Perhaps, the wonderful thing that User Experience (UX) offers is flexibility. The field accommodates any background. Unlike engineering or medicine, you can decide to pivot and succeed if you have the grit, motivation, dedication and proper guidance. But self-learners often face the endless sea of information called the internet. With this access comes the risk of misinformation, misdirection, and getting lost in the learning journey because there’s no filter to distinguish right from wrong.
Noise, noise, & more noise!
I started my self-learning journey with UX Design. Many articles and designers regarded it as UI/UX. Some believed UX was UI and vice versa. It was all about the screens and a small checklist of ‘insignificant’ processes. I had to dig deeper to find a clear difference between the two. That UX Design incorporates UX Research, UX architecture, Interaction Design, UX writing and UI design. While UI design is a UX specialisation that deals with interface design.
Why did I have to dig deeper? I mean finding the difference between UX and UI should have been as simple as breathing, right? No, it wasn’t. It has never been this easy to access information, interact with and learn from people. Regardless, there is this trend of churning out content irrespective of its reliability. And what do we get? Noise. What are the implications?
Convenient but not reliable
When one source (person, article, or website) says A and the other says B, C, D and E about the same topic you have many choices to choose from. The tyranny of choices (read here and here) says that when you have many choices, you take longer to make decisions. So, to avoid wasting time, you will likely choose the most convenient option.
Convenience doesn’t always mean reliability. The lack of reliable sources takes away the essence of good UX education and practice.
Besides, pivoting to a new field is hardcore. Self-learning while attempting to transition is insanely difficult, especially if you care about doing it right. When there’s little content regulation, it feels like a barrage of stuff constantly knocking you over. The overwhelming nature of this will push you to accept the option you think is the most suitable.
Wading through the noise
Self-learning anything — UX Research and Design in this case — is a process you must take to heart. I posted about this issue on LinkedIn and received quality feedback. Darren Hood commented about developing a filter as your experience grows.
‘When you learn user experience properly, you naturally develop a filter, all while you’re building your critical thinking skills. Learning to ignore the noise becomes a natural occurrence. Anyone who tries to dive in haphazardly will become a statistic. And by the way, being self-taught has a process. You can’t just pick up books and go, not in 2022, because you don’t know which way is up and misinformation abounds.’Darren Hood
Always ask questions. Do not accept any piece of information hook, line and sinker without questioning the rationale behind it, the context, and the evidence that backs it up.
Nonetheless, it is okay to fail. It is alright to pass this journey with uncertainty. Experience will always be the best teacher. Trial and error. Like programming: when you attempt to solve a problem, you try different solutions until you get the most efficient and effective one. The comment that most resonates with this point is Michele Ronsen’s.
‘I wish aspiring and newer researchers understood that what we do is a combination of art, science and improv. There is no one right answer. We often work in the gray space. Ambiguity abounds. Get good with gray.’Michele Ronsen
You will experience tons of ambiguity, and that is fine. You will make mistakes; that is fine as well. We are imperfect. Learn by opening your mind, practising, receiving feedback, and unlearning. Seek mentorship if you are unsure of where you are heading. Abigail Plumb-Larrick recommends this.
- ADPList has an array of experienced mentors you can contact (emphasis on ‘experienced’).
You may consider limiting the number of sources you learn from; quality over quantity. It is better to learn from a few quality and reliable sources than multiple sources that misinform.
Verifying sources is difficult, but I always look for the experience of the person sharing the content, the source’s reputation and the kind of content they share.
No one is perfect. We’ll make mistakes. Yet, there is a clear difference between opinion/rambling and evidence. Learning should be based on evidence. Do not forget to ask questions. It may not always work, but it’s a good start.
We need good curation
This is 2022; ‘misinformation abounds.’ In the face of all the noise, curation is essential. Your ability to distinguish between good and bad UX content depends on your ability to ask questions, seek mentorship and curate your learning sources. As you progress, your base knowledge will expand. The stronger your foundation, the stricter your noise filter. So, start small, ask questions, seek mentorship, don’t overload yourself with information, do not follow blindly, and be okay with ambiguity.