Job: User experience (UX) designer
The role: While it was once common practice to read instruction manuals after purchasing any kind of technology product, it is now widely expected that such products are intuitive enough to operate right out of the box, no instructions necessary. It is up to a UX designer to make both hardware and software as easy to use as possible.
"A UX designer exists to analyze, reduce and optimize the gap that is experienced when a human interacts with a machine," said Ricardo Vazquez, a product designer for Canadian e-commerce platform Shopify and the lead UX instructor for Toronto-based coding school HackerYou. "The role of a UX designer is extremely important to ensure these interactions are as logical, seamless, intuitive and pleasing as possible."
Mr. Vazquez explains that UX designers study how humans interact with technologies ranging from smartphone applications to washing machines, and make informed decisions on how to optimize human-computer interactions.
"Designers are as much artists as they are strategy thinkers," he adds. "They focus on product growth while keeping humans at the centre of everything they do."
As a result, the role may include research, visual design, motion design, prototyping, writing code and product development, among other activities.
Salary: In a field that emphasizes experience over education, Mr. Vazquez says that salary is often determined by seniority. He adds that while junior UX designers typically earn $50,000 a senior designer can earn six figures.
"A second key factor is whether the employer is a startup or an established company," he said. "Startups in the tech industry often offer their employees a generous stock option plan in lieu of a higher salary."
Education: There are no mandatory educational programs, qualifications or licensing requirements for UX designers. In fact, Canadian colleges and universities only began training students for the role in the last few years.
While there are now postsecondary institutions offering training in user experience design there are also a variety of part-time or crash-course programs offered by organizations such as HackerYou, BrainStation, RED Academy and BitMaker. Such programs typically range from eight to 12 weeks, and can cost anywhere from $2,500 and $14,000.
"A postsecondary education in visual communication, media, art history, systems design engineering and the arts are common in individuals with this job title," adds Mr. Vazquez. "Regardless of the individual's education, all UX designers employ high degrees of empathy and observation; both skills that are nurtured through experience."
Job prospects: With the growth of Canada's technology in recent years, and with other industries increasingly incorporating technology into their products and services, job prospects for UX designers in Canada are strong and only expected to continue growing.
"Fields such as conversational design, voice interfaces and virtual reality did not exist in this capacity a mere five years ago," adds Mr. Vazquez. "It is a truly exciting time for UX designers."
Challenges: As technology continues to advance, however, Mr. Vazquez says that the role of a UX designer is becoming increasingly complex, and those who want to thrive in the industry must adapt quickly. "In order to ensure continued success in this field, an individual must have the constant desire to learn new methodologies, approaches and strategies in order to improve their craft," he said.
Why they do it: As a career that draws heavily on both technical and creative skill sets, UX designers enjoy a career that spans many disciplines and has significant real-world applications.
"Using empathy, observation and a human-centred approach, a UX designer's North Star is first and foremost to improve people's lives," said Mr. Vazquez. "The meaning of this work becomes apparent when one realizes that design is in everything we do, anything we touch and everything we experience."
Misconceptions: While many believe that the role is mostly technical Mr. Vazquez says that the job draws on a wide range of skill sets. More than a coder, he sees UX designers as advocates for users within the technology industry. "Creating human-centred experiences involves the energy and commitment of a wide range of disciplines," he said.