Writing prompt: What to do about Twitter?

Ah, Twitter.

There’s a problem. Well, there are a lot of problems. Harassment, abuse, hate speech, mysogyny, and racism go unchecked, and have for a decade. For me, the biggest benefit of Twitter is its opportunity to hear all the voices I have the guts to listen to. I know more about Black America, LGBTQ America, Muslim America, and a dozen other versions of the country I live in precisely because of Twitter’s post-everything read-in-chronological-order policies. But I don’t know how much longer I can accept its post-everything-even-if-it’s-hate-speech policies, especially when I see (and to a lesser extent, experience) the pain they cause.

On the other hand, options like Facebook, which do have arguably better abuse policies have algorithms that turn our feeds into echo chambers, and then blame us for the result. They’re not exactly utopias either.

Options like Slack are great for small groups of friends or organizational teams to where behavior controls are either external (HR departments) or decided by owners who curate the feeds. You can’t block someone on Slack, so a feed owner who opens the door to everyone does so at some significant risk of letting in the trolls.

We’ve got fantastically smart readers. We’ve heard from a number of you that you’d love to write for us, but you can’t think of a topic. Here’s your first prompt:

What’s your plan for staying in touch with your fellow UX and Tech professionals over the next 5 years? Is it Twitter? Facebook? Slack? Something else? How much do you value signal over noise? Diverse thought over like-thinkers? If you could do anything to improve social media, what would you do?

What makes a senior designer?

Pop quiz: How many years of experience in UX does it take for someone to be a “senior” designer?

  1. Two years
  2. Three years
  3. Five years
  4. Ten years

The answer: Depends on what job description you’re reading.

But I wonder if time is the right metric for measuring experience.

When you get enough drinks into designers, the “how many years to be a senior designer” question gets a lot of play. Older designers don’t think two years experience is anywhere near enough. Younger designers want to move up and can’t understand how they’re not seniors yet after three years.

The problem is exacerbated by designers getting seated in the same organizations as engineers. Engineering is a field where there’s a defined and clear career path that’s evolved over generations of work. UX, by comparison, is still underdefined as a practice, and still consists of so many different practices and skillsets you could even argue it’s not even a “practice.” UX should look to design career progressions that already exist in (e.g. architecture and design agency career ladder models), but even then, we struggle with trying to lay an agency model onto a software development model.

And then there’s an experience problem. The UX population is heavily skewed towards young designers that are new to their fields. There aren’t enough seniors, so to fill senior slots, we see junior designers moved up, perhaps too fast.

The result of all of this is a lot of grousing by designers about “years of experience.”

But maybe it’s not about time. Maybe it’s about skills and experience.

If I’m looking to hire a senior designer, I’m looking to see:

  • Have they lead or driven a design project to completion?
  • Have they ever had a design project fail on them?
  • Can they do more than take criticism: Can they identify the signal in the noise and use it to make their work better?
  • Can they lead a discussion, and can they get that discussion turned into action?
  • Can they defend their ideas, yet acknowledge when their ideas need to change?
  • Do they show the design theory they know in the design practice they do?
  • Do they know how to coach someone to design better?
  • Have they figured out the balance between not being egotistical and not giving in to the Impostor Syndrome?

Some of that we teach in design programs, but most of it we don’t. It’s nothing against top-flight design programs — theory and practice are essential to have a good foundation to build a career on. But theory and practice only give a trained designer the tools to solve design problems; they don’t show them how to solve the problems in real-world circumstances.

Learning all that takes time. How much time? It really does depend — on the project you’re involved with, on the designers you are surrounded with and learn from, on your clients and product owners. Most of all, it depends on how you respond to the challenges in front of you.

I’d love to put a timeframe on how long it takes. I think we all would. It would certainly make writing job listings easier. We draw the line at 2/3/5/10 years mainly because we want to make sure that we don’t waste our time phone screening junior designers who aren’t ready. But I’ve seen people with 10 years of experience that aren’t senior designers. I’ve seen designers with less than 2 years that are more seasoned than senior designers I’ve worked with.

I don’t think about juniors and seniors when I’m hiring. I look for the right fit, for the right experiences, and the right responses to those experiences. Most of all, I’m looking for the “young, scrappy, and hungry.” They may not be young anymore — I’m certainly not — but being scrappy and hungry is less a matter of age and more a matter of attitude.

And, honestly, I’d rather never have to deal with the “years of experience” question. I’d rather instead be asking, “How tenacious do you have to be to be a senior designer?”

The first a-ha

February 1998. 23 years old in my first “real” job: full-time, permanent, with benefits and my own cubicle. You know that administrative assistant who gets a little over-creative with Word or Publisher? Yup, that was me.

My cube neighbor, a marketing guy just six months older, “did the website” for the office. I was terribly curious about how this web thing worked. He pointed me at some tutorials, and in between my regular work, I started teaching myself, coding in Notepad and hosting on Tripod.

The first thing I remember figuring out on my own: that I could put an <a> tag around an <img> tag. So that graphic I’d exported out of Clip Art of a hand with a pen, it could be a link to a page of my writing.

That still feels like magic. A picture that was also a link.

If it wasn't this image, it was one very much like it.
If it wasn’t this image, it was one very much like it.

Which is to say:

  1. We all start somewhere.
  2. Don’t forget the magic in tiny things.