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We had a recent visit from the National Computer Science School (http://www.ncss.edu.au/) where students experienced the software development environment first-hand. We made them some funky t-shirts and I was to believe that was the end of my responsibilities for the event. Our very own Chris Owen (Senior Confluence Developer) had other ideas! Chris asked if I would write a post on: my experiences as a user interface designer; and ways to get started in the industry. This post is for all the future user interface designers out there!
When I started out, the position of user interface designer didn’t really exist in Australia – there certainly wasn’t any tertiary education available. Trained in traditional graphic design at TAFE, our year were the first to have computers – of which, no-one knew how to use (especially the teaching staff!) My computer class was spent helping classmates as I was already comfortable with using computers to design and illustrate – this was a time when Letraset was all the rage and our use of computers would predominately involve typesetting. We would create an illustration by hand, create typography on the computer, print it out, and then trace it on to the illustration to be inked or painted. We really had to work things out ourselves!
Fortunately, I answered an advertisement for a graphic design position within a software company developing trading applications for Reuters. I attended the interview and got the job – causing much consternation among my peers and teachers who, at that time, didn’t comprehend what I would be doing (neither did I really). They wondered why I didn’t want to work in advertising as a graphic designer.
While at the software company, I was lucky to have a Manager who understood human factors and really helped to develop my skills in that area. I began attending all the courses on user interface design that I could find, leading me down the path of user-centred design. User-centred design is a method that involves end-users and client stakeholders in the design process. It’s an important discipline to understand for any flavour of designer.
Becoming involved in user-centred design, with a background in graphic design, enabled a multi-disciplinary approach and opened a few more doors then otherwise possible. Generally speaking, the roles involved in user-centred design include: user researchers; information designers; interaction designers; and visual designers. The people working in user-centred design arrive from many and varied disciplines that include: psychology; anthropology; business analyst; technical writer; industrial design; and of course graphic design.
Over the years my experience has grown with the industry and includes: an innumerable amount of research sessions with users; working with some of the smartest people in the business; attending and presenting at conferences; teaching user-centred design; and developing online visual styles for many large corporations. Arriving at my present location involved: a fair portion of luck; some time spent unemployed; and a lot of trial and error. For those of you just starting out there’s no shortage of user interface design work, however, there is a shortage of talented user interface designers!
My experience as a user interface designer has included consultant roles on projects that differ from client to client. Consulting provided a huge level of variety and helped to build an excellent understanding of the end-user and their experience with my designs. My preference these days is to work in-house where, over time; I can gain an in-depth and detailed understanding of how our products are used and hopefully, provide a satisfying experience for our customers.
Consultant or in-house designer aren’t the only divisions in user interface design, there’s a wealth of disciplines to encounter whether you prefer: academic pursuits and research; talking to and understanding people; making pretty pictures; or just making the world a better place to live in. It’s really down to what you want to do!
About Jason
I work in the Design team – a small group of three that includes: a Designer (that’s me); a Junior Interface Designer; and a Design Engineer. While we don’t employ strict user-centred design techniques, we do draw from a wealth of knowledge gained through my experience as a user researcher. We also eat our own dog food – meaning we use our own products and all design work is implemented on our company Extranet to be critiqued by one and all. You can find me on Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/gooey
To get you started in user interface design here’s a small list of useful resources:
Australian companies:
The Hiser Group (www.hiser.com.au)
Different (www.different.com.au)
Professional associations:
OzChi (www.ozchi.org)
Usability Professionals Association (www.usabilityprofessionals.org)
Very useful reading:
The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman (http://www.jnd.org/books.html)

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