Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash
September 4, 2020

How conferences helped me as a budding UX designer

UX, Career

UI/UX can be a very intimidating field to enter. What do you need to know? Where do you fit? Are you more of a UX researcher? UX designer? Or you prefer sticking with UI design? At first glance, it can be really difficult to pinpoint where to start your learning.

Online courses gave me an idea of some basic UX and UI principles to ensure that the results of my process are backed up by user-centered research. Getting a clearer idea of how these concepts work in the real world was important for me because I wanted to understand the different roadblocks one may encounter — something they don’t usually teach in online courses. I then sought for opportunities to learn from people with experience. After continuous conversations and discussions, a few friends invited me to attend two online conferences with them.

I was iffy about joining them at first. Back then, I was thinking, “Should I really spend money on conferences?” and “I can just connect with people on LinkedIn for personal advice. Why listen to these talks?” Eventually, I pushed my reservations aside and decided to join my friends for the online conferences.

Buying tickets to these conferences was one of the best decisions I made. Here's why:

Nothing beats experience.

Yossi Nachemi's talk on "How to win friends and influence design"

Hearing from speakers with a lot of experience in the field of UX really opened my mind to things I did not consider when I was studying the concepts through online courses.

Listening to people who have worked in the field for a long time allows you to see the concepts you learned in action. You get to see how a certain principle is followed (or not) when applied in a real work context.

It's not just about seeing the concepts in action. Speakers in conferences usually leave the audience with really helpful advice and tips for those with plans to work in the field. One of my favorite talks from WORDS 2020 was Yossi Nachemi's "How to win friends and influence design." As a UX writer in Google (Waze), Yossi gave tips on how to become a valuable member in a team by empathizing with other designers. The advice he gave was very helpful because we're all working together to provide a great user experience.

When you're at the conference, don't forget to take notes. Don't always rely on the slides because the speakers have more to say than what's written there — their experience usually comes in while discussing the points on a slide. Take conferences as an opportunity to receive great advice from experienced professionals in the field!

What you learn won't be limited.

Yoanna Dosouto's talk on Design Ethnography

Being in a conference entails learning new things you don't expect to learn. When you seek out advice from other people, you normally have questions in mind already.

What I loved about the conferences is that I got to learn new concepts due to the wide scope and the different backgrounds of the speakers.

I learned more about research ethics, UX writing, design ethnography, and many more. As someone who plans to dive into UX design, I wouldn't have expected to learn a lot from a UX writing conference — this proved to be very helpful because I actually apply some of these concepts now while doing research and creating designs. The "Why stories work" talk by Ben Harsh, a Product Designer at Dropbox, taught me how turning the interface into a conversation can help improve user experience.

In conferences, you get to learn things you don't expect to learn. You're not limited to your preconceived notions, such as "I need to know " or " will help me improve." You get to see people with different backgrounds give tips on things you didn't think you'd need.

Make the most out of this by listening to every talk, even if you think it's not interesting or important to you at first. You'll be surprised by how much you can learn from one talk.

I found people to connect with.

One of my favorite things about conferences is the networking that goes with it. Most conferences come with Slack groups that give you the opportunity to network and connect with other people in your field. This was important for me because UX is not that big a field in the Philippines yet.

Being able to connect with people in the same field grants more opportunities both in learning and in finding potential people to work with in the future.

Don't be shy when networking with others — really grab this opportunity because it will be important for the future. Share your LinkedIn and plug your website!

People ask questions that you may not have thought of!

I really love conferences that have open forums and discussions as part of the schedule because it opens up the floor for questions.

Seeing the different insights from the other people in the conference proved to be helpful for me too because they gave me new ideas to think about and understand.

There are times when fellow attendees ask questions you wouldn't have thought of, but actually need! Being in a community of people in the same field during conferences really gets me excited because of our opportunities to learn from each other as fellow audience members.

Make sure to take down notes during open forums — the answers to the different questions and insights from the audience are valuable!

Your listening skills are sharpened.

Darinka Buendia's talk on the ethnographic experience in Latin America

Being in a live conference means you need to listen attentively. Everything a speaker says is relevant to your learning, so paying attention to the entire talk is really important. My note-taking skills improved by attending conferences because I wanted to ensure that I took down all the important points of the speakers.

Moreover, as UX researchers and designers, we need to have good listening skills. Conferences can serve as practice because you learn to listen to stories — stories about key experiences in the field.

I personally believe my listening (and note-taking) skills improved after these conferences! I got better at listening to interviewees, probing around answers, and taking key notes. Thanks to the conferences, I learned how to quickly note down crucial information I might need when making decisions.

When you do UX research, it's important to know how to listen because every insight of your interviewee will be important for your process in designing solutions.

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