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Next month, I'm fortunate enough to be starting a new job as a UX consultant at an agency. I'm straight out of an university and this is my first UX job, so, I was wondering if you have any tips for someone in my position? What did you wish that you knew when you first started?

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Same position as me. –  JeroenEijkhof May 18 '10 at 8:00
    
With a UX Exchange reputation score of 1,021 - I'm sure you'll do fine ;) –  Oliver Gitsham May 18 '10 at 15:39
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9 Answers

I just hired a new UX person last week, right out of school. Some highlights of my inspirational (imho) UX talk with him:

  • Always be observing and analyzing. Why is the ceiling this tall? Who is that? Why do they do it that way? When do they decide this? How do they figure it out? Which? What?
  • Never, ever, ever nod your head and say you got it when you don't. It's not rude. They won't think you are stupid. Never accept a terrible answer. Say, "I don't understand what you mean, if you don't have time, how would you suggest I learn about that? I need to know it to do a good job". Designers fail at this all the time. You must understand what is going on. Don't assume you will figure it out. People go years at a job without understanding what that funny acronym stands for.
  • Most organizations communicate like crap. Read this blog post about the curse of knowledge. It's not anyone's fault, but realize that it's your job to help explain things. Learn, then teach.
  • Deliver something useful. This may seem like it goes without saying, but many designers out there (no one here of course) don't deliver usable designs. Think through the problems from the beginning to the end. Don't let people dictate how you deliver. You need to understand the problem and give a thoughtful response.
  • Don't be bullied into not thinking. You might get a boss/colleague who thinks they know everything and all you need to do is XYZ. Think it through no matter what from the beginning. You are responsible for the user experience, not them, no matter what they say.
  • Learn. This is a new job. Learn from it. Observe how an office works. Learn from peers. Find mentors. Learn, learn, learn. You might not have the same job in 5 years, but the lessons you learn stay forever.

Good luck. I hope these tips help.

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I'd like to second every bit of this. –  Sascha Brossmann May 19 '10 at 9:48
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Don't be afraid to say that you don't know. Part of UX is using research to uncovering the unknowns. I often hear many experienced UX consultants, admit that they don't know and respect them for it rather than hearing them "blag" an answer or use extensive jargon to complicate the matter.

Remember that usability testing is the best way to uncover the answers to how users react to certain stimuli and although we make educated guesses, I am always surprised about users' feedback.

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Always ask questions. Always. never feel like any question is dumb. Ask about how the workflow operates. How the deliverables you work on are created. Who approves what. How long is the average turn around time for your deliverables. Just keep asking questions. It shows you are interested in THEM. And it shows that you want to learn what you do not know, and you want to get it right. Just don't keep asking the SAME questions over and over.

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Talk to as many people on the client side that you can. I'm always amazed how the project lead or team fail to give me vital information, and it's not until I happen to have a conversation with Sally from Customer Services that I find it out!

P.S - Customer-facing employees are worth their weight in gold, especially when you've got a client who finds it difficult to let go of the purse strings for user testing.

Good luck :)

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The flip side to Ali's answer - also talk to as many people on the agency side as possible too! Look at how your projects are built, delivered and supported in the long term. Not all insights on a products user experience necessarily come from people with that as their job description.

Oh - and make lots of mistakes. Then learn from them :-)

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I recommend that you get yourself to the annual UPA conference or similar conference—one that spans a couple of days—and attend as many "beginner" and "pracitioner" sessions as you can. I'd do this for a couple of years.

Others on this list might recommend other conferences.

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I agree with Shane Fontane, always ask questions and along with that learn to make decent notes. Nothing will come back and bite you faster than a long discovery session where you took bad notes and then can't remember what was said or can't understand your own writing and so have to go back and ask the same things again.

Make sure you draw diagrams, illustrate what they are telling you, get them to sketch things out for you so that you have a visual understanding of what is being descibed as well as a written one and as soon as you can, re-write them, that way they'll start to stick. It's much easier to take something apart and rebuild it if you really understand how it's built in the first place.

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It's better to have a short pencil then a long memory. –  Matt Goddard May 19 '10 at 12:32
    
What he said... –  Robert Grant Jul 15 '10 at 12:56
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My tip for any new UX Consultant is to learn to listen out for what clients and user don't say.

Most people don't know how to accurately describe the problems they are having. They tend focus on the most superficial aspects, as if changing those will dramatically improve the usability of a product.

It's a common mistake for most people new to UX to take what's being presented to them on face value. Quite often these are just symptoms of a problem and now to the cause.

Listen to what people say but use what you hear to look for the root causes of the problem.

Matt

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Deal with anything contentious verbally (phone / face to face) rather than by email.

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