The Art Of Avoiding Dodgy Design Jobs


I get to chat with quite a few designers and UX pros in my digital and real life wanderings. One thing I find fascinating, is that job titles across teams are so bizarrely fluid.

Every once in a while I stumble across teams with matching titles, but upon further digging I discover that the titles mean completely different things in the 2 organizations.

So lets take a look at this.

Part 1: Why aren’t there set standards for job titles in the design & UX industries?

This is one of the most bizarre aspects of working as a UX pro or a designer. Pull up a job board, and search designer. You’ll get hundreds of hits. As a designer, this will fill you with glee… until you start reading the job descriptions and you realize that only about a quarter of them align with your skill set.

Some common descriptions?

  • Designer = Strictly A Graphic Designer.
  • Designer = Strictly An Interaction Designer.
  • Designer = Strictly A Front End Developer.
  • Designer = UX Pro with research, content strategy, IA or a variety of other specialty backgrounds
  • Designer = Generalist who can handle 3 or 4 of the above skills in various combinations

What the what is up with this giant rift of job title understanding? It’s a mess. Even designers argue about what the job titles “really mean.” And the worst part is that companies without previous design experience (Believe it or not, those companies still exist. Seriously) don’t even know how to explain what they want, even during interviews.

This moves me along to part 2.

Part 2: Why do design jobs sometimes turn into black hole, toxic, soul sucking work environments?

So lets say you go in to an interview, and the company rep tells you that they’re looking for a graphic designer. You’re pumped and you dive in.

After about 3 months you want to dive out… a 5 story window. Why? Because what the company described as graphic design is actually light graphic design mixed with tons of interaction design and front end development. And when you try to explain that you don’t have experience with front end dev or interaction design, they get frustrated and claim that you misrepresented yourself during the interview. They say you’re a designer, so you should be able to do all of the things. So you find yourself scrambling around nights and weekends trying to cram 10 years of front end dev & interaction design knowledge into 2 weeks so you can keep your job. (Feel free to apply for other jobs at this point if you discover that you aren’t at all passionate about the other surprise job expectations. As designers, passion drives us to creating extraordinary things. Being forced to do things you aren’t even remotely passionate about can be soul crushing.)

Part 3: How do you avoid landing in a situation like the one described above?

Knowing how to ask the right questions during your interview can help. When a company says they are looking for a designer, ask clarifying questions to make 100% sure that they know what they’re actually looking for.

1. Will this job require me to make graphics in a program like Photoshop or Sketch?
2. Will I need to create wireframes or workflow diagrams in a program like Azure?
3. Will I need to know how to develop front end code?
4. Will I be conducting any research with your clients?
5. Will I be in charge of creating product prototypes?
6. Will I be expected to build (develop) the products I design? (Seriously, this happens.)

You can ask about a million additional clarifying questions, but those are just a few to get you started.

I know this may sound obvious for some people, but folks who are just entering the design field sometimes assume that companies know what they are looking for when they interview for design positions, and unfortunately that isn’t always the case. If the person who is interviewing you says they aren’t 100% sure what the job will entail, you may want to dodge the bullet.

If you  have run in to this situation in the past, don’t feel like it’s your fault. Between the confusion around titles and companies not always having a firm grasp of what they’re looking for, even the most seasoned designers can end up in an interview/job that doesn’t apply to their skill set.

To sum things up, don’t be a afraid to ask in depth questions during your interview. It can save you AND the company months of frustration. And, if you ask all the right questions and still end up in a position where the company is flinging bizarre requests at you that are out of your range of skills (and you aren’t being given time to master them and/or you have exactly zero interest in adding the random skills to your professional skill set), don’t be afraid to exit stage left and apply for other jobs.

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