learned that the “U” in UX does not stand for “you”! It’s all about the user, so getting outside of my head and engaging with the user is an important step in the design process. Springboard taught me so many ways to do this, but here are a few of my favorites that anyone can start doing today:

  • Obtain feedback from friends or co-workers before starting to design
  • Sketch a rough UI on paper and ask someone to “navigate” through the sketches by touching the paper
  • Connect with your company’s support channel and find ways that improved design can help with UX across the organization

The most important takeaway is to do whatever it takes to start a conversation with others so that you start thinking more critically about your work. You’ll find yourself discovering solutions to problems that you had no idea existed, and your designs will be much more intuitive for everyone—not just yourself.

Have a Plan, but Be Flexible

The Springboard UX course covers a full range of fundamental processes and techniques for gathering UX data, but I learned that there’s also a skill to knowing how to blend the right processes together to achieve a specific goal. There is a multitude of branching paths that can be taken when conducting UX research, and I’ve found it extremely helpful to have someone with experience, such as my Springboard mentor, help me sort out everything.

My Springboard mentor helped me understand the improvisational nature of the UX process, and because she’s an active professional in the UX field, she was able to teach me valuable insights that only come from working in real-world scenarios. With her guidance, I feel like I have a toolbox of skills and a strong understanding of which avenues are appropriate for different tasks.

Surveys Are Your Friends

I’ve always harbored a particular disdain for surveys, because I’ve either had to fill out questionnaires that seemed pointless, or I’ve been tasked with making a cheesy sales-related survey “look pretty.” Springboard taught me how to use surveys the right way so that I can start projects with a wealth of insights to help steer design and development processes. I also learned that surveys don’t have to be fancy or time-intensive. Even a quick Google Form survey sent to a few people who fit the description of the target user generates enough data to make decisions and understand the users’ needs.

Step Away From Your Screens

As a designer who spends most of the day “glued” to my iMac or phone, it was refreshing to learn that many UX research techniques still use glue, Post-it notes, markers, tape, cardboard, and scissors during a work process. I had a blast mocking up interfaces out of paper and moving pieces around to see what would work best. Now, when I need to figure something out, I often find myself reaching for my office supplies rather than plugging away at my keyboard. Springboard showed me that sometimes the best solution can be found when figuring things out with my hands and interacting with a concept in a more tactile way. I feel more intentional with my designs when I’m actively working with them.

Learn What Questions to Ask

By reviewing the questions that other UX professionals ask, you’ll learn more about industry trends, concerns, and patterns. A great way to gain exposure is to sign up for a program that allows you to give feedback to other designers. I like to keep usabilityhub.com open in a pinned tab at all times so that I’ll hear a “ping” sound when a test becomes available for me to take. Usually, a test seeks an answer to a simple question, such as, “Which heading is better?” or, “Why did you click there to do X?”

Completing a test is not difficult, and it banks me a solid $0.20 per test, which goes straight to my cup-of-coffee fund. I’ve really enjoyed observing how other designers think critically about their designs, and this habit has encouraged me to make careful and thoughtful decisions.

As a UX designer, I’ve learned that it’s important to continue to grow and develop my skills. I feel like I’m a more intentional and evidence-based designer after completing Springboard’s course. I have strong skills to keep up with emerging trends, and I feel confident in reaching out to other UX professional to seek feedback and insight.

This post was written by Jeremy Nigh. Jeremy is a 2017 alum of Springboard’s UX Design workshop. He’s also design director at Mailprotector, where he enjoys designing better ways for email users to get things done quickly and painlessly.

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