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  • 15 Nov 2021 4:11 PM | Jacob Geib-Rosch (Administrator)

    Ask The Experts is a series in which we ask design leaders from our community common questions from UX professionals or those seeking a career in UX. This month we're covering how UX research fits in at local organizations. 

    How does UX research fit in at your organization?

    User research comes in different forms with the essential idea of understanding users through their expectations, their physical and organizational environment, and their feedback on design solutions. At SAS, in addition to creating design solutions, User Experience Designers also have the job of conducting user research, enabling them collect first-hand information from users. SAS has a User Research Lab where usability tests and user interviews can be conducted, recorded, and analyzed. A database of users and customers is maintained, and surveys are often sent out to users for specific products or areas. We also have a Research Ops program that aims to empower all Designers to conduct, track, and share research findings across products, areas, and personas over time.


    Product teams typically care more about the design solutions we create, but good designs need to be grounded in user research. User Experience Designers plan the time and space for user research. We often partner with product managers, customer success managers and other customer facing teams to gain access to and build partnerships with key customers and users. It is often challenging to fit user research into the tight schedules necessitated by the agile development processes that we use. However, we find it helpful to plan and start larger research efforts ahead of time and make incremental progress during development stabilization sprints to continue with user research. It is also important to streamline user research efforts so that we can turn around results faster.

    Huifang Wang, Senior Manager of User Experience Design 

    At Red Hat, the UX Research team lives in a centralized User Experience Design (UXD) team under Engineering that supports the entire product portfolio. This puts our team in a unique position to break down silos, make connections across products and consider the end-to-end experience. The researchers work closely with designers, developers, and PM to conduct generative and evaluative research that influences the user experience with data and user insights. It’s exciting times. The research team has recently grown from a team of 5 to a team of 15 in the past year. They are a diverse team with different perspectives and skillsets, exploring new partnerships and maturing research practices in our organization.

    Amy Glass Manager, User Experience Design
    Leslie Hinson, Manager of User Experience Design 

    User research is increasingly part of many teams at Lenovo.  For the Next UX team specifically, user research is an integral element of our work.  It is woven into our mission and cyclically into our processes.  Research goals and methods vary based on whether the project is in a discovery phase or validation phase (or in between), but we are always building our knowledge of users and their context.   We have UX research specialists who lead the way while we also work to democratize interest and participation in the research among collaborating designers and stakeholders.   Ultimately, user research is about steadily improving our insight to guide project direction and any recommendations into the business. 

    Aaron Stewart, Director Next UX & UX Research 

    We consider ourselves a digital agency, though most projects involve websites or web applications. What we pride ourselves in doing, however, is solving business problems. To successfully solve problems, user research is indispensable. Without an understanding of the needs and motivations of users, user experience design, and the functionality that drives it, would be based on guesses.

    Among the methods we employ are online user surveys, client interviews, user interviews, and analytics review. 

    While we don’t want to undertake projects without access to user research data, we don’t insist on performing it ourselves. Some of our clients perform their own, while others employ third-party agencies for strategy and marketing that perform the user research.

    While user research is essential, we acquire the information through a variety of methods and sources.

    David Minton, Managing Partner 

  • 27 Oct 2021 11:43 AM | Beth Sherman (Administrator)

    What is accessibility?

    Accessibility is the practice of making a website usable by as many people as possible. This often means providing more than one way to access information or complete a task on the website. People with disabilities may not be able to read, hear, or click a mouse. This may be a permanent disability, or a temporary disability caused by injury or environment. 

    Similar to making accommodations for changes in technology like mobile phones or tablets, making websites accessible for people with disabilities should be considered equally essential.

    Another way to think of accessibility is providing everyone with an equal opportunity to use your website no matter what their ability.

    Why should a website be accessible?

    Just as it is wrong to exclude someone from a physical building because they are in a wheelchair, it is also wrong to exclude someone from a website because they have a physical impairment.

    Beyond the human concept of the right thing to do, it is the law in many places. Many lawsuits have been filed and won against businesses with websites that are not accessible. In the U.S., the American with Disabilities Act requires businesses to comply with web accessibility standards.

    According to the Center for Disease Control, 61 million adults in the U.S. (1 in 4 adults) report having some form of disability. Accessibility ensures that all potential users, including those with disabilities, can access website information. This, in turn, can increase the customer base and market share.

    Improving accessibility for people with disabilities has the added benefit of improving the experience for people using the website in less-than-ideal conditions. Some examples may be using a mobile device, being in low light, having a slow network connection, being in a loud or distracting environment, glare on a screen, etc. Implementing accessibility best practices also improves the usability of the site for all users. 

    Types of disabilities

    Making a website accessible includes considering several different types of disabilities (both permanent and temporary) that may impair someone’s ability to use the site.  Many people think of accessibility as adding options to a website for blind or deaf people. In fact, there are a wide variety of disabilities that affect individuals, and each requires its own assistance.

    Below are categories of types of disabilities.

    • Physical or Motor Skill disabilities – Limitations of muscular control such as tremors, paralysis, involuntary movement, or missing limbs. This may limit the ability to use a mouse or keyboard. Permanent examples are amputation, arthritis, and paralysis from a stroke. Temporary examples are repetitive stress injury, a broken finger, or an arm in a cast or sling.
    • Visual disabilities – Limitations on sight such as blindness, low vision, or color blindness. This may limit the ability to read or see a video. Permanent examples are blindness, color blindness, or macular degeneration. Temporary examples may be forgotten glasses, eye injury, or low-light conditions in the environment.
    • Hearing disabilities – Limitations of hearing such as complete or partial deafness, or an inability to hear certain frequencies. This may limit being able to hear alerts or audio content. Permanent examples are total deafness, or partial loss from a medical issue or injury. Temporary examples are an injury, bandaged ears, or noisy conditions in the environment.
    • Cognitive/Neurological disabilities – Limitations in processing data. These users may have difficulty remembering information, may be easily distracted, and may have learning disabilities that affect how well they read text. Permanent examples are ADHD, Dyslexia, or an anxiety disorder. Temporary examples are emotions, task related stress/anxiety, or distractions in the environment.
    • Seizures – Some users may be prone to photo-epileptic seizures, so that flashing, strobing, and blinking graphics are a danger.

    Best Practices

    Accessibility should be part of design and development of a website from the beginning. It is more difficult and costly to address accessibility after the fact. Below are some guidelines for how to approach making a website accessible.

    The W3C WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) POUR principles create the functional accessibility necessary for people with visual, auditory, mobility, and cognitive disabilities to access website content, and applies to all platforms.

    The principles to be followed are:

    • Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. It can’t be invisible to all their senses. (Example: For a blind person, a screen reader should be able to perceive a button.)
    • Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable. The interface cannot require an interaction that a user cannot perform. (Example: For a person who can’t use a mouse, there should be a way to perform actions using the keyboard.)
    • Understandable – The information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable. The content or how to perform the operation cannot be beyond their understanding. (Example: Using clear and simple text to explain required actions.)
    • Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. As technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible. (Example: new accessible keyboards for paralyzed users.)

    Some good guidelines to consider for making accessible digital content are below.

    For Physical impairments:

    •     Provide information in multiple formats. For example:
       Provide visual access to audio content (captions, transcripts).
       Provide transcripts for audio content.
    • For mouse actions, also provide a keyboard-only solution.
    • Provide strong color contrast and sufficient font size for content.
    • Do not rely on color alone as a navigational tool or to differentiate items.
    • Functionality should be accessible through mouse and keyboard and tagged to worked with voice-control systems.
    • Images should include Alt Text in the markup/code, and complex images should have more extensive descriptions (possibly captions or a summary in an accompanying paragraph).
    • Sites should have a Skip Navigation feature for screen readers.
    • Consider 508 testing to assure your site is complying (Section 508, Rehabilitation Act of 1973).

    For Cognitive impairments:

    • Deliver content in more than one way, such as by text-to-speech or by video.
    • Provide easily understood content, such as text written using plain-language standard.
    • Focus attention on important content (possibly with headings or placement).
    • Minimizing distractions, such as unnecessary content or advertisements.
    • Maintain consistent webpage layout and navigation across the website.
    • Use familiar web elements for easy recognition, such as underlined links in blue.
    • Divide processes into logical, essential steps with progress indicators.
    • Make website login/authentication as easy as possible without compromising security.
    • Make forms easy to complete, with clear error messages and simple error recovery.

    Sources / Related Reading

    What is accessibility? - Learn web development | MDN (  

    Types of disabilities: Understanding accessibility: Accessibility: Indiana University (

    Accessibility Basics |

    Accessibility Principles | Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) | W3C

    Types of Disabilities | Usability & Web Accessibility (

    Web Accessibility Laws in the U.S. (

    Home | 18F Accessibility Guide

    Beyond Accessibility: Treating Users with Disabilities as People (

    Accessibility Standards - Santa Barbara City College ( 

    3 Great Reasons to Make Your Website Accessible - SitePoint

    Accessible Websites Are Better for Everyone (And Better For Business Too) (

  • 30 Apr 2021 1:48 PM | Audrey Bryson (Administrator)

    Ask The Experts is a series in which we ask design leaders from our community common questions from UX professionals or those seeking a career in UX. This month we're covering interview techniques. 

    What are some common mistakes design candidates make when interviewing for a position? What should they avoid doing to give the best impression?    

    I cannot remember how many interviews I’ve been to, where the interviewers did not have the candidate’s resume at hand, or the candidate fumbled through folders and files to find/load their portfolio. For in-person interviews, have paper resumes ready to hand out and if possible, load/project your portfolio/sample work up even before the interview starts. For online meetings, pre-load your portfolio/work, and know how to share your screen in the meeting software. Within the limited interview time, minimize logistical errors so that the interview can focus on your experiences, skills, and conversations to get to know each other.

    Another common mistake I see, especially for younger design candidates, is to treat an interview as an exam, show what you got, answer questions, and get out. Although it is very important to show and discuss your work, I cannot over emphasize the importance of studying the job description so that you can relate your experiences to the job requirements, point out alignment of your work preferences to the group/company’s culture, get to know the company’s business and suggest ways you may contribute. In addition to finding the right experiences, skills and personalities, the employer would like to see that the candidate is interested in the job, asking good questions, and overall an excellent fit for the organization."

    Huifang Wang, Senior Manager of User Experience Design 

    I find it disappointing when a candidate doesn't have questions for us. Interviewing is a two way street meaning I expect that the candidate explores if the company is a good fit for them too. Being curious tells me you're interested in the company and that you're being thoughtful about your potential future decisions. "

    Leslie Hinson, Manager of User Experience Design 

     One common mistake is that candidates feel the need to justify why they intend to leave their current employer. While this will likely come up in the interview process, it's not relevant in every round. It can also leave a negative impression if the candidate complains about their current work environment. Even if your complaints are justified, no one wants to work with someone that seemingly has a negative attitude!

    Other common mistakes happen during the design challenge component of the interview. A design challenge will typically present a fictional design problem, and the UX design candidate has a limited amount of time to work toward a solution.

    There are two common mistakes that I've noticed: 

    1. The candidate jumps right to the UI design 
    2. The candidate doesn't do any UI design 
    The design challenge's intent is for candidates to demonstrate their thought process, so candidates will want to show how they would make sense of an ill-defined design problem. Every UX designer has a different approach, but it'll often include some user definition, brainstorming, and flows. It may not be easy, but candidates should at least show some low-fidelity sketches. The sketches are essential to help demonstrate how the candidate translates requirements into UI design."

    Andrew Wirtanen, Principal Product Designer

     Avoid seeming like you are only showing your wares and responding to questions.  Interviewing should be a two-way street.  So, be curious and interested.  Ask about the challenges and opportunities the interviewers see in the role, what they like and don’t like about the offerings you’d help design, what type of culture they strive to create, etc.  When considering candidates, we worry about personality fit and genuine interest as much as knowledge and skills.  Of course, show what you’ve done and respond to what is requested.  But, converse and informalize the interview process so both sides get to know each other as potential teammates."     

    Aaron Stewart, Director Next UX & UX Research 

     While portfolios are important, many talented UX designers don’t even make it to the portfolio review phase at DesignHammer. When hiring a UX candidate, being a brilliant artist is not the foremost qualification. We need staff members who can review and follow instructions, as well as communicate in writing with clients and coworkers.

    At DesignHammer, we provide detailed job descriptions, application instructions, and selection criteria as part of our job listings. All candidates are instructed to submit a cover letter—a candidate screen which identifies candidates who have read the complete job post and followed the directions it contained. However, the cover letter also provides a means for candidates to illustrate strengths that don’t necessarily fit into a conventional resume or portfolio. 

    While cover letters that address all of the points we request and display the candidate's ability to communicate effectively in writing will advance them to resume and portfolio review, candidates that customize their cover letter will make the best impression. 

    To aid candidates in submitting complete applications, we use an online application tied to our applicant tracking system. I can’t count how many applicants have entered their resume (a second time) as their cover letter to get past the form’s error checking, nearly ensuring they will not advance to the interview round. Even worse are the candidates that upload a document stating “Not applicable” or the like as their cover letter. How can I trust a staff member to work independently, follow instructions, and communicate with clients, if they are not willing or able to do so when they are trying to impress the hiring manager?

    David Minton, Managing Partner 

  • 29 Mar 2021 1:16 PM | Audrey Bryson (Administrator)

    Ask The Experts is a series in which we ask design leaders from our community common questions from UX professionals or those seeking a career in UX. This month we're covering portfolios. 

    What is one thing UX candidates can do to improve their portfolios?    

    I’ve seen a lot of portfolios with polished (interactive) designs. But it is not obvious how the designer came to that solution nor what problem is the design trying to solve. This makes the work look superficial, lacking depth and context. 

    If the main audience of your portfolio is potential employers, my one recommendation for improvement is to show process: Highlight what problems you are solving, for whom (users), who else was on the project team, and the interim deliverables (hand drawings, wireframes, user journeys and feedback, etc.) along the way, not just the final design. This gives viewers more insight into your ways of approaching a problem, collaborating with others, and designing/researching along the spectrum of high-level visions on one end, and detailed specifications on the other. Think of your portfolio as a story to tell your journey of coming to the final designs or solutions that are being show cased – use your design skills to make it informative, fun, and easy to understand!"

    Huifang Wang, Senior Manager of User Experience Design 

     UX design candidates typically do a decent job describing the overall process they went through on a project. But, I've found myself asking the same question repeatedly in interviews: Who did you collaborate with, and what were your contributions?

    As Jared Spool always says, "design is a team sport." When I'm interviewing a candidate, I'm trying to figure out what it'd be like to work with them.

    A lot goes into product design, starting with understanding both the user needs and the business needs. Yes, your portfolio should show the overall design process from initial requirements to final deliverables. But, make sure to mention who you collaborated with and why. Even if you were doing everything from initial requirements gathering to coding, there was probably a point where you collaborated with a stakeholder or two."

    Andrew Wirtanen, Principal Product Designer

     UX now involves such a broad range of expertise and companies vary in how they specialize (or don’t) their UX roles.   So, it’s important both employer and candidate are expressing the type of UX in play.  Resumes are often a record of where someone has been and lean on where someone wishes to go.  A mission or passion statement may be in there, but often at a high-level.  So, I recommend clarity on the types of UX you’ve done and the types of UX you hope to pursue.  This is particularly important if you want to pivot focus or generalize more.  I’ve found the forward look may not fully come out until a phone interview occurs.  But, some filtering of candidates has potentially occurred by that point."     

    Aaron Stewart, Director Next UX & UX Research 

     While a portfolio certainly should be a showcase of your results, final results alone are not enough. I'm always pleased when I see a portfolio that also tells me something about your process - how you arrived at those results. If the portfolio doesn't show me any process, it
    1)leaves me wondering how much of that was done by yourself and how much as collaboration, and
    2) I then have to ask all the questions to arrive at that answer. A portfolio that shows me process as well as results goes to the top of the pile, and one that shows me how user or collaborative feedback was incorporated to improve the result gets bonus points!

    Randy Earl, Experience Manager
    Atlantic BT

     One simple thing to improve a portfolio is to make sure that each portfolio piece tells a story. A story has structure - beginning, middle, end - and so should a case study. What problem did this project set out to solve? Over the course of the project, what were the complications or hurdles you had to overcome? Finally, how did it end up? What was the impact of the project?

    Imagine telling the story of the project to a friend or family member and try to capture some of that energy in your professional writing. Case studies shouldn't be long or verbose, but they should not feel "flat." There should be characters, motivations, actions, surprises, and ultimately, a satisfying conclusion."

    Erik Johnson, Co-founder and Designer 
    Purpose UX

     My recommendation for candidates looking to improve their portfolios is to present their work in the form of case studies. Provide the problem to be solved, any restrictions impacting the project, the solution, and results, if possible. The ability to solve problems, particularly within externally imposed limitations, while showing measurable results, is what differentiates a UX designer from an artist.

    Case studies provide greater insight into the capabilities of the candidate—the ability to use visual communication to deliver measurable results within the constraints imposed by clients. The copy of the case study also allows candidates to show their ability to communicate with words, in addition to visuals.

    David Minton, Managing Partner 

  • 03 Mar 2021 9:44 AM | Audrey Bryson (Administrator)

    Ask The Experts is a series in which we ask design leaders from our community common questions from UX professionals or those seeking a career in UX. This month we're covering career trajectory. 

    What advice would you give a mid to senior level designer who is wondering whether they should go into management or continue as an individual contributor?    

    Even though senior designers and design managers can sometimes share similarities, the most unique aspect of a manager’s job lies in the responsibility of supporting and growing other designers, and a design team.

    Depending on the size of their team, a design manager may sometimes take on some individual contributors’ responsibilities of doing design/research work. However, what truly sets a design manager apart is that they are responsible for not only their own projects but also the design team that reports to them. This responsibility makes it essential for them to understand the strength and characteristics of each designer on the team in order to best match them with the goal of the design group, while also putting them in the best possible position to succeed, removing obstacles and cultivating relationships when needed. Hiring and mentoring new talents to ensure that they fit in the team, get up to speed, and excel on their new jobs. Can you see making other people successful an essential part of your job? In my opinion, this needs to be a resounding yes if you would like to become a manager.

    A manger needs to be ready to step away from detailed design work, and shift their attention to more strategic problems, guide their team by providing timely and relevant feedback to their work. Managers typically do have opportunities to see a wider range of products and teams, to influence design direction of a larger part of the organization. If you enjoy connecting teams, initiating collaborations towards common goals, and sharing best practices along the way, you may want to consider being a manager.

    Lastly, people management skills are a must for a good manager. Be prepared to address personnel issues and getting better at resolving conflicts involving your team members and/or teams that they work with. These frictions can turn into opportunities if managed well, or future obstacles if poorly managed. A manager who is good at resolving these issues have a better chance of keeping the group morale high, setting them up for success, and creating space for the team to grow."

    Huifang Wang, Senior Manager of User Experience Design 

     Every company has various responsibilities for managers and individual contributors, so this will depend on your situation. Also, career growth isn’t always linear. For example, maybe you’re a product designer that is interested in switching over to product management.

    Let’s say you’re a mid to senior-level UX designer who works in a company with two distinct career tracks: management and individual contributor. Regardless of the track you choose, you’ll have responsibilities that may blur the lines between the two. One important step is to identify your interest areas. Are you interested in people management? Do you want to get more into UX strategy? What kinds of projects do you enjoy? Ultimately, your path will be different depending on how your organization assigns responsibilities. 

    My advice is to pick the path that you feel most closely aligns with your interest areas. Your interests will change over time, so I would not view it as a final decision.

    Related: The individual contributor path is typically not as well-defined at organizations, and you may have to do some work to help define it. I’ve enjoyed reading Staff Design because it’s helpful to read about others’ experiences."

    Andrew Wirtanen, Principal Product Designer

     This is a big choice for any professional and should be an on-going dialogue.  Have that dialogue with your manager and mentors.  Have it with yourself.  The biggest question to keep asking: why might you want to manage others?  Do you like the idea of helping others navigate their careers?  Do you like guiding work (and those who do the work) at a higher level?  Do you seek status?   A range of selfish and more selfless answers is likely.  But you should be clear on exactly why you would want to manage.  And, without question, test drive it first.  Mentor someone, sponsor an intern and be a team lead so you can better answer those questions.  From my view, successful design managers want to help others in their careers and are comfortable guiding others through their design work (vs. overtly guiding the design).  If you’re uncomfortable coaching a colleague or prefer to be designing the details, an IC path may be best.  I know wonderful design managers.  I know others that probably shouldn’t be managing.  And, I know many who have great careers as an IC.  Be clear on what creates rewarding work for you."     

    Aaron Stewart, Director Next UX & UX Research 

     I would suggest anyone considering a shift out of a design role and into management (or any other role for that matter) to do an honest reflection on what types of activities give them the most sense of value in their career. If it's promotions, increased income, and leading teams, a shift to management can be the right choice. For designers who gain more value out of the experience of designing and creating and enjoy taking an active hand in design work, management roles can be stifling and frustrating. I'd suggest for anyone considering a move like this to reach out to mentors or other professional connections in management and ask questions about what their daily work is like and how they experienced the change in role. Ultimately, it's about how you want to spend your time while at work and that's an intensely personal question that will vary for each individual."     

    Erik Johnson, Co-founder and Designer 
    Purpose UX

     Career growth is hopefully a goal for any professional, but at what cost? The decision to move from a hands on creative role to a more management focused role can be a difficult one. 

    Having the option to enter management often assumes working for a larger organization that requires a person with a design background in a management position. Such a promotion comes with the ability to play a more influential role in project direction, and typically greater compensation. Sole practitioners also have a similar level of influence, though their projects tend to be more limited in scope, and often the positions (particularly in staff roles) offer lesser compensation.

    Many professionals, both in and out of the design field, eschew management, preferring to avoid the added responsibilities as well as the opportunity to stay “hands on” in their vocation, which hopefully they at least enjoy, if not love, practicing daily.

    But, just because you could, doesn’t mean you should move into management. I always consider the Peter Principle, the management concept that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence,” before offering advice on this topic. Just as some legendary sports coaches were not necessarily standouts on the field, some All Stars fail to translate their in-game achievements to coaching others. Similarly, a talented designer may be exceptional at their craft, but not have the organizational or social skills to effectively manage others, while a less skilled designer may grasp design principles just well enough to be able to communicate through their work, while brilliantly managing other designers.

    David Minton, Managing Partner 

  • 01 Feb 2021 11:00 AM | Audrey Bryson (Administrator)

    Ask The Experts is a series in which we ask design leaders from our community common questions from UX professionals or those seeking a career in UX. This month we're covering career specialization. 

    What advice would you give a designer who is curious about whether or not they should choose a path of specialization or pursue more of a UX generalist path? 

    My short answer is that a designer should ideally take both paths. You can do well in either one, but you will magnify your impact if you have experiences in both.

    I see general and specialty design paths as two perpendicular, but related dimensions: the general path defines breadth, and the specialty path depth of a designer’s expertise. Over time, a seasoned designer should walk down both dimensions far enough to cover a bigger area of design, thus increasing skill versatility and overall value as a UX professional. When the market landscape renders specific domains or specialties obsolete, you always have experiences gathered along the general design path and be ready to go down another more relevant specialty path. If possible, try to align the projects you take on with your interests, whatever path you are on. Your interests can carry you further when you run into roadblocks.

    On the general path, the design/research skills such as design patterns, research principles and methods represent the core abilities and toolbox for a designer. For example, creating a visual and interaction language in a design system can be very effective in establishing consistency and a baseline UI quality; establishing a user research enablement program to keep user feedback and expectations front and center in product teams can solve many problems, foster user centered culture in product teams, and gain good rapport with customers.

    On the specialty path, acquiring specific domain knowledge to create compelling user experiences can be both challenging and rewarding. I cannot emphasize enough the importance for a designer to be comfortable with and fast in ramping up to a specialty (and sometimes very technical) domain. With a basic understanding of the domain, you may find it very enlightening to work with users to understand their specific problems and play a big part in creating solutions that improve their lives. In solving these problems, you also get to verify what you’ve gathered along the general path, and add new lessons learned to it. With a solid command of enough specialty domains in an enterprise, you obtain powerful insights that put you in a good position to devise effective user experience strategies across the entire organization or company."

    Huifang Wang, Senior Manager of User Experience Design 

     There's a need for both generalist and specialized UXers. You'll wear more hats at smaller companies or agencies —  you may be responsible for everything, including user research, UX writing, UX strategy, interaction design, information architecture, and visual design. On larger teams, you'll find more specialized roles because they improve efficiency and quality of work.

    All designers should understand every UX role, and being a generalist is an excellent way to gain exposure as long as you have mentors that can guide you. Being a generalist can also help you discover if there's a subspecialty that you enjoy more. But if you enjoy all aspects of UX, you may want to stay as a generalist most of your career.

    If you're confident that you enjoy a specific UX role, then go for it! If you don't understand some other UX roles, it's vital to learn about those to know how to best work together. You can set up peer mentorship relationships (start with a 1:1 meeting), find articles/books/podcasts, or attend events (like those by the Triangle UXPA)."

    Andrew Wirtanen, Senior Product Designer

     I work in a space in which HW, SW and service UX are all in play across a range of product domains.  We look for design and research generalists, but recognize each team member has unique experiences and leanings.  Specialization occurs with domain assignments, which allow people to either develop depth or grow new expertise.  My best advice is to always ensure you are interested & challenged.  Don’t get complacent.  Beyond that, I caution towards specializing too narrowly for too long in a given focus.  You don’t want to pigeonhole your experiences or your perspective.  It is a positive to be known for specific strengths, but you’ll want to convey you can apply those in new directions."     

    Aaron Stewart, Director Next UX & UX Research 

     I think this kind of "depth or breadth" question has particular relevance to the design field. I find so often that inspiration and creativity come from cross-fertilization between different areas of experience, expertise, and application that I'm always drawn to opportunities that give me more varied experience. Time and again I've seen that my approaches and solutions are informed by the intersection of diverse realms, thus I fear specialization would narrow my view too much, limiting my creative approach to problem-solving. There are certainly benefits to specialization, such as the ability to refine and improve, but that can also quickly become a comfortable rut. In the end, a question such as this is always a personal choice; my personal preference is for variety."     

    Randy Early, Experience Manager 
    Atlantic BT

     There is a popular adage to “do what you love, the money will follow.” While it is debated by some as to how good this advice is in choosing a career, it still applies to our scenario of offering advice to a UX generalist. While some love every aspect of our jobs, many often gravitate to a specialty, in our case maybe research, information architect, or UX writing. Why not specialize in the aspect of User Experience that brings the most joy or satisfaction, unless the opportunity to work a multidisciplinary role, taking on different UX roles is an enjoyable challenge?

    Taking a pragmatic approach, on the other hand, choosing to specialize over remaining a generalist, could impact job and career opportunities. As in most fields, specializing will usually bring increased compensation, commensurate with the training and experience the specialist can provide. The choice will likely also have an impact on the type of organization and industry jobs will be found. While there are many opportunities for generalists, most organizations don’t have full-time needs for UX specialists, and those that do tend to be larger, or in specialized organizations, such as digital agencies or UX consultants.

    In the end, as so often occurs in life, there is no “right answer.” The best choice factors in what the designer enjoys most about the work they do, as well as taking the work environment into consideration.

    David Minton, Managing Partner 

  • 21 Dec 2020 9:49 AM | Audrey Bryson (Administrator)

    Ask The Experts is a series in which we ask design leaders from our community common questions from UX professionals or those seeking a career in UX. This month we're covering distinctions between design roles. 

    In your opinion, what qualities distinguish senior designers from junior or lower-ranking designers? What would you recommend to designers looking to move into a senior role?  

     The core ability of a senior designer is to solve complex problems with usable and elegant designs. Key qualities of a senior user experience designer include: 

    1. In-depth understanding of the target users and key use cases
      We expect a senior designer to have excellent research skills. They should be able to partner with the right stakeholders, customers and users to get to this understanding and to verify design proposals. For technology companies, the users and use cases can be very technical. A senior designer has typically experiences with multiple complex products, which allows them to get up to speed to a new product quickly and contribute soon after they join the team.
    2. Command of design patterns and best practices
      A senior designer needs to be able to match users’ needs to relevant design patterns to figure out the best ones for each use case. In an enterprise setting where users work with several products from the same company, it is important for a senior designer to be aware of the different use cases of these design patterns across products so that the design they create for one product is not only usable, compelling but also cohesive with other products in the same system.
    3. Ability to design at different levels and recognize when to use which level
      In order to create a solid design solution, many design decisions need to be made at different levels. For example, if it is in the early stage of the product cycle, a concept design may be needed to get the team on the same page about a design direction or vision. During a specific feature design phase, detailed interaction behaviors, UI controls, wordings, accessibility features, etc. may need to be specified. A senior designer is expected to know how to work at different levels of designs and guide the team towards a solution, figuring out the right amount of detail at the right time.
    4. Capability to influence others
      Without the ability to inspire and call team members into action, a great design may only remain on paper. In order to get great designs into products, and into the hands of the users, a senior designer needs to be seen by the product team as a trusted advisor. They must be able to collaborate and motivate team members to implement the envisioned design.
    5. A big tool box, with a strategic mind
      A senior designer possesses key skills spanning across many areas, such as user research, illustrating user journeys, designing user flows and screen layouts, creating interactive prototypes, and communicating designs in a manner to inform, motivate and inspire the team. They typically have a large toolbox of skills that they can draw on to get a job done. In addition, a senior designer has the ability to transfer knowledge from one team to another. They can build on previous successes to influence at a higher level across the organization so that good design processes, methods and thinking are adopted by teams beyond the immediate ones they work with. Finally, we expect a senior designer to be able to mentor junior designers to help grow a team with key skills in research, design and collaboration.

    For someone looking to move into a senior role, we recommend developing the core skills of design and user research. Reflect and accumulate working knowledge with each project. Find opportunities to hone your soft skills—communication, collaboration and even negotiation. See if you can tie your specific work to larger missions at the division, organization or company level. Connect and work with people with different job titles and personalities. Seek opportunities to be a buddy or mentor for someone who is just starting their career in design. You do not have to be successful in all the challenges you take on, but you will go far if you treat each as an opportunity to learn and add to your toolbox, network and circle of influence."

    Huifang Wang, Senior Manager of User Experience Design 

     The best designers are the best collaborators. Senior designers have developed skills that are hard to teach - they know how to articulate decisions, listen, collaborate, and iterate based on feedback. Above all, they know that they are not the most important person in the room. The best design is not the most aesthetically pleasing one; instead, it's a design that meets both business and user needs. There is no way to come up with the perfect design without working closely with a cross-discipline team.

    Any designer looking to move into a senior role should understand that promotions can take time. Be patient. The most important thing for you to focus on is your career growth. What are you interested in learning? What experience or skills could help you be a better designer? Once you identify your focus areas, you can seek mentors to help guide your career path. Mentors could be in your local community (like the Triangle UXPA) or at your workplace. For more on mentorship, check out my 2017 article in User Experience Magazine."

    Andrew Wirtanen, Senior Product Designer

     Band level or formal rank certainly involves comfort and established success of wielding design skill.  In a more senior rank, one needs to independently and more effectively know how to design.  But, a senior team member also understands how to interface with other functions, manage stakeholders, and confidently operate within the larger context of the work.   I’d recommend early career designers study how to balance affecting the details (design output) while also affecting the bigger picture (project outcome)."     

    Aaron Stewart, Director Next UX & UX Research 

     To me, what makes someone a senior designer is the ability to handle uncertainty. Even if a designer is very skilled, if they need specific instructions or well-defined problems in order to make progress, it's hard to see them in a senior role because of the additional management or direction they require. For designers looking to move into a senior role, try to take a more active role during the initial phases of a project. Learning how to break a problem into manageable chunks and how to do meaningful work outside of standard design deliverables is key to being able to take on more responsibility."

    Erik Johnson, Co-Founder 
    Purpose UX

     To me, the difference is between working with an artist versus a communicator. While aesthetics are an important aspect of graphic design, the ability to communicate through visuals is critical for a successful designer. Understanding User Experience principles and practices is essential to successful communication and unfortunately lacking in many student and junior designers I encounter. At the most basic level we provide services to solve business problems. Pretty pictures alone don’t help the bottom line, effective communication does.”

    David Minton, Managing Partner 

     I would say that in my opinion, the qualities that distinguish senior designers from junior or lower-ranking designers is that a senior designer is expected to have years of experience and to have a larger toolkit of foundational understanding that should come standard with solutioning UX problems.  Also a senior designer should be able to see a problem and numerous solutions faster and clearer than a designer with not so much experience.  Senior designers should be adept in numerous digital and analog tools  and be more well-rounded across multiple UX disciplines such as Interaction Design, UI / Graphic arts design, Front-End knowledge, Information Architecture and have a good understanding of color theory.  A senior designer will likely be more empathetic to the user and have a greater understanding of personas and know to keep things in mind such as device usage, world usage, use-cases in workflows and accessibility concerns." 

    Anonymous Design Leader 

  • 17 Nov 2020 6:45 AM | Audrey Bryson (Administrator)

    Ask The Experts is a series in which we ask design leaders from our community common questions from UX professionals or those seeking a career in UX. This month we're covering Design Certifications. 

    In your opinion, what is the value of a UX Design certification? Do you feel this is valuable for design professionals or candidates to have? 

    If you feel that design certifications are important, are there any specific programs that you recommend? 

     We see relevant experiences, portfolio, skills, and education as more important than design certification in a job candidate. Because design is a broad space, you can consider a specialized certification to broaden and complement your strengths. For example, if your only experience/education is on visual design, educating yourself through a certification process on user research, human factors, or design thinking can better prepare you for a career in user experience design. We recommend that you select design certifications that allow you to work on a project that can be added to your portfolio. In other words, design certifications do not by themselves secure jobs. Demonstrated experiences, an enhanced portfolio, broadened knowledge and skills, some of which may be gained from design certifications, are more valuable to an employer.

    Here are some examples of design certifications:

    Huifang Wang, Senior Manager of User Experience Design 

     In your opinion, what is the value of a UX Design certification? Do you feel this is valuable for design professionals or candidates to have?

    UX certifications vary greatly. Some focus on a specific topic area (e.g., IAAP's accessibility certifications), and some are short boot camps that intend to teach you the basics of UX in a week. In general, certification programs can help you achieve your career goals. For example, a UX boot camp could be a first step in establishing your base knowledge in the field and figuring out your interests. 

    Keep in mind there is no accepted industry-wide UX certification, and it's simply impossible to claim expertise because you have a Nielsen Norman Group or Human Factors International certification. If you're thinking about a certification program, I think you should ask yourself, "will this help my career?" and not, "will this look good on my resume?". To be a great UX professional, you must make learning part of your career. Certification is not a destination, but it can be a milestone for your journey.

    If you feel that design certifications are important, are there any specific programs that you recommend?

    As a graduate of Bentley University's Masters in Human Factors in Information Design program, I would recommend their UX Boot Camp or Certificate Program because of high-quality instructors. You can apply credits earned from the certification to the Master's program."

    Andrew Wirtanen, Senior Product Designer

     A certification may help prove dedication and growing mastery to oneself.   That confidence lift carries intrinsic personal value.  I feel the outward value to others is dependent on context.   In an organization with relatively mature UX practice, awareness of the certification may create a moment of creditability among stakeholders or interviewers.  But the substance of what follows will govern what others think of your capabilities.   If the context for you is a rather constant change in stakeholders (e.g. in consulting or serial contract work), the credential may help land some consideration.  However, I’ve not seen UX hiring or stakeholder confidence pivot on UX Design certification.   I’d recommend pursuing any cert based on how it makes you feel about your own skills and passions."     

    Aaron Stewart, Director Next UX & UX Research 

     Certifications are useful when you don't have a body of work, portfolio, or recommendations to demonstrate your capability. I definitely look for certifications or degree programs in hiring for junior positions. That said, certifications only tell me that you have learned a skill, not how well you have mastered the ability to apply that skill. Therefore, a certification may get you an interview, but landing the job will depend upon how well my team and I think you will be able to execute those skills in a live project, based on your portfolio and interviews. The certification is a starting point, but we also look for the interpersonal skills required to collaborate with a team and interact with stakeholders." 

    Randy Early, Experience Manager 
    Atlantic BT

     For me and many others, the ability to explain your process to have a portfolio showcasing quality work is essential. For people already in the field, I think time is better spent working on actual project work than pursuing additional certifications (unless it's for a specific skill you need to acquire that you can't do "on the job"). Certificates can have value for candidates who lack a portfolio and don't have good opportunities to take on actual project work, but even then, I would encourage people to be creative about finding real projects before spending time and money in a certificate course. I don't know about specific programs as me and most designers I know did not go through that type of program."

    Erik Johnson, Co-Founder Purpose UX 
    Purpose UX

  • 06 Jul 2017 10:24 AM | La Tosca Goodwin (Administrator)

    On January 27, 2017, our special guest mentor on the mentorship Slack channel was Amanda Stockwell, owner of Stockwell Strategy and longtime researcher and strategist. Amanda answered question pertaining to UX research. The following is a summary of that Slack conversation.

    Research- Formative vs. Summative User Testing

    by Amanda Stockwell:

    Topics discussed:

    • What’s the difference between Formative and Summative User Testing?
    • Recruiting the right users
    • Formulating questions well, especially when you need to provide specific pieces of domain knowledge
    • Preventing bias and moderating tips

    The following captures the key questions and takeaways from the session.

    Q: Can you start by explaining the difference between Formative and Summative User Testing?

    A: Formative research is done at the onset of a project and use to explore existing problems, general needs, and generally gather insights to help guide the way

    Summative testing is done after a solution is complete (or at least part is complete) and you're looking to verify how successful you were at hitting the goals you set

    Sometimes the methods are the same, but the goal of the research is different.

    Q:  I have heard arguments for not needing to recruit from a target audience so long as you properly set up the initial scenario. How would you respond to that argument?

    A: I whole heartedly believe that you get better research results when you use real representative users. Theoretically, if you're working on something online, and someone is familiar with the internet, they should be able to figure most things out and you'll be able to identify the absolute worst, most glaring issues.

    However, the most glaring set of issues to the general public may not be a big deal to your user set, and you might completely miss things that are big issues to your users.  It’s especially important to recruit your specific target users when working on the figuring out an overall workflow, content, labeling, organization, and navigation.

    Q: Can you talk about how to best write usability test tasks?

    A: Usability testing is all about exploring how easy or not something is to use and specifically designed to have participants interact with something (could be a website, mobile app, paper prototype, etc.) and perform tasks. The researcher observes users’ interactions and may give the participants specific tasks to complete.

    The first tip to make sure you set up a scenario that makes sense to the real users and is written from their perspective. Give the participant some context so they can connect your website/application/whatever to their real goals and get in the mindset of truly performing the task.

    You then need to create tasks that would be realistic for your test participants’ real-life goals. For instance, if you’re testing a sporting-goods website with budget-conscious parents, a reasonable task might be something like, “Find your child a pair of soccer cleats for under $35.”

    This task is specific, but it’s not biased and won’t lead the participants in any way. Be careful to avoid including terms that a participant could look for on the page or moving users down a path you’d prefer them to take.

    Q: Do you have any suggestions for writing usability test questions for when you need to provide the user some contextual information (such as credit card number or account id) without leading them?

    A: If there is general domain knowledge that you need to assess in your participants, you can start with a short set of interview questions designed to glean what they already know, then have a few versions of tasks written and tailor the way you ask the questions to the level of knowledge they already have.

    If there is specific information they need along the way, you can just give them the general tasks and tell them to let you know when they need specific data.

    For instance, I recently did a study on the tax forms people need to fill out to be able to serve liquor. I told them to just go about as they thought they would, and any time they thought they needed a piece of information (like a tax code or account information) to let me know, and I would provide it at the time. I had index cards printed out with that information so I could hand it to them one at a time, but if they didn’t know to ask for it, I didn’t provide it.

    Q: What is the best way to prevent bias of the moderator/UX Designer/Researcher?

    A: The first thing is to be aware that everyone is naturally inclined to lead people one way or another and you need to practice writing the questions in a neutral way. It's little, subtle differences that make a big difference. For instance - "Tell me about x" is WAY more open than something like, "How did you like..."

    Regardless of how well-written your script, it can be tempting to stray from the plan or blurt things out. To help with this, practice being quiet as much as possible, avoiding temptation to blurt things out, and find ways to keep your hands busy, such as holding the script, taking notes (even pretend ones!) or even gripping your hands behind your back.

    It’s also helpful to get feedback from colleagues and perform a pilot session, especially with usability tests. Another person can help you identify wording issues or places that might be confusing. Although not always possible, it can also help to record your research sessions and watch yourself later.

    Really, moderating is a difficult skill but the best way to get better is to practice, practice, practice!

  • 27 Jun 2017 7:28 AM | Michelle Chin

    In May, we celebrated Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) at SAS with A11yRTP. (A11yRTP is the local accessibility meetup and if you’re not currently a member, we encourage you to join!) We kicked off the event with opening remarks, two great speakers, and a hand-ons lab for attendees to try simulations of impairments and assistive technology (AT). This recap includes a comprehensive list of accessibility resources.

    Why is accessibility important?

    When most hear about “accessibility” they’re not sure what it means exactly or it sounds complicated master or implement. Ed Summers from SAS and co-organizer of the A11yRTP meetup gave some opening remarks of why accessibility is important. He said think of it as an “absence of barriers” - with that individuals can get an education, diplomas, and jobs and maintain dignity and independence.

    It’s not so much about checking off boxes to pass a standard, but it’s more about providing the same opportunities for everyone. Ed referenced the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Preamble, which also gives a good overview on the foundations of accessibility.

    Accessibility in Today’s World

    We had the pleasure of hosting two speakers for the event. Ryan Benson, the Lead Technical Subject Matter Expert for Section 508 and the Center for Disease Control and Liani Yirka, Accessibility and Inclusion Coordinator at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

    Ryan provided an overview of different aspects of accessibility and some introductory tips that we can all consider when designing websites or software. As part of his job, he consults colleagues on the accessibility of sites and software. He mentioned that it’s always best to proactively consult with accessibility experts early on in the process to avoid having costly and last-minute changes at the end.

    Liani Yirka is the Accessibility & Inclusion Coordinator at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. It’s her job to ensure an equal visitor experience for all audiences. As most of us are UX designers in the digital realm, it was fascinating to hear what it’s like to consider accessibility from a museum’s perspective.

    Accessibility Lab

    After our speakers, we had hands-on lab time that included several activity stations, where people could simulate different impairments (e.g., blindness, mobility issues) and try out assistive technology (screen readers, wheelchairs). The idea behind the lab was to gain empathy and understanding through first-hand experience.

    Some of our stations included:

    • Vision impairments - low vision, color blindness, no vision; how to use a cane to navigate your physical surrounding
    • Screen readers - how people with vision impairments can navigate the web and apps
    • Accessibility checkers - how these are used to check your site to for accessibility
    • Motor skill impairments - simulation of low dexterity and tools you can use to navigate the web and apps
    • Mobility - using a wheelchair to get around

    It was a lot of fun trying the simulations, the tools used to assist people, and the tools which help test for accessibility.


    As UX professionals, you can help design inclusively. By making your site or product accessible, you’re making it easier for everyone to use - including those who don’t rely on assistive technology.

    To help everyone learn more about accessibility and the tools out there that can be used, we’ve compiled a huge list of resources. We recommend starting small and trying a tool from each section at a time or it can be overwhelming.

    Why accessibility matters

    General accessibility information

    General accessibility checkers

    Developer resources

    Standards and laws

    WCAG also has two companion standards:

    Vision Disabilities

    People’s visual disabilities often fall into two categories. People who have low vision mainly (or at least often) use their eyes to interact with technology. People with no (functional) vision mainly use their ears and hands to interact with technology. People with no (functional) vision use screen readers.

    Some common eye diseases/conditions include:

    Screen Readers

    Screen readers are used by people with little to no functional vision. Screen readers let you use a computer, phone or tablet with your hands and ears, rather than with your eyes. They announce on-screen content and provide special ways of interacting with a device.

    • JAWS (Windows) - there’s a free trial

    • NVDA (Windows) - it’s free!

    • VoiceOver (Mac) - To get started with VoiceOver on Mac OS X, go to System Preferences > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Open VoiceOver Training, and go through the training exercises.

    • VoiceOver (iOS)

    • TalkBack (Android)

    Screen Magnifiers

    People with low vision sometimes use screen magnifiers to make content on screen easier to see.

    Tools for simulating or checking

    Motor Disabilities

    Some individuals might not have the ability to use a mouse and have to navigate with a keyboard. Some examples include those with temporary conditions (e.g., broken hand), those with arthritis, and those who are paralyzed. Keyboard shortcuts are also great for power users of your product or site.


    Navigating web browsers

    Using mobile devices

    Cognitive Disabilities

    Auditory Disabilities

    Some individuals might be fully hearing impaired or only have partial hearing. This can be permanent or temporary (e.g., ear infection, can’t hear the TV at a sports bar). In this case, videos and sound files can be transcribed.

    Writing for Accessibility

    Organizing Your Accessibility Work

    At SAS we organize our accessibility work into five categories: Mobility, Low Vision, No (functional) Vision, Hearing / Multimedia, and Cognitive / other. These categories help us stay focused on the needs of users with a wide range of abilities during the agile development process.

    • Mobility – covers the needs of people with motor impairments that prevent them from using a mouse or touch interface.

    • No (functional) Vision – relates to vision impairments that prevent a person from using their eyes to interact with a computer or mobile device. People without functional vision use screen readers such as JAWS or VoiceOver.

    • Low vision – involves vision impairments that reduce a person’s ability to see clearly, distinguish colors, and so on. This category covers people who primarily use their eyes with a computer or mobile device, and who may need features like high contrast, zoom, etc.

    • Cognitive and other – relates to impairments that reduce a person’s: memory; problem-solving; attention, reading, or verbal comprehension; math comprehension; or visual comprehension (WebAIM). This category also includes considerations for people with photosensitive epilepsy.

    • Multimedia – covers auditory and visual impairments in relation to audio and video content. Note that multimedia content is typically created by a different group of people and processes outside of our R&D organization.

    We break down the 39 success criteria we use during accessibility testing -- the 38 WCAG 2.0 level AA criteria plus one, 1.4.6 Contrast Enhanced, from level AAA -- using these five categories as well. The paper Accessibility and SAS® Visual Analytics Viewers: Which Report Viewer is Best for Your Users' Needs? is an example of a project where we used these five categories as a framework to organize our work.


    Thanks to the volunteers from SAS, the Governor Moorehead School, and Duke Web Services for helping at the activity stations and making this event a success. Thanks to SAS for the event space and special thanks to Donna Faircloth for coordinating and Jesse Snooke for coordinating and helping with the list of resources.

    We’re looking forward to next year’s GAAD!

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