Print and digital: even now, commonalities
My background is print. However, this still has a lot of use in terms of the web (for Western audiences, at least). For example, research on users of digital text draws parallels between reading in print and reading on digital devices. In the West, we read top-left to right, and then down the left-hand side of the page. In print, the most important items are put in the upper-left corner, and we in the West read web pages in the same way. We have also been culturally conditioned to look for captions under images, and to respond to color more than to black-and-white.
Other people I know who’ve come from this route
My friend Bill Dorman made the switch from print to digital. Bill and I founded a literary magazine that lasted a year before he moved cities and began to work for one of the first magazines to review web sites. After that magazine folded, he transitioned into writing on-line copy, then SEO copy, and finally IA, taxonomy, and hierarchy. Bill now works freelance in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
What Did I Do
I began my writing career at my college newspaper (The Alestle at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville). The editors there taught me to write. After that, I published freelance for a few years, even starting my own magazine for year. After that, I moved into the business side of print with sales, sales management, and market research. Later, I worked in digital publishing with a national call center. I updated content both for a customer care intranet and for the company’s first Internet Web site.
Why I Did It
I always wrote strong prose and began writing for the college newspaper. Moving into print was a natural progression. Later, I moved into the business side of print. After I taught public school for a time, I explored places that I could find a new niche and I think that UX is a high growth market that is currently underserved, at least by UX experts.
How I moved into UX
I spend some time teaching public school and when I explored ways to move back into the private sector, I realized that UX was a growth industry. Also, many in UX have technology backgrounds, even though the research was suggesting that users reacted to web pages in ways similar to print pages. I am currently working as a freelance UX consultant with small businesses and not-for-profits that do not have a large budget for full-fledged UX projects.
What I Bring to UX from It
With my marketing background, my first thought is the customer—called the user in UX. One thing that surprises me in the UX culture is that the focus on the user is still being sold as the most important thing. In fact, I recently read a forum post that said to move into UX, one has to shift perspective to the user. This suggests to me that the focus on the user is not completely ingrained in UX culture. No one in marketing would say that to move into marketing one has to begin to focus on the customer: that’s given. I bring to UX design teams a complete focus on the customer/user. (I have to admit, I prefer the word customer.)
Another thing that I bring is a first-step approach to content over design. Much of the current writing on UX focuses on shifting the UX design first to the concept of the content and lastly to design of the look. Print publishing always begins with concept and then content first. The design is always focused on making the content more accessible. Good design surrounds the content, not the other way around.
What I’ve had to Work On
UX if filled with jargon that I’ve had to learn. There is also a large amount of technical aspects, mostly programs that are great tools for UX teams. Also, though many in the UX world say that UX is not design, many UX professionals have design or other technical backgrounds, and most UX job postings require technical backgrounds. My experience is in writing and marketing, not coding. I do have some HTML skills but not enough to sell my skills as an HTML expert. Given all of this, I have had to go back and learn some technical skills so that I can at least interact with designers and others on the backend of UX design.
Tips for Those Making the Move
A quick survey of UX job posting suggests that employers are still looking for designers. For a marketer, especially a print marketer, you’ll have to show that you bring concepts and processes to the table that others simply don’t have. Also, you will have to bone up on the technical aspects, especially the tools that are most related to marketing (A/B testing, eye tracking, mouse tracking, etc.) Don’t try to compete with designers unless you already have lots of design experience.
For a marketer, especially a print marketer, you’ll have to show that you bring concepts and processes to the table that others simply don’t have.
What I’ve Found about Moving into UX
Most UX is outsourced unless it’s a very large company (and even then maybe not). Even in the outsourced industry, many UX consulting companies outsource those projects to freelancers. So, a corporation may hire UX consultants for a site redesign, and then UX Consultants may contract with a wireframe expert, a testing expert, and so on. Be prepared to hustle for work.
Also, UX is a generic term for anyone who works on design. I’ve found that a number of designers will claim UX as a proficiency, even though a short conversation shows that he or she relies solely on individual judgment. The market right now equates page design with UX. So when you begin talking about thinking through ideas, testing, taking time, and so on, many in the UX field and many UX customers may not understand or even think that a marketing-based process is important.
Image NC-CC by martinaphotography