Google Alum Shares Career Advice for UX Designers

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 1.48.08 PMTamara runs a user experience driven design and development agency and mentors students in Bloc’s UX Design training program.  Prior to starting her own agency, Tamara spent four years at Google as a Senior Interaction Designer working as the lead designer for DoubleClick for Publishers, and then in education leading design for Google Classroom. Prior to joining Google, Tamara  led user experience for the New York Observer (which garnered a Webby nomination for its 2009 redesign). And prior to that, she  worked at Apple where she worked on the 2007 Apple.com site redesign.

What’s the best career advice for UX Designers you’ve ever received? Given?

My favorite advice is about advice. I loved the line from that sunscreen song in the 90s, “Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” Everyone’s circumstances, strengths, experiences, and values are different. Figure out what’s right for you and be selective about the advice you follow. Being cognizant of the fact that people are giving me advice based on their own experiences (and not necessarily my situation) has helped me sift through all the (somewhat contradictory) pointers I’ve received over the years and select the pieces that are right for my goals and situation.

Over the course of your career, working on dozens of projects, which one was your favorite and why?

Good products come from being in close touch with users and their needs. As a member of the small team that worked on the first version of Google Classroom, I spent a lot of time in real classrooms (before and after we built the first prototype) to ensure we understood teachers’ and students’ pain points and workflows. It was that user-centered, integrated approach that helped our team ultimately build a great product with useful and time-saving functionality.

What career advice would you give to someone who is learning to code and wants to become a professional developer?

Being a good developer is about being a self motivated problem solver. Good developers learn more from teaching themselves and scouring forums like Stack Overflow than you could ever learn in a class.

Tell me about a person you’ve mentored.

The sign of a great design team is that, regardless of age or experience, every member of the team both mentors and is mentored by other team members. When I managed a design team at Google, the diversity of strengths and weaknesses within our team allowed everyone to be both a teacher and a student.

What’s your favorite technical interview question and what’s a good answer that you’ve heard?

A favorite design interview question: A colleague of mine used to ask, “You’ve been given the task of designing and building a playground. Tell me how you would approach this process and project.” A great designer isn’t about the technology she knows; it’s about the process she uses to research, identify problems, and brainstorm solutions. This question cuts to the core of that

What are a few traits that make a UX Designer successful?

The ability to be analytical and find user pain points, identify opportunities, streamline workflows, and innovate. Also, the ability to tell the story.

What is your favorite resource for learning more about UX Design? (Podcast, Website, blog?)

Lynda.com and working with other designers

What is the best way to connect with other UX Designers?

Work in a design environment (at least for a few years) with lots of designers.

Looking back now, what is one thing you would have done differently when starting out  (if any)?

As a junior designer, I wish I’d had the confidence to ask more questions. It was only after watching seasoned designers in action that I realized great design comes from a thorough exploration of the problem, use cases, user personas, etc. The junior, ineffective designers are the ones who start designing before they fully understand what they’re designing or what problem they’re solving.

What do you look for when hiring junior web designers?

I never care about software proficiency, as long as someone knows at least one or two tools. I look for the ability to assess a problem thoroughly, explore many solutions, and eventually, tell a cohesive, well-researched, compelling story of the design solution.

Do you see a lot of UX Designers wanting to learn frontend development? mobile development? Is this becoming more prevalent?

Somewhat. I’m certainly seeing a lot more hybrid designer/developer types entering the workforce, and I think that’s a great thing. The more designers understand about development and vice versa, the more efficient our workflows become and the better our products will be.

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