Forging Your Path Forward in Experience Design

Words smithed by Nikki Galvan

Unpacking the question, ‘Which job should I apply for?’

Random Daily Sketch — Riot Art Department

This advice isn’t only for people aspiring to become designers. It’s really for anyone who desires a satisfying and fulfilling career. A question I often get is: “Which job should I apply for at Riot? Visual Design or User Experience Design?”

The question’s innocent, but it exposes deeper issues many of us fall prey to. This blog post’s my answer.

Focus on you — not the job

Design discipline aside, it’s important to understand that a job’s temporary. It’s a single step in a long and successful career that evolves as you do. It’s better to shift your mindset from a focus on jobs, which are discrete points in time, to your career trajectory.

Instead of thinking about a job or title, figure out your motivations and passions.

What drives you? What are you passionate about? What are your goals? What do you aspire to be, not just today, but in five years? Ten years? What keeps you awake at night? Basically, what’s your long game?

This might be difficult to pin down, especially if you’re just starting out. It’s not an easy task to self-reflect, dig deep and come up with a clear picture of yourself and who you are. It takes no small amount of courage to put a stake in the ground and move forward.

Form a hypothesis about the path you want to take and visualize what you’ll need to do to get there. You can always come back and shift, edit and change this initial point of view but you’ll never know until you walk over that starting line. You’re the sum of the things you learn and do — a title, role, job, company, or paycheck have nothing to do with it.

Another way to think about all of this is: If you don’t know who you are and what you want, how can you expect a hiring panel to know either?

Focus on you.

If you’re passionate about it, don’t wait; start now

You don’t need anyone’s permission to do, right now, whatever it is you’re passionate about. If you love running, you’re probably out there running regularly. The same goes for your career. If you love something, do it regularly. Don’t wait for the right role or job to start it.

Random Daily Sketch — Riot Art Department

Before I got the title of UX Designer I spent nights and weekends redesigning software I loved and thought could be improved. I’d make wireframes, writing down my logic and reasoning for the decisions I made for an audience of one. I’d read anything to do with user experience design and try to chat with well-known UX designers asking for advice or their favorite tools. Sometimes they answered, most of the time they didn’t. And that’s okay. I was happy to be doing it for the sake of doing it and it ended up teaching me a lot.

By creating and practicing you push your limitations and see personal growth. You start to form physical artifacts reflecting your opinions which allow you to get real, actionable feedback. It’s then a clear path forward emerges.

Passion is also something difficult to hide and it’ll read that way across all the work you do. In actively exploring and enjoying my passion, I developed my craft and consequently got noticed by Riot.

Understand the design you want to do

Design’s a large field with dozens of disciplines: Graphic, Visual, UX, Motion, Animation, Illustration, Game, etc. They share a foundation in design principles before wildly branching out to become unique and specialized.

If you want to be a designer, you should be deeply knowledgeable in at least one discipline/specialization.

Not sure which one to choose? Find a person whose work exemplifies the work you want to do. Or find a few. Research what their craft involves. What does their day-to-day look like? How did they get to where they are now? Ask them for their advice, ask their peers. Intern or apprentice with them. Do whatever you can to get an accurate picture of what it means to work in whichever specific discipline you’re exploring.

You’ll begin to notice expectations for disciplines share common themes. Often a discipline’s craft is evaluated with similar criteria regardless of industry or company. For example: a competent Visual Designer develops an eye for light, color, value, form, typography, hierarchy and composition. They understand how to tell a story through their visuals and how to implement them.

There’s variation depending on the specifics of the role, but overall it remains the same.

If you have to ask someone what kind of designer you should be, you’re not knowledgeable enough yet. Or passionately opinionated enough.

Riot might not be right for you, and that’s okay

Random Daily Sketch — Riot Art Department

Everyone loves.

It’s not enough to love a thing — hell, many people love the thing that you love.

There’s gotta be more: compatibility, mutual interest, a continued path for growth and value added. This is especially true of any company you work for and may end up spending some number of years of your life with.

Too often the focus is on getting a job at this company or that company. Maybe they have a big name or shiny extras. They’ve probably got a slew of challenging problems and competitive salaries. That’s not enough. There are tons of places out there with challenging problems and money to burn. And it might be the shittiest job you’ll ever have.

I argue that fulfilling jobs are based on a mutual fit. Where your goals and vision align with the company’s and the path forward is one of mutual benefit and enrichment. Believing in the vision will get you through the dark days when your project is blowing up and there’s a million people calling for your head and you can barely keep the crushing stress at bay. This mutual fit will endure the inevitable hard days and ride high through the good ones to make for something so much more than just a job.

So remember, whether you’re looking for a job or being recruited, you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.

Take control and create your own path

No one wants you or your career to succeed as much as you do. The more legwork you do, the more you understand and research and create, the clearer your goals will be and the stronger your convictions to achieve them.

Have an opinion about your life, your craft, your progression. And the next time you ask for advice on jobs, I hope it’s when you’re being aggressively recruited for that amazing thing you made, by a great company whose mission you believe in. Then you can ask “How can we create value together?”

Random Daily Sketch — Riot Art Department

Want to create value together? Visit our Careers page for opportunities to lend your quill, axe, or bow to Riot and pursue your never-ending path to mastery. Join the conversation at the “UX Design at Riot Games” blog today, where you can read more from Rioters working in the experience design space.