UX Careers: What I've learnt as a Psychology graduate working in UX design
- Tom Harding
It's now just over six months since I started working at Nomensa, a strategic UX (user experience) design agency with offices in Bristol, London and Amsterdam.
In this article, I reflect on my experience of graduating from university and entering the world of full time employment in a fast-paced environment at the Bristol office.
Why a career in UX?
Pursuing a career in UX design was not a childhood dream of mine. In fact, I’d never even heard of the industry before leaving university. I studied Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol with ambitions of becoming a forensic or clinical psychologist. I’d explored various voluntary positions working with mental health charities in Bristol, but the increasingly underfunded mental health sector left me disillusioned. What do I actually want to do with my life? I found myself wondering. What interests me? Where do my skills truly lie? In a world of almost endless opportunities, I’d fallen victim to choice overload – a cognitive process that I’d so eagerly studied in my previous year at university.
I decided to take a step back and reassess my ambitions. Art and design were always important in my family; my father was the curator of film and photography at the National Media Museum and my grandfather a keen amateur artist. Having taken a scientific route in academia, I felt my creative juices had all but dried up. However, after putting on music events with several friends in my third year of university, new avenues in design and digital marketing naturally emerged. Little did I know that what had started as a hobby actually nurtured a range of important skills with vast applications in UX. Upon graduation, I decided to apply the skills I’d gained through events production to start up an online retail company, selling clothing on various ecommerce platforms, including my own website. With a revitalised passion for design and a new-found obsession with the digital world, I started to see a path to genuinely direct my interests and skills. However, something was missing. I’d swept my inherent fascination with human behaviour and research under the carpet. It was at this point that, by chance, a friend of mine emailed me a link for a job vacancy with Nomensa that they thought would interest me. Upon reading the job description, I immediately applied.
Building my UX career - Taking the first steps in the right direction
To my surprise, I’d stumbled upon a profession that encompassed all of my interests in psychology, design and the digital world – UX design. I quickly realised that UX positions for recent graduates were few and far between; most UX positions require at least some work experience in UX or product design.
Nomensa has a different approach, seeking to nurture ambitious individuals, preferably from a background in a behavioural science such as psychology or HCI (human-computer interaction), through on-the-job training in a fast paced, collaborative environment. Importantly, no previous work experience in UX is expected - just a serious interest in design and technology!
The analytical and critical skills, in-depth knowledge of research methods and holistic approaches to human behaviour gained through such behaviour science degrees are thought to be perfectly suited for a career in UX design. There’s a great article by Vicky Brown - Nomensa's Senior UX Consultant and UX Manager - on the parallels between psychology and UX for those that are interested.
The opportunity left me asking myself - With all its real-world applications of psychological experimental and theory, why wasn’t UX covered during my time at university? I forwarded my CV, along with a portfolio with examples of the work I’d done for in events production and ecommerce (including designs for posters, logos, company website, and social media channels), to Nomensa and they invited me to interview.
To cut a long story short, I was offered the job and my career in UX began.
Embracing UX agency life
Adjusting to full time work from university life is much like updating to the latest version of IOS; the sudden change can be disorientating at first, but I soon learned to embrace and love the revisions. My introduction to UX was full of new faces, new tools and new terminology. After almost 20 meetings with various team members and numerous insightful talks, I started to get an understanding of the agency process.
The training involved shadowing projects, observing interviews and usability testing, becoming familiar with professional graphic design and prototyping tools and even some basic coding. What surprised me most is the range of experience people at Nomensa have. From graphic designers to full-stack developers and doctors in psychology to corporate renegades, there are fascinating individuals from a wealth of backgrounds.
After my initial training was completed, I was assigned to my first project - working with a major energy provider to investigate user’s attitudes and expectations surrounding push notifications for their mobile app. The project lasted over a month and, in this time, I took the initial concept through every stage of research, from participant recruitment, test planning, user testing and interviews, to analysis and, finally, reporting. Since then I’ve worked on 6 separate projects, from testing an in-app conversational user interface to delivering a nation-wide survey for a disruptive digital start-up. I’m now working on an expansive pan-European IA (information architecture) project for one of the world’s leading broadband providers, having recently travelled to their Amsterdam HQ to facilitate a collaborative design workshop. We are now in the final (and most exciting) stages of the project, with research trips planned across the UK, Ireland, Switzerland and Germany.
Sharing the UX love
With each new project, I’m presented with fresh challenges that offer me a unique opportunity to learn about a whole new industry, as well as progressive areas of digital design and technology. I was also given the privilege of returning to my university to present a lecture to third year psychology students on the importance of psychological research in user experience design. Many of the students I spoke with had never heard of UX, so it was truly rewarding to be able to share my experiences with them and offer advice on how to enter the industry from a background in psychology.
The last 6 months at Nomensa have been the fastest in my life and I’ve gained more knowledge and experience in that time than in any other period. Agency work is a fast-paced business, and isn't without its pressures. With that pressure, however, comes an incredible sense of satisfaction, as each project becomes another challenge to overcome and another opportunity to learn something completely new.
I can genuinely say that I have found a passion and a place in which I belong with UX design. If you have an interest in human behaviour, design and technology, apply for role in user experience design – you won’t regret it!
Interested in a career in UX?
Let's work together
We believe that creating groundbreaking experiences that make measurable differences in the way people live takes a special type of collaboration. Our team designs impactful experiences by leaning on the variety of capabilities and expertise within Nomensa to ensure our solution is bespoke to your needs. We believe collaboration is key, let’s work together.