What Is UX?


Yep, we went there. Well … a little. We talk about pay rates, responsibilities, and career paths for people in “UX.”

You can watch the episode or listen to it.


Matthew: Set a reminder for a month from now for a check-in.

Matt: Yeah.

Matthew: And be like, hey, just want to check in and make sure--

Matt: We have something in common. We're both impressed with my experience.

Matthew: So.

Matt: You were saying?

Matthew: I was saying that I was thinking, and you can tell I was thinking because I was sitting like this, six days ago, according to the LinkedIn post, I posted something on LinkedIn that was, I keep an eye on user experience design-related jobs in Portland because I'm always curious about what the rates are when they get posted. And this one was, the title of the job was experienced designer and the pay rate was $32-48 an hour.

Matt: 'Scuse me, what were those numbers again?

Matthew: $32-48 an hour.

Matt: Okay, just wanted to make sure I heard you correctly.

Matthew: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, to which I was like, F that. Like that's just, I'm sure you can make a case for that, like you found someone and they're on the street and you're like do you know what the letter U is? Yes. Do you know what the letter X is? Yes. Okay, I'm gonna pay you this much money to do some work now. Like there's where I feel like that pay rate really works. And so I posted the following on LinkedIn. I said, hey Portland, 'cause it was a Portland job, and brackets, likely a plethora, if you will, of other cities, no. Please no. Saying yes to this sets the market rate too, too low. You hurt your future self and others by buying into this. And then I ended with, and I'm not saying union, but I'm not not saying union. You know, not that stats are the only thing to go on but 7600 views of this post, which is high for my stuff, 42 likes, 28 comments, so the comments section kind of lit up on this one. A lot of, yeah! And a few people asking really good questions. To everyone who is saying just say no, essentially, do you still have jobs? Which I think is a really good question. You know,

Matt: Yeah. 

Matthew: If you're having trouble getting a job, why wouldn't you take that? And I think that's a really great conversation to have, which is why I reached out to this person and said hey, would you like to talk about this? So somebody messaged me. They said, I wanted to know how much you would recommend a junior UX person ask for a rate. So this is direct to the company rather than through an agency because they're in the process of renegotiating, their contract is coming up. And they gave a lotta the it depends stuff. I talked about my rate, when I charge hourly, which is rare. To me, it's such an interesting conversation in a way because one, nobody ever talks openly about rates.

Matt: Right.

Matthew: Not nobody, but you know.

Matt: Right.

Matthew: Few people do. And there are people out there who are going, oh, rad, 48 dollars an hour, awesome. I understand that can be really great because, you know, I've been there where I'm makin' no money and have very few prospects and someone says hey, for 600 dollars, will you redesign my website? And I'm like, well, I'm about to be kicked out of my apartment, so sure.

Matt: Right.

Matthew: This was back in '99. But I really think that people are, one, they're underselling what their impact is on this work, even if they're new, and two, it's making it harder for everyone to make a living because they're saying yes to this market rate that is far too low for the value that's being provided. So anyway, it turned into some interesting conversation that I think there should be more of.

Matt: Yeah, I can think back probably ten years, having this conversation with people, especially recruiters, and it wasn't as much about the rate but it was about titles because they were pitching everyone as a senior UX designer.

Matthew: Yeah, yeah. 

Matt: People like with one year experience or no years' experience and my point to them was you're doing this, you're hurting everyone else because even if you sell someone like that into a company, now the perception of that company of a senior person's gonna be that junior person that you brought in.

Matthew: Right.

Matt: You're watering down what a senior person's capable of doing.

Matthew: Right.

Matt: I don't know if it had an effect or not but yeah, that frustration, it's a similar thing where you're overselling and undervaluing the impact, yeah.

Matthew: Yeah, and I know we didn't wanna get into job titles at all, but--

Matt: Right.

Matthew: Your point about like specifically the senior user experience designer and its closely-related job titles that has really been frustrating me lately, I will talk to people who are senior UX designers, they've been doing the work for three to four years, they've never talked to a customer, they've never done any usability testing, and this is, I will say, mostly not their fault. The job they're asked to do only is in this parameter, not the wider parameter that you and I kind of quote unquote grew up with. As a UX designer or even the word designer title, you were still expected to be able to know how to do a usability test and know how to do research. It might not be the primary thing you did day-to-day but you still did it.

Matt: Or I will say, I'll even lower the bar to say you participated in it.

Matthew: Right, you may not have led it, but you certainly went out and helped with it.

Matt: Right.

Matthew: And I think that, this is a little generalizing here, but I think there are probably people who do that participation, but I'm running into a surprising number of people who just have not had the experience at all. And I get it at like a large company because large companies, you tend to be required to specialize because there's so many people, it's like, no you do this as UX designer and then you do this as a researcher and you do this as a tester and never the twain shall meet or whatever the phrase is. And I just, I feel like that's a real missed opportunity for the individual's growth of their career.

Matt: I was just gonna make that same point, yes. I recently worked with a client and that was an issue where it was so siloed and the walls were up between those disciplines and just like--

Matthew: Yeah.

Matt: And it did stunt some growth of people that did wanna learn but other groups were very protective of their turf, and--

Matthew: Right. Right, right. Which drives me nuts in the, and again, I'll use UX as a catch-all, the UX community, where for decades, we, again generalizing, we've been saying, we need to break down these silos between design and development and design and business. But then within our own silo, we wanna make more silos.

Matt: It's baffling, I know.

Matthew: It is baffling. It's totally cool if people are like, I love interaction design. I love being in Framer and creating prototypes and animations and stuff like that, great. And I do think that there's space out there for people to really specialize, both inside a company and contract consulting as a prototyper. I love to have people come in who are really, really fast at prototyping to build me something really quick. I can do it, but it'll take me longer. So I definitely understand the benefits of specializing but at the expense of understanding the flow from business as we think we need to, to delivering whatever that is, in the middle of that sits UX somewhere, depending on the organization, and if you're sitting in the very middle of the middle of all that, and you're like, nope, just me, just here, I don't know. I don't think that I would want to work long-term with someone who wasn't curious about how the rest of the stuff worked, right?

Matt: Yeah.

Matthew: I would love to work with people who specialize in it 'cause they love it but have had the experience outside of it, but anyway, soapbox.

Matt: Yep, well done.

Matthew: Little soapboxy, but--

Matt: That's what the internet's for.

Matthew: It is what the internet's for. In fact it was Tim Berners-Lee was originally going to call it The Soapbox. I asked him one day,and he was like, yeah, yeah, that's a true story for all you know.

Matt: Uh huh.

Matthew: I did sit three chairs down from him at a conference one time.

Matt: Oh, is that right?

Matthew: Yeah.

Matt: You breathed the same air as him?

Matthew: Yeah, I did. I did. Like,

Matt: You breathed his air, he breathed

Matthew: Yeah, yeah.

Matt: Shared some oxygen. Beautiful.


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