What Does it Mean to be a UI Designer?

September 9, 2013
Helen Armstrong

Truthfully, I don’t know what it is like to be a User Interface Designer. I think it’s all too easy to categorize jobs into a broad spectrum. A job title does little to explain roles and responsibilities within an organization. For that reason, I can’t give a simple answer.

KristenYagleyI do however; know what it’s like to be a UI Designer for the Chicago Tribune. While the job descriptions may be the same at other companies, I can’t be certain the reality of day-to-day is. I realize I’ve only been in the working world for a year, but it is safe to say, this has been the most influential year of my life. Between living on my own, realizing that work is so much more than a 9 to 5 job, and evolving as both a designer and a businessperson, things sure have changed.

For me, a typical day involves lots of coffee, meetings, sketching, and collaborating. Sounds pretty typical, huh? The coffee and sketching – yes. However, when I say, “meetings,” that usually involves presenting my ideas, convincing others, building solutions, and so forth. It’s not uncommon for meetings to be with Tribune stakeholders, incredibly influential leaders who invest time, money (lots of it), and faith in my work.

While I was in school, I thought refining technical skills would be the most important thing in the “real world”. Don’t get me wrong – those assets are extremely important. But you can only go so far based on talent and talent alone. If there is one thing I have learned in the past year, it’s that no matter how good your idea might be, if you don’t know how to communicate it professionally, you will not succeed.

The Tribune brand is a reputable namesake in the Chicago area. When I first got here, the company was going through bankruptcy and any radical thinking was not exactly encouraged. I can remember thinking to myself, “this is not what I signed up for.” However, over the next few months, there was a shift in thinking. Project managers, upper-management, and stakeholders were beginning to warm up to the idea of User Experience Design. The next thing I knew, I was put in the driver’s seat pitching my ideas to a room full of executives.

It’s a humbling experience to start at a company, knowing the future is unpredictable, and then to see the transformation out of bankruptcy. Our UX team has established ourselves within Tribune, and now, leaders are looking to us. This calendar year has been busy with various projects, one of the biggest being a full re-design of both the LA Times and Chicago Tribune’s online presence. Being a part of something so monumental for this brand and the newspaper industry as a whole has truly been a great experience.

So while I may struggle with the idea of how a job description and what I actually do as a User Interface Designer coincide, I do have a strong grasp as to where I stand within the Tribune Company. Literally speaking, it’s in the basement. But from a business perspective, I’m right alongside my UX team, developers, project managers, and stakeholders. I’m positioned in a way to get my voice heard and am now encouraged to think outside the box instead of staying within status quo. Realizing how much can change in a year has made me excited for what my future holds both at the Tribune and in my career as a whole.

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