The Top 5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started

Posted by Kate Jurras on Thu, Apr 7, 2011

Guest post by Lisa Sawyer, User Experience Architect, AMP Agency. This post is part of our Digital Works: Careers in Digital Marketing, Technology, and Media Series. This series profiles the skills and experiences that make careers in this industry exciting, and provides advice to job seekers from the area’s foremost employers and experts.

Day-to-day, I work in the Interactive Group here at AMP and provide information architecture, wireframes, and web design for our web clients, as well as general consulting on other interactive projects for the various teams. Over the years I have worked with many different clients and different disciplines, so communicating ideas and driving interactive design decisions is comfortable and rewarding for me.

libs resized 600When I went to college in 1995, I certainly didn’t expect to end up where I am today. While my training is in traditional graphic design, I started down the web path right before graduating, when web design was in its infancy. I learned HTML, and that combined with my design background got me a position at a web design company in Boston.

Since then I’ve worked on web design, web marketing, and web software design. I have always worked in and around user centered design teams, so transitioning from pure visual graphic design to User Experience design was a no brainer.

Looking back on it, however, there are a few things I wish I had known before starting out in this industry. Here’s my Top 5 list:

  1. Your portfolio can speak volumes. You can speak libraries. While we all pay particular attention to our portfolios when starting out, it’s something you should continue to stay on top of as you move forward in your career. Learning how to communicate your work is as important as showcasing it. Make sure what you did on each project is clear. If you did more than visual design, make that clear. Potential employers want to know everything; not just what you were “trained to do,” but what you contributed to the team, and how you think. As my friend and colleague Traci Lepore tells me, “soft skills (such as elements from number 2 and 3 below) can make you stand out from the crowd and your hard skills almost look like a dime-a-dozen.” Anyone can learn Photoshop or Visio – how you think is much more important.
  2. It’s not all about what you know; it’s what you can learn. No matter what background you come from – the flexibility to be able, interested and willing to learn something new at any given moment is a good skill to have. With an industry that is always evolving there is always something that needs doing that no one has tried before. Step up and do it (if this scares you, see #5 below).
  3. It’s a fast-paced industry. Stay on the ball. As I just mentioned, the digital career path is a fast paced one. Even if you are not personally interested in a new technology, it’s your job to know about it, how it works, and what the opportunities are for your clients or potential clients, etc. Strive to be a part of the community (online and off), take classes, attend group talks, and networking events.
  4. Stay aware and open. Even if you are a part of a large team in a large company, make sure you are connected to others in your field and even other related fields. New perspectives and new ideas come from all over. Colleagues from outside your field can provide insight into a current project in many ways.
  5. Don’t be afraid to fail. This one is huge. Staring at a blank page or attempting something you’ve never done before is nerve racking, but you don’t get anywhere without taking that first step. I attended a conference last year where one of the topics of conversation was celebrating failure. Trying and failing are critically important to new ideas; we will never know what works if we haven’t played with what doesn’t.

About the Author (and job openings at AMP!): Lisa has over 10 years of experience in web design, interaction design, front end web development and user experience. She holds a BFA in Fine Arts from Alfred University with concentrations in Graphic Design and Photography and a Minor in Art history.

To join Lisa at AMP, explore the exciting current job openings at AMP Agency, or check out the MITX Career Exchange!