Tech hotshots: The rise of the UX expert

As the digital world shrinks down to a screen the size of your hand, demand for user experience designers explodes.

By Howard Baldwin, Computerworld |  IT Management

The job description is amorphous and challenging -- to understand a given app's interface requirements, user experience context and back-end machinations. But the pay is mighty attractive -- between $70,000 and $110,000 to start, recruiters say -- and the perks associated with a UX (user experience) position sound like the halcyon days of the Internet boom: stock options, signing bonuses, flexible work hours.

One recruiter reported seeing one company offering liquor in its vending machines, and one employer offered designers unlimited time off (in return for results, of course).

And UX designers themselves say there are other, intangible benefits to the position. "Money only takes you so far," says Michael Beasley, a designer for Internet marketing agency Pure Visibility in Ann Arbor, Mich. "The work has to be interesting, not the same things over and over again. I like having fresh problems to tackle and the feeling that I'm making a difference for our clients."

Whitney Quesenberry, a UX designer who runs her own agency in High Bridge, N.J., says, "The real perk is meaningful work. Why would anybody want to work on something where you spend the first six months writing about requirements and the next six arguing about them?"

Quesenberry's advice for becoming a highly prized designer with both technical depth and design breadth? Check out one of the multiple masters' programs, such as the one at the University of Michigan, aimed at people already in the workforce, or talk your way onto one of the hybrid design teams that are becoming more prevalent within IT departments and learn all you can.

The Creative Group's Farrugia insists that the more cross-disciplined a designer is, the better, with the ability to combine good design and layout background with technology skills encompassing HTML coding and JavaScript. "The ideal is this hybrid person who's both right-brained and left-brained, high tech and high touch."

That pretty closely describes Michael Beasley, a designer for Internet marketing agency Pure Visibility in Ann Arbor, Mich. He got a BA in both English and music from the University of Michigan, and then stayed to get his masters' degree in Human-Computer Interaction from its School of Information in 2005.

"That's where I got my approach to interface design," Beasley says. "The multidisciplinary approach taught me design, human cognition and usability principles and methods. I also got a good understanding of how organizations work and information flows. That made me a pretty well-rounded person."

Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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