January: Describe what you do in a memorable way
User experience is full of buzzwords: so much so that one expert in the field thinks that popular user experience words (including UX itself) are losing their meaning. This means you need to create a short, pithy, description of what you do so that senior managers within your organisation 'get it' immediately. Focus on the most important problem that UX can solve in your company and create a conversational gambit from it. For example, "You know how we get lots of customers abandoning the checkout process? Well, what I do is find the problems and tell the development team what to fix." Or, "You know how 30% of our handsets are returned as 'fault not found'? It turns out that most of these returns are because the designers didn't understand how the handsets would be used. I watch customers work and design technology that fits in with the way they think and act."
February: Read a book on user experience
There are many books on usability and user experience that are worth a read. If you'd like a suggestion, we've put some of the best UX books on an Amazon wish list. But to get most from your reading, you need to discuss the book with like-minded colleagues: so join a UX book club. If you can't find one near you, you could start your own or run a book club at work. If you think you've read all the books, then try journal articles. The Journal of Usability Studies is a very accessible starting point; the Journal of Information Architecture is another (both have free online access).
March: Challenge assumptions
Act like an external management consultant and ask some searching questions. Question the preconceptions of your industry and ask, 'What's going on with this interface?' 'Why do it that way?' 'Could it be done better?' You will find plenty of opportunities for initiatives — some big, some small, but all worthy of prompt action. Start by identifying the red routes for your company's web site or product and then step through these tasks, noting problems that you expect users will experience. Present your results in a way that will engage managers.
April: Make suggestions
Have you got ideas about how usability methods will increase profits, cut costs or improve customer satisfaction within your company? Put them in an e-mail and send them to your boss. If necessary, ask him or her to pass them on to the decision maker — but make sure your name stays with them. Volunteer for a visible usability role in one-off projects, the bigger the better. Lead a discussion. Run a usability test. Step forward. Put your hand up. Be seen.
May: Join up as a professional
Gain visibility by becoming an active member of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). The UXPA is a non-profit organisation set up to promote usability and holds an annual conference. Attending the conference gives you automatic UXPA membership, with benefits like a glossy magazine and discounts on usability-related products like Morae so you can get your money back fairly quickly. If you want to join without attending the conference, membership costs $100 (plus a one-time $25 fee). Although its heart is in the US, there are regional groups throughout Europe that run local events. These are usually free and you can attend them even if you're not a UXPA member. Attending these helps you gain experience from your peers and increases your professional know-how. All useful to your company — and to you (when your boss realises).
June: Keep on top of your game
To get promoted, you need to demonstrate confidence in your knowledge and expertise. To get that kind of confidence, you need to know what's happening in the field of user experience. Although there's no single web site you can visit that gives you the full user experience picture, we've put together a web page that aggregates the best and made the page available through Netvibes. You should also track relevant hashtags on Twitter, like #ux and #ia (and while you're at it, follow @userfocus). Whatever your level of experience, you need to keep up to date with user experience news so try to read user experience blogs and articles like this every day.
July: Update your CV
It's worth changing jobs every 5 years or so, to give yourself a new challenge and to prevent your employer taking you for granted. But even if you expect to stay in your company for years to come, keeping your CV up-to-date forces you to notice the gaps in your professional persona and provides a useful insurance policy in difficult times. Create a profile on a web service like LinkedIn to make your CV easy to maintain and to help you network with people in the field (start by adding me to your network). Ask a friend, a trusted colleague or a mentor to look over your CV and give you an independent view of where the gaps appear. Then identify training courses you should attend to address the shortcomings. To get a truly independent assessment of your abilities, apply for a few jobs (you don't have to accept them).
August: Sign up for our usability newsletter (it's free)
This is sent once a month and contains articles and resources on usability sent straight to your mailbox. If you take a holiday in August, look back over our archives, print off a handful of articles and take them with you to read on the beach during your vacation.
September: Start a clipping file showing good and bad designs
One of the many appealing things about user interface design is that it is so visual. Examples are all around us, from door handles that don't work the way they should, to car park machines with more space devoted to ad hoc instructions than controls. If you see a good or bad usability example, take a photograph or make a screen capture. Keep these in a file that you can show to colleagues, post them in a blog or add them to the flickr group, 'This is broken'. As well as giving you industry- and application-specific examples to use in presentations, it provides you with a great opportunity to test out your expertise in design criticism, as you'll need to say exactly why this is a good or bad design example.
October: Stand out from the crowd
Distinguish yourself. You need to become synonymous with user experience in your organisation so that when people need what you have to offer, your name will either immediately come to mind or be the first one mentioned when they turn to others to find what they need. Let people know that you care about usability and become the recognised expert. If you work as part of a user experience team, get a specialism that distinguishes you from everyone else, such as usability testing, information architecture or ethnographic research skills. So identify where your interests lie in usability and what you feel passionate about.
November: Extend your knowledge
Attend one of our usability training courses. We run public training courses in user experience every month at our dedicated training venue in London. And we have over 30 usability training courses that we can bring to you no matter where you are.
December: Write your own white paper
One of the best ways to demonstrate the expertise you've developed over the past year is to write your own 'white paper' on the history and the future of user experience in your industry. Outline the origins of UX in your industry, how it has changed over time, the prevailing controversies and the conventions in the field. Create three possible scenarios for the future of UX in your industry and explain how each might pan out.
…make sure your first deadline is today — not after the next re-org or when that new employee arrives. It does not matter how much pressure you are under, whether you're an employee or a freelancer, to feel really good at the end of the day you need to have made some progress towards your career goals.
Best of luck — personally and professionally — in 2010.
About the author
Dr. David Travis (@userfocus on Twitter) is a User Experience Strategist. He has worked in the fields of human factors, usability and user experience since 1989 and has published two books on usability. David helps both large firms and start ups connect with their customers and bring business ideas to market. If you like his articles, why not join the thousands of other people taking his free online user experience course?
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