UX Field Notes

My faible: Non-Tech Domains

I get the hype about working for big tech companies or high-profile startups. As a UX designer (or product designer), you certainly learn established processes that everyone talks about and uses as industry standards (even though it’s kind of obvious that contexts often differ and no one said it’s a one-size-fits-all approach). You get to work on famous products people love (or not). You might as well get recognition and good ranking among recruiters and design peers.
I’d heard, though (and discovered through hiring processes), that quite often it comes with limited responsibility and ownership. And you find yourself designing buttons for a tiny part of a product or improving couple of screens over a year, plus reporting to a Head of Head of Head of who makes strategic decisions for you. Joking (and not).
Sure, every company, even within big tech, is different, and some seasoned designers might even have a chance to partake in high-level (not top) decision-making.
Big tech or famous startups might be tempting for many. But it was my intentional decision to avoid them. No, I didn’t fail job interviews and I can work in a fast-paced development. I just love much more complex challenges (read: I love swimming upstream). By this, I mean non-tech industries that missed the digitalization bus or underestimated it or companies trying to automate manual processes with digital solutions.
Just a 3-hour generative research in such environment gives you astonishingly useful insights and a solid reason for excitement. Sometimes you don’t even have to talk to customers. Just observe and talk to your colleagues from different departments who work with customers – you’ll be rewarded with a pile of improvement areas that would secure a UX strategy for the next 2 years at least. Besides, you get to contribute to something meaningful for many people, especially in a public domain.
Of course, there are downsides to working as a UX designer in such a field. First, you have to deal with rigid internal processes that might prevent you or your colleagues from doing the job well. Second, you have to consider and find ways within legal, governmental or technical constraints. These are usually more restrictive in public or similar non-tech domains (at least in Germany). Finally, you’d also be the only UX person or part of a small UX team. It means you’ll likely cover many task areas (research, concept, detailed design, UX writing, testing, and even branding). Some of you would consider it a plus, though, and I’d agree.
Because it’s a lot of fun, as you’ve probably sensed. Thanks to its multi-layer complexity, I believe this option is great for growing fast and learning continuously. You just need a pinch of courage and a pretty thick skin.