A Day In The Life Of A UX Designer

A Day In The Life Of A UX Designer

by Matthew Magain, UX Mastery
February 1, 2013

What does a day in the life of a UX Designer actually look like?

And what’s the best way to communicate this to someone interested in the field?

We received a fantastic email from a 20 year-old student during the week that asked this very question. Here’s part of that email:

I started to read whatever I could get my hands on about UX, and I’ve bought a couple of books and have been reading them, but then I thought: What is UX exactly? None of these books explain specifically what a UXer does. That’s why I’m turning to you guys instead of buying more books about UX—I want to find out what a UXer does exactly … what does a day at work look like?

Of course, our What the @#$% is UX Design? video (which, incidentally, now has over 17,000 views on YouTube!) talks a little bit about what a UX designer does, but doesn’t really go into any detail. Is there even a “typical” day? Projects are so different, as are the processes preferred by individuals.

It got me thinking, though: what’s the best way to find out?

The answer? I would create a comic showing an hourly snapshot of one of my days. I won’t pretend to have invented the concept (I think I first saw it done in an edition of An Anthology of Graphic Fiction). However, other than having a camera crew follow me around, it seemed like the next best thing for demonstrating the kinds of activities performed by someone working in UX. And then I’d encourage others to do the same.

Some comments about the comic below:

  • This is a reasonably accurate depiction of one of my days, but it doesn’t reflect every day, because every day is different. Currently one of my clients is a 2-hour train-ride away, one is a 10 minute bike ride away, and other clients I work with from home. Some have plenty of budget for extensive user research, others can barely be convinced to include one round of user testing before launch.
  • The comic is intended to be a series of snapshots in time, not a comprehensive collection of everything that I do. Conducting user testing sessions, writing reports, mocking up user interfaces in Photoshop, conducting user interviews—these are all common tasks that didn’t make it into my day in the life. And that’s OK.
  • I’ve deliberately included the hours before and after work, as a way of making this story more personal. It would have seemed too clinical if the aspects of my day outside of my professional responsibilities were omitted.
  • I’ve included some additional notes about each frame after the image, to provide additional context for some of the activities depicted.

With all that out the way, here’s my comic!

A Day In The Life Of A UX Designer, by Matthew Magain

Some notes about this comic:

  • 6.00am: Sometimes I get up this early by myself; more often than not, I’m woken by my two-year-old daughter who then sneaks into bed for a cuddle.
  • 7.00am: I’m spoiled for good coffee in the morning, thanks to a whiz-bang espresso machine that my wife won on a TV game show a few years ago!
  • 8.00am: I love combining my commute with exercise. However, I must confess that this drawing is not strictly accurate—normally I wear a bright yellow cycling top. You know, to be safe.
  • 9.00am: I find stand-up meetings to be great, but I’ve learned that not every organisation has embraced them.
  • 10.00am: I’m not always looking this smiley and confident in a stakeholder meeting. It depends on who the stakeholder is and how senior they are! 🙂
  • 11.00am: Seriously, how good is Google Analytics? And free! This amazes me on a regular basis.
  • 12.00pm: I wrote an introductory article on creating personas for SitePoint that you may find useful.
  • 1.00pm: One of my current clients is situated on the waterfront, so yes, I really did eat my sandwich on the grass the other day, looking at boats, with my shoes off.
  • 2.00pm: So I frown when I concentrate. I’m sure you do, too!
  • 3.00pm: I love storyboarding. Getting paid to draw comics is awesome!
  • 4.00pm: Balsamiq Mockups is currently my wireframing tool of choice, just in case you were wondering. There are other tools out there though.
  • 5.00pm: I sometimes use a market research company to find candidates for user tests, but in large organisations I usually make the most of a large, diverse collection of people and recruit staff members as participants, at least in the early stages.
  • 6.00pm: Cycling to work is awesome. When it’s not raining.
  • 7.00pm: My daughters are not always this well behaved at the dinner table.
  • 8.00pm: My daughters are always this badly behaved in the bath. I’m resigned to the fact that it’s just how it is.
  • 9.00pm: Yes, our TV really is this big. That TV game show I mentioned my wife went on? She also won a cinema projector on that show. My wife is awesome. Don’t think you can beat her at trivia—you can’t.
  • 10.00pm: This is the time of day that I work on personal projects, such as … this very website!
  • 11.00pm: This is actually a bit earlier than usual. I’m a bit of a night owl, especially if it’s a good book!

Now, here’s my call to action:

If you work as a UX Designer, I would love you to create your own version of this comic.

I’ve even prepared a template that you can download and fill out yourself. You don’t need to be a comic artist to participate—as with storyboards and other design artefacts, the idea is to communicate what you do to others. Here’s what to do:

  1. Download a copy of the template (you can choose between PNG, JPG or PSD files).
  2. Carry it with you one day, and make notes throughout the day. It could be while you’re on site with a client, or working from home. Whatever you think will be most interesting, insightful and reflective of how you spend your time.
  3. Don’t feel compelled to capture everything you do, on the hour. This is intended to help newcomers understand what you do, not be a record of boring stills from a video camera. Include whatever insights into your personal life you feel comfortable sharing, and have fun with it!
  4. Don’t stress about your drawing skills. We’re most interested in seeing how you spend your day, not how good an illustrator you are. That said, if you are artistically inclined, feel free to go to town!
  5. When you’re finished, scan it, and upload it to the A Day In The Life Of A UX Designer group on Flickr.
  6. Annotate the comic, as I’ve done here (optional), in the Flickr description.
  7. Leave a comment on this post, linking to your comic.

Pretty soon we’ll have a gallery of interesting, diverse snapshots of how UXers spend their day!

If you enjoyed this, be sure to browse the archives of Kevin Cheng’s OK/Cancel web comic—a big inspiration of mine!

This article first appeared on UX Mastery and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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