The curse of the UX design process

Everybody is doing UX, except you

As a junior/mid-UX Designer, you look around, and what you see? Visually perfect personas, rich journey maps, experience maps, goals, metrics, post-its (a lot of them), research methods, extensive case studies, and the list continues. Everybody is doing UX. Everybody is doing design thinking!

How does this make you feel? Impostor syndrome kicking in, right? You feel overwhelmed, you feel like everybody is doing cool stuff, and you are the only one that is missing out on all the fun!

And what you try to do to overcome this feeling? What I did was to start imitating what others did. Started doing stuff and design artifacts just because I saw others were doing. And I quickly reached a roadblock because on the projects I was working nobody wanted to do all the cool and shiny UX stuff. There was never time for them! This resulted in a lot of frustration from my side. I just couldn’t understand why, because UX does so much good, why would you, as a stakeholder, refuse to apply UX methods?

Of course, I could have started applying UX on fantasy projects, but they lack all the fun because they are not the real deal. You don’t feel motivated to do them, and since they don’t have any value for the real business scene, they are also ignored when you present them in an interview when you try to get hired.

Don’t get scared, there is hope 🙂

Understand the context

Unless you have your own business and you are the only one working for it, you will be working in a team, that collaborates with other teams and everybody under the same business has to follow some processes and ways of doing your job.

Let me tell you my story. I started working in 2017 for an outsourcing firm, and the project I was assigned was for a new client. We had to develop an MVP in three months and then the director from the client had to go to the C-level members and pitch that MVP to obtain the budget.

Did I understand this context? NO! Did I try to understand it at least? NO! I was so immature and so pissed off about the fact that we do design without taking into account the user (because this is what you see all over the internet, user-user-user), that we don’t follow the design thinking process, that I presented my resignation a couple of months later. Everybody was my enemy.

Luckily for me, I was convinced to stay and things changed dramatically and it turned out to be the most user-centered project I ever worked on — with three field studies that required traveling to the US, more than a hundred interviews and usability studies, a lot of surveys designed, in conclusion, we cared about our users. The funny thing is that I worked with the same people, on the same project, nothing really changed, except my way of thinking.

Looking back at the beginning of that journey, it was all my fault. I simply didn’t care to understand the surroundings, how things work, why do they work in that way, and how can I adapt and apply my expertise in the best and efficient way possible. I was too blind by what I saw on the internet about UX design, that you have to do a lot of stuff, value proposition canvas, personas, journey maps, other maps, more maps, more things, and so on, resulting in a very big frustration.

Talk with your stakeholders, your managers, your team, listen, understand, and then act upon. Understand what do they think UX design is, what do they think about the users, what are the business objectives, the success definition, etc. This is the most powerful weapon you can use right away, asking questions then listening. After you gather your data about the business/team, you have all it needs to propose UX activities that are tailored for the context, not just because they are trendy around the internet (eg. Design Sprints).

Focus on outcomes — value

I am privileged to facilitate technical interviews where I work, allowing me to get to know so many other designers and discover their stories, their work, and the way they present their portfolios, it’s awesome!

And because I’ve done this for so long, I’ve started to see patterns across interviews and case studies. A lot of designers (including me at the beginning) focus on outputs, design artifacts, and what they did: “I’ve done a journey map, I’ve done three personas, I’ve done wireframes, I’ve applied design thinking”. That’s great, but why did you do them? What value did they bring? How were the personas used?

Just because the design process tells us to do a lot of things, that doesn’t mean all of them make sense everywhere and every time. Personas don’t always make sense, especially in a context where there are a lot of people that are aware of the user and who he is, thus no need to use personas as a tool to spread the news about the existence of a user. If you are interested in personas, I recommend you reading “The Essential Persona Lifecycle”.

Instead focus to describe the value your decisions brought, regardless of the artifact, the method, whatever you used. I want to learn how you understood your surroundings, your stakeholders, the business, your users, and what decisions did you take. It doesn’t matter that you do only UI, or you do only wireframes, or whatever your role is in the whole process, I want to understand what value do you bring, not that you did some static stuff.

Did you facilitate design sprints? Did you do user interviews? Did you facilitate a pro-persona workshop? Great! What value did that bring? What were the outcomes? This is what I am interested in. Don’t focus on outputs, because if the outcomes are not great, it means automatically that the outputs aren’t that great also, meaning that you did something wrong, maybe you didn’t efficiently facilitate the user interviews, or you biased the results, etc.

Seek mentorship

I wish I had somebody as a mentor to tell me what is right and what is wrong. As a junior designer, I felt absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of information that I was surrounded with — choice paralysis. I didn’t know where to start from and what is good and bad content, I felt intimidated.

On the other hand, when I was a mid designer, I felt like I knew everything, there was nothing else for me to learn. Uhm… wrong 🙂 In fact, I had so much more to learn, but there was nobody there to tell me that.

I was lucky enough to meet incredible people that were far more experienced and smarter than me, so I had the chance to measure my knowledge. It was scary and daunting, but hey, this is the only way to evolve.

As I did evolve, I started being a mentor for other colleagues that were at the beginning of their professional journey, and I could see how much value a mentor can bring. It was incredible to see how motivated the mentees are when they are guided and you show them a path. It’s very rewarding to see them blossom and be happy about their career, in a way, I wanted to be that person I never had.

This message is for both mentees and mentors. Seek for mentorship, and seek to be a mentor. It’s our responsibility, as more experience designers, to help shape the next generations.

Be original

How can you be different if you just try to do what others do? How can you stand out from the crowd if you just replicate?

Be unique. Develop your own process. Have your own style. This will skyrocket your career.


I’m not saying that the design thinking process is broken, just don’t make an obsession about it. It’s not the Holy Grail. Try to understand your surroundings instead, you don’t work in a vacuum, chances are that there are already well-established processes that work great at a company, and you need to adapt to them, instead of being frustrated that you don’t do the things you saw over the internet.

Be unique. Read books. Read even more.

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