It started in 1989 with an educational discount copy of Aldus PageMaker and a Mac SE. A lot of sale fliers, direct mail, signage, catalogs, newspapers, branding, websites, rave fliers, t-shirts, instruction manuals, information architecture, systems design, 3am press checks, exhibition booths, metal type, scientific illustration, presentations and typography ensued, capped by the late-90s move into organizations starting to use the web to deliver applications. A lot of these early UI jobs were just "skinning" an existing interface to make it on-brand or even just "not as bad as what the devs did," (a lot of black text on red backgrounds, curiously). As the field matured my interest in it grew, and by the time I was working full time in-house the day-to-day of "what it looks like," took a back seat to "how does it feel?" Since then I've continued to hone my skills as an interface and UX designer while not forgetting the important lessons of my background.
Anyone who does enough similar projects and cares about their work eventually starts looking for ways to make that process more efficient or open up new areas to improve user experience. Many of the challenges designers face, even in established UX organizations, are not new ones nor are many of them even unique to user experience. Having worked in a wide variety of organizations I was able to learn what works and what doesn't. In the pursuit of trying to deliver on the goals of UX I started to use design methods and techniques to help resolve organizational challenges, which are frequently a greater risk to overall user experience than the success of the final design. The best design in the world is only as good as its implementation and deployment. A good designer can communicate their value without having to dominate the conversation.
My personal hobbies include travel, photography, cooking, Japanese watches and expensive design books.
As the systems we use become increasingly complicated increased investment in user experience is more important than ever. Great usability is a result of not only smart design but smart collaboration across all layers of product development. Design strategy is a critical component of this, not only to ensure quality but also to bring all the people involved into participating in bringing a superior experience to end users.
I'm not a big fan of the current fetishization of design, particularly as manifested in the number of breathless thinkpieces about how some CEO discovered the true meaning of User-Centered Christmas by spending millions of dollars subjecting a large cross-functional team to a nigh-endless array of design thinking buzzwords, guest speakers, consulting company process models, mediocre catering sandwiches (sorry Specialty's) and sticking some dots on a piece of poster paper. Most people you work with are good at their jobs and letting them do what they're best at will lead to the best outcomes. As designers we should know that in an interconnected system there is no most important component and work as hard as we can to facilitate good product development. Primacy of design is replacing primacy of technology as the engine of a hype train that produces a lot of noise and smoke but ultimately leads nowhere.
Nobody ever says that something is too easy to read, that the layout is too simple to understand or that their lunch is too delicious (that last one has probably happened but I'll assume it was facetious). The push to make UX delivery "lean" has also led to a push to make those experiences lean as well, often to the detriment of the end user. The fact that I have five ways to open a new browser tab has never harmed my ability to use a web browser. Simplicity, like consistency, is a tactic or a guiding principle but it's not a commandment. If you're trying to do something complicated you may need a complex, yet still well-designed, system to achieve that goal. Additionally it's possible to use design to reduce internal friction. If you're a designer you already have the skills to make your deliverables as much of a pleasure to consume as the end user of the design you're communicating. If you're hamstrung by your tools, get better tools or make your own.
You don't have to reinvent the wheel on every project. We are fortunate enough to be able to use the learning of others in developing interfaces. An interactive system that is more familiar to end users will provide a superior experience to one that is entirely novel. That's not to say that new interactive models are bad but if you're going to build something entirely new it's critical to ensure that it's entirely superior to any alternatives, including an existing version of the same product. One of the hardest parts of interaction design is having the discipline to reject novelty and the confidence to make difficult decisions.
Accessibility and inclusion are, in my opinion, the next large topics in user experience that aren't getting the attention they've traditionally deserved. To design without regard for the impact on real people's lives or to not address those needs when they're communicated to an organization is a professional failure. It's increasingly common that people use the systems they do not by choice but obligation and I feel that designers have a responsibility to keep those "corner cases" in mind, because frequently they end up being quite common. Additionally, as we are frequently the facilitators of communication we have an obligation to prevent that communication from becoming toxic, both inside an organization or among the users of its products. Saying "no" can be a valid design decision.
Design is everywhere. Formal usability labs, industry events, articles, blogs and the like are valuable resources. On the other hand there is no better way to educate and improve your own awareness and ability in UI design than being a conscientious consumer of interfaces. We all use a vast number of interfaces every day to live our lives. Think critically about all the tools you use, digital or physical.