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I find myself in need of some career advice. I work in a small, purposefully-secluded web development department inside a larger company. Everyone else on the team is a front-end or back-end developer and profess themselves misanthropes who don't know a lick about design. Yet, when I try to do my job (design customer interactions with the site, address their reported pain points, research better solutions, address business performance issues, just generally make the site easier on the eyes) I'm fought at every turn. I'll present my boss with research (from data-driven places like http://www.nngroup.com/) have him agree with me, and then overhear him the next day approving fundamental changes a developer wants to make to make it easier to code. I've talked to him in private, walked through research articles and google analytic with him but nothing ever changes, no matter how many time he agrees. He also Photoshops my mock-ups and draws (frankly, stupid) wire-frames and expects me to "make them pretty", getting frustrated when I don't create "What he had in mind".

The environment is also toxic. I've been yelled and cursed at (My boss only addressed the issue after I got HR involved). Co-workers are hostile to one-another and insult and argue with each other (for fun?). I've had co-workers watch videos of people being shot to death on max volume (with racist commentary). On top of that, I am the newest, the youngest, and the only woman in the department.

My question is this: This is my first UX job, a field in which I am quite interested. I have only been there 8 months. Should I stick it out for the "minimum" year or should I move on? My previous jobs were mostly college temp jobs and I don't want to look like a jumper, but nothing I design actually gets implemented and I can't put any of my pre-ruined work up from this job because it's proprietary. What should I do?

  • 4
    Hey Elle, welcome to GD.SE. Sorry you're in a tough spot at work. :\ This is my opinion, but my god, leave. UX designers are hot commodities right now, especially ones that are hungry and who care about designing great user-centered solutions. It sounds like that is not a priority for the company you're currently at, and that's their prerogative, but it doesn't seem like there is much opportunity to grow as UX designer in that environment. Get out of there and find a place that values their users, and will allow you to flourish. – Vicki Oct 7 '15 at 0:13
  • Thanks for your reply. That's about were I am now, thinking that anywhere I would want to work isn't looking solely for a certain number and more for skill and talent. That being said, do you have any tips for pitching myself with such a short duration of job experience? – Elle Kelsheimer Oct 7 '15 at 0:55
  • Consider putting together a portfolio that shows you know how to problem solve. Whether that involves graphic design samples, web design, UX wires, whatever, many UX designers come from a varied background. My favorite UX portfolios present things in a "case study" format (this was the problem, this is how I solved it). In any conversations you have with prospective employers, try to speak to the things you've learned over the last 8 months, but that you are looking for a place where you can better grow and push yourself as a UX designer. – Vicki Oct 7 '15 at 1:07
  • Thanks for your advice, Vicki. I'm actually working on a new portfolio right now, since my current one is more general and isn't UX-focused. Have a great evening! – Elle Kelsheimer Oct 7 '15 at 1:16
  • Really solid, Elle. I like that it shows your personality, but also gets right to point and showcases your work. Ultimately, seeing a final site isn't critical (not when I'm looking at portfolios, at least). This shows a lot of thought and detail and planning, and that's what someone hiring should be looking for. I think you should easily be able to get an interview with this. :) – Vicki Nov 6 '15 at 19:15
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Some push-back from clients is a common frustration for a designer. But there are several things that aren't normal about this environment:

  • It's not normal for a company to be run by developers, for developers. Your boss would not normally be a developer, the person making the call about your designers would normally be a project manager or "product owner" whose job is to balance business, marketing, logistical, UI and aesthetics considerations.
  • Every work environment sits somewhere on a scale from cooperative to combative - this sounds like it's at the extreme end of combative. It sounds like everyone is expected to fight their corner, which suits some people and not others. It also sounds like there's a cultural bias which means that for designer to flourish there, they'd need to be naturally combative, very thick skinned, and very good at "thinking like a developer" and pitching ideas to a developer.
  • And the "racist murder videos at top volume during work hours" thing... Yeah, that'd be a sackable offense anywhere I've worked.

Based on this, I'd say Vicki's comment has it spot on. Work on your portfolio - and don't be afraid to include rejected designs. Look for places to work that suit you better - which will be 99% of workplaces.

And before you leave, consider it a "baptism of fire" helping you develop the important designer skill of being thick-skinned and handling tough criticism professionally. Keep basing your designs on user research - 99% of workplaces will value that.

I would say, if you can stick it out until you find something better, do. A few months' somewhere and you're still there will be asked about in an interview, but won't necessarily look bad and will give you an edge over graduates with less experience. A job that only lasted a couple of months will look bad at first - though if your portfolio is good you should still get the chance to explain in an interview.

When explaining, it's generally not a good idea to badmouth your last employer, even when they're this bad. For example, even though any reasonable human could understand you walking out of the "racist murder video" office, it's so extreme it risks eclipsing your skills - you wanted to be remembered as "excellent designs based on user research lady", not "racist murder video office lady".

Stick to the positives - you want to work somewhere where user-centered design is valued and where user research is factored into decisions. You want to work in cooperative workplace with high standards of professionalism at all times. For most modern employers, that'll be exactly what they want to hear.

--,

In the short term, something that often helps with difficult clients is presenting several alternate options, even for simple jobs. This makes it easier for them to give some constructive feedback. It will also be helpful for portfolio building and for improving your skills despite the lack of quality feedback - if your boss isn't helping you push yourself to create better and better designs, compete with yourself. For each job, come up with a concept, develop it, then try to best it.

1

Unfortunately, you need to first accept that you have a role your boss want you to have. Then, stop the "resistance" and go with the flow if you still want to work there.

Some workplaces are like the one you described; your role might not be to do the best work ever but to simply create a concrete result of the "vision" of your boss. That might not be a place where you will perform; that might be a place where you'll make money, gain negotiation skills, and experience though. It's useless to fight against this but learning how to share your ideas and get them approved is also a very great skill to learn; you're in a place full of that kind of challenge and see this as something positive you'll gain from this experience!

If you do resist this atmosphere in the workplace, you will be put in a very bad position and might even get your colleagues against you... which might lead to sabotage, rejection, bad reputation, etc. And ultimately, you will get depressed or even burn out.

The other employees who go with the flow might have simply accepted to be mediocre and/or might simply work for the money or there's a detail you're missing about yourself and that you can improve. Simply put, you're maybe the only one working with that goal in mind and this can happen in places where that kind of mindset has been there for years or where older employees mold the new ones. It's also possible they're simply better negotiators than you and know how to not get too technical when presenting a project; lot of very smart and skilled people have hard time presenting their ideas and what's obvious to them isn't to others. Sometimes a little bit of neuro-linguistic helps a lot! There are lot of factors why your ideas are not implemented. It could even be the good old patriarchal sexism if you're a woman or because of your young age, and these are all things that are hard to change but it's not impossible to prove your value even with these obstacles.

If you really have shown numbers, stats and REAL benefits, and if your ideas were still refused than there's not much more you can do on that side. Either there's a communication issue with the dev where you work or you really are in a place where employees don't cooperate. What will make your boss change his mind is to prove him your ideas will make him earn/save more money. It's that simple.

You have at least 3 options:

1) you implement your ideas without the consent of your boss and then deal with the consequences/benefits (if it works, boss will gain trust in your judgement). I know #1 seems like a risky advice but sometimes being a rebel is necessary and that's also the source of all innovations.

2) you start looking for a new job.

3) you can see if there's a way to build a better collaboration with the dev team or the other departments; build your projects by asking more feedback before going too far, there's more chances they will be implemented. It's totally normal that your suggestions aren't always accepted 100% and it's even harder when working with a lot of colleagues doing different functions. At some point you'll figure out a formula that works well with the boss and team, and your success rate will increase.

It's possible there's little chance anything will change; it also depends on how much you like the projects you work on and how much energy you want to put in solving your issue. The ambiance at a workplace is often a reflection of the boss attitude and you know the boss is there to stay. Sometimes, the boss has simply no clues and you need to find a way to speak the same language as him or her (eg. usually money.) But communication with the other departments can always be improved. As much as you want your ideas to be implemented, the dev also have their self-interest in this. Find it and make it happen.

8 months is not such a short term and if you think of quitting, it's better to quit while your moral is good than hope for something better to happen at the workplace! In fact, some companies have a bad reputation, other employees before you went through the same thing you're going through and they obviously found new jobs where they got hired; even without knowing it, competitors often know about all this. Quitting now therefore shows self-respect and doesn't brand you as being like the people at the company you work for.

  • 3
    The first half is terrible advice, and the second half contradicts the first half. Or at least it sounds like that to me. What is your final advice? Quit? Change? Convince? Accept? – KMSTR Oct 7 '15 at 8:08
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    @KMSTR These are logical options. I'm not taking the decision & wouldn't tell someone else to quit a job because there's other factors (eg. life challenges, family to support, medical insurance, transport, benefits, etc.) There's no contradiction, it's just reality. For freelancers, that kind of boss is the same as clients who ask their brother-in-law's feedback on your design & request changes by providing a nice Excel file as model. These people hire people too. In the end, it's all about negotiating, making allies, just-do-it or quitting. Depends how much energy one wants to invest on this. – go-junta Oct 7 '15 at 9:40
  • Which is why this sentence made little sense in this context, to me: "Unfortunately, you need to first accept that you have a role your boss want you to have. Then, stop the "resistance" and go with the flow if you still want to work there." – KMSTR Oct 7 '15 at 9:41
  • @KMSTR Yes, that's called REALITY! That means stop being frustrated and see the situation for what it is. Then act upon it depending on the pros and cons (which we don't know). Resisting that reality will simply lead the OP to hate the job, and focus on things that (maybe) cannot be changed. That's simple problem management, there's no point in fighting the tide, it's way smarter to surf on it. Every designer has done designs they didn't love but were "good enough" according to requirements; that's the same kind of issue. Not the end of the world & it depends on the priorities of the designer. – go-junta Oct 7 '15 at 9:51
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    @KMSTR "you need to first accept that you have a role your boss want you to have." This means something like: "Your Boss wants to use you as a Photoshop/Wireframe operator. Now from this standpoint on you should try to deal with that." and dealing with that mens "a. quit b. confrontation c. accept it and shut up". – KSPR Oct 7 '15 at 13:11
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From a similar experience, If you do continue at your current employment I would suggest educating the team about UX Design (If at all possible). Involve them in the creation of your concepts and finally if possible start usability testing with identified users who fit the identified personas. Usability testing allows you to demonstrate if a user can use the the software or if they have issues with the proposed concepts. If your boss can watch recordings of the usability testing, showing all the positives and negatives of the current prototype, you will be presenting real users with real feedback that the whole team can learn from. If they don't want to listen to the users feedback...you will be unable to fulfill your role as a UX Designer and should leave.

  • My boss says "Users will use the feedback form if something isn't working for them." Which, as anyone who's ever been on the internet will tell you, is completely wrong and they'll just leave the site and go elsewhere. I've asked him to let me poll users, which would be easy because we have brick-and-mortar stores that I could set up a table in and offer gift cards, etc. He similarly ignores Google Analytics, saying that users leave before buying because they decided to go into the stores. In reality, he wants the freedom to change his mind minute-to-minute without any regard for the users. – Elle Kelsheimer Nov 6 '15 at 16:04
  • Yeah some people will just never accept that the way in which we now have to build software has changed. You are expelling too much energy into something that will only change when it is too late. I would prepare to leave and go somewhere where you can make a difference and have a positive influence. – stephen8989 Nov 7 '15 at 17:03
  • Yeah, you're probably right. I might have watched too much "Never give up!" anime as a kid. Ha ha. I just don't know what to do with myself all day as I have very little work, and the work I do produce is overwritten. Bored, bored, bored. – Elle Kelsheimer Nov 8 '15 at 16:39
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A bit late but - use all that rejected/changed information in your portfolio, they are giving you great material. When job searching (because there is no doubt in my mind that staying there is an option for you), carefully use the situations that have arisen as a way of showing you are adaptable, not single minded, disapproving and unable to fit in (it's ok to disapprove about the videos). There is no harm in telling prospective employers that it wasn't the place for you, but you need to show that you can adapt to different environments, particularly this early on in your career. In short turn the experience into a positive on your CV and get out!

  • A little update: I had rejected wireframes on my portfolio and they suspended me (No, I never signed an NDA) and then threatened to sue me when I quit. Now I'm limited to some non-profit work I did :( – Elle Kelsheimer Mar 7 '16 at 16:57
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I'll be honest, that I've not read through every article, but here is my 5 cents.

I have a weird relationship with stakeholders. They LOVE what I do. I problem solve, talk to product owners about design. I make separate presentations to communicate design concepts to them, because I'm a big believer that different people need different communication techniques and learn things in different ways. So although it means I create a lot of documents I get things done quickly, I inform people, and make it easy for different stakeholders to understand the problem.

I.e. a product owner has a different information need to a developer, so I firmly believe you need to use a different tone of voice at different times in this instance.

But my BOSS HATES THIS, because she'd rather we always stick to a very rigid templates.

I partly understand this because it makes sense that in a company you have a quick way that people can pick up a document and read it quickly. BUT, where that breaks down is when you have a new problem to resolve that the template doesn't really work, and you don't feel comfortable working with the template. So going off piste is the only way to go.

But like I say my Boss hates this and will give me 30 minutes of grief because I sent something to a stakeholder in a plain PowerPoint file, when she is very precious about visio docs.

I can now semi laugh it off, because I know for a fact that there is no way she even looked at the PowerPoint, so its quite funny how she will give me grief about a PowerPoint she never read ;-).

But I'm seeing a lot of MOVE & Jump Ship. Okay one danger with this is that **Everywhere you go in the UX and design community ** you will come across something thats a bit of a [ insert insult here ].

So :

  • Stick it out
  • Make friends and have a mini rant at the [ insert insult here ]'s
  • Keep, scan everything you work on knowing it will make a great portfolio piece Keep your portfolio up to date
  • Develop a thick skin
  • Learn how to cope with and manage the [ insult ]'s and in my case I'm learning to manage my own manager.
  • Avoid, job hopping
  • Keep specific notes of when you were undermined

I'll also be honest, things won't change over night. Because people have all picked up bad habits. Explain route causes. You'll still get blamed for issues and experiences, but that is down more to the other person and not you. But show clearly where things go wrong.

  • A little update: I had rejected wireframes on my portfolio and they suspended me (No, I never signed an NDA) and then threatened to sue me when I quit. Now I'm limited to some non-profit work I did :( – Elle Kelsheimer Mar 7 '16 at 16:58
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Having worked in a number of companies and championed UX I have found a mix between people that get UX and the old school die hard always done it this way 20 years plus monolith block. The latter will expend lots of effort to discredit you primarily because they do not have the skills to understand UX and see UX as career limiting for them!

So bring it on, stand by you principles. You will get support from others and carry promoting UX and gradually you will win. But beware, the dinosaurs will stomp around and try to discredit you until the UX meteor hits them between the eyes and they face extinction.

PLEASE NOTE — These are my personal opinions and are not connected with any specific company that I have been employed by in my career.

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