Skills That Lead to User Experience Careers

Onward Search Career Cast, Episode #23

In this episode of the Onward Search Career Cast, we take a look at a variety of skills, jobs and professional experiences that lend themselves very well to transitioning into a career in User Experience.
Career Cast guest, Pete D’Orsi, has been designing and developing websites for over ten years, successfully developed a very popular mobile word game and is currently the head of the User Experience department at PackLate.com. Pete shares the story of how he came to work in User Experience and how each step of his professional journey equipped him with knowledge, skills and understanding that support his current position in UX. From his Fine Arts studies as an undergraduate, to his Philly Geek Award nomination for WordSurge, Pete’s story proves that no one should feel like they don’t have the “right” skills or experiences to work in the User Experience industry.

This is a must listen episode for anyone who is curious about exploring a career in UX but isn’t sure if they the needed background to break in. As Pete’s story proves, there are plenty of professional experiences that lead to a great future in UX.

Episode #23 Transcript

Published on August 9, 2011

Welcome to Onward Search Career Cast, the podcast that brings you the latest insight and career advice from experts within the Internet marketing and creative space.  Onward Search is a leading nationwide provider of web-based talent and offers a full range of recruitment and staffing solutions. If you’re looking for a career in search engine optimization, interactive design, or emerging technologies, you should apply online at onwardsearch.com or call 800.829.0072 and speak with an experienced recruiter today.

Peter ClaytonPeter Clayton: This is Peter Clayton with your host, Hillary O’Keefe, Onward Search’s Online Marketing Manager. Hillary, I understand you and your guest will be talking about transitioning into a career in user experience a hot topic and in demand skill set for sure.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe: That’s right, Peter. Hey everybody. Welcome back to the Onward Search Career Cast. It’s true; user experience is a very hot topic today and that’s because there are a lot of smart companies out there who are really beginning to understand what a well crafted user experience strategy can do for their product and service, and this of course means that there’s a lot of opportunity for talented user experience professionals to get picked up by these companies and develop wonderful careers for themselves. So if you’re interested in getting into this industry but maybe you don’t have all the right background as maybe you perceive it from all the industry buzz, don’t worry.  A wonderful career in user experience doesn’t necessarily have to start with a specific certification or anything else like that.  There are a lot of professional experiences and backgrounds that lend themselves very well to transitioning into a career in user experience and my guest today has exactly that kind of a story in his own background.

His name is Peter D’Orsi. He has over a decade of experience designing websites.  He recently created a wish list called WantsThis.com, it’s a really cool site; you got to check it out.  He has designed an iPhone game named WordSurge.  If you haven’t checked that out, it’s very fun as well, and he currently heads up the user experience Department at PackLate.com plus to top it all off, he happens to be a very old friend of mine.Pete, it is so cool to have you on the show today. How is everything going?

“PeterPete D’Orsi: Everything is great.  Thanks for having me in the show.  It’s nice to talk to you again.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  Of course, of course.  This has been fun to reconnect.  I’m thinking that we’ve been… gosh, we known each other for maybe 15 years now.  Does that sound about right?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  That sounds about right.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  Oh my goodness.  Well I can say for sure for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been working on the web and with design in some kind of a capacity or other, but how long have you been working strictly in user experience?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  I started working with user experience around five years ago and I’ve been working pretty much full time on user experience for the last two years.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  So you’ve been dedicated for a little bit then.  Let’s talk about what lead you up to your current position in user experience because your story proves that there are a variety of backgrounds and professional experiences that work really well and can support success in a UX career.

Ultimately when it comes down to it, no one should feel like they can’t successfully transition into this line of work.  For example, when you were an undergrad at Syracuse, right?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  Correct.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  When you were an undergrad, you were studying fine arts.  You were a fine arts major.  What kind of elements did you learn through that study still prove valuable in your UX practice today?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  Really, fine arts helps build a strong foundation of designing skills – things like composition, color or scale.  Those skills really translate over when you’re trying to lay out elements on a page and communicate what things are important and what actions are the clear things that you want people to interact with.

By playing with a balance of those elements, it really helps build a visual weight to a page and you can guide a user around those elements on a page.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  At very least even if it’s easy to navigate around a page and I can successfully achieve my goal with the website, there’s nothing worse than an ugly website, right?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  I agree.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  So after fine arts you also studied video game design, more specifically video game mechanics.  What did that teach you about things like engagement and interaction?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  Video games are really surprising, relevant to the user experience.  At the most basic level, video games are trying to engage a user to perform in some sort of objective and then rewarding them when they complete that goal.

So when you’re creating things like your wireframes or your website flows and you’re mapping out how the site is going to work, you definitely want to lead your users down to certain paths and once they accomplished those goals give them something rewarding for finding information that they were originally looking for.  Those things really help build strong interactions and strong engagement.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  And that’s the kind of thing that you can apply later to someone who maybe comes to a website and they approach a shopping decision, maybe they get somewhere to the end of a shopping cart and you really want them to follow down that path that you laid out for them, right?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  That’s an excellent example.  You want them to be able to accomplish their goal of purchasing the item and then feel rewarded once they have that they made the right choices along the way.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  Wonderful.  So from video game mechanics, you then began working in web development and now this is something that people in the industry know it goes hand in hand with user experience.  You know you can’t really have one without the other.  What kind of specific skills or understanding did you learn about as a web developer that helped you transition into a Career and user experience?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  Web developers, especially front-end web developers, are already involved in some degree with the user experience.  By making data more transparent to the end user, to a better tools, that let them access information that they’re looking for, you’re overall making the user experience already better.  Those things really help.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  Okay, and now we get to the point in your career when you began developing mobile applications.  By the way, quick aside, congratulations again on your recent Philly Geek Award nomination for the game you developed, WordSurge.

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  Thank you very much.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  It’s such a cool game.  By the way, my little brother is absolutely nuts over it.  He loves it.  When you started mobile interface design, did you realize like what a big strong connection there was to user experience in general and what did you pickup along the way that you’re still using in your practice, say even for something like PackLate.com?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  Mobile is really exciting and challenging now for a lot of user experience professionals.  The constraints of the platform translate over really well for building strong user experience.  You’re really forcing your users through things like bandwidth restraints, small interfaces and maybe a shorter attention span if they’re on the train or whatever.  So you really want that experience to be as enriching as possible in as short amount of time as possible so that constraint really helps you focus on what’s important for the user.

So building super clean interfaces, things that are easy to navigate,  really helps the overall idea of what user experience is.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  So mobile developers can bring a lot to the table then in terms of user experience?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  More so than almost anything else.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  And of course if they can help me schedule a hair appointment and make a dinner reservation and check my calendar all at once while I’m walking down the street without bumping into anybody or falling down a storm drain, that’s the best user experience, right?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  I would definitely say that all those things really help with user experience.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  Lastly, you mentioned one area of UX that you never really got to experience in any of your previous jobs but that’s so crucial to success in UX and that’s customer service. Now, I could tell you tons of stories about previous retail experiences whether they’re good or bad and speaking with customers but really when it comes down to it, that’s where all the learning takes place isn’t it?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  I mean the absolute best thing that you can do is talk to your users.  It’s called user experience for a reason and customer service people are on the frontlines of talking to users.  They spend their days entering emails and on phone support and the users that end up calling in or writing in are really your most passionate users.  They obviously like your product enough where they want to complain or want help with it, and they’re able to communicate very well what those pain points are with your website, and that information really is the most valuable information that you can get during user experience.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  So even though you didn’t get to experience it in your previous jobs, you recommended it to anybody who has really that frontend knowledge of working with customers that they can apply that in the user experience career?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  Absolutely.  I read every single email sent in to customer service every day.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  Wonderful.  You know what Pete, this has been so informative and I feel like your story is so helpful to anybody out there who’s thinking about getting in to UX but is not sure if they can transition based on what they’ve already accomplished.

So thank you so much for joining me today and sharing all these information.  Is there anything else that you wanted to mention about the Philly Geek Awards or PackLate.com?

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  First off, thanks for having me.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  Of course.

“PeterPete D’Orsi:  It’s a great opportunity to shed some light onto what user experience is.  I mean everybody here is a user and fighting for users is very exciting.  It’s a fun career to have, but of course checkout PackLate.com, that’s my test bed for everything user experience currently.  It’s just been great being on the show.  Thank you for having me.

“HillaryHillary O’Keefe:  Great, great.  Everybody, if you do have experience in UX design or anything like that and you are looking for your next job, we get in hot user experience jobs all the time here on onwardsearch.com.  For example, right now, the Atlanta team is looking for a senior information architect.  The Washington, D.C. team is looking for an interactive UX designer.  There are user experience research openings in Chicago.  Our Los Angeles team is looking for a strong information architect/user experience professional and our San Francisco team is looking for a senior interaction designer.

Don’t forget to check out all those wonderful User Experience jobs over on  onwardsearch.com.  I tell you, it seems like we’re getting new ones in every single day. 

Thank you everyone for listening and I’ll see you right back here again for another episode of the Onward Search Career Cast.

Thank you for tuning in to Onward Search Career Cast. For more information on the career opportunities available through Onward Search, you should visit us online at OnwardSearch.com or call 800.829.0072, and speak with an experienced recruiter. And you should also follow Onward Search on Twitter at Twitter.com/onwardsearch.