A new path & a new geeky job

I’m changing jobs again (she says, as if this happens every few weeks instead of every 3+ years). I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to get into prototyping for a while, so when a position opened up 3 weeks ago, I applied. Interviews were last week, and I got the call late Friday, which I accepted.

For those of you who don’t live in the day-to-day of web design, the difference between my new role as a UI Designer and what I do today as an Information Architect can be summed up this way:

Information architecture: heavy on strategy (user research, experience design, balancing user needs and business needs, personas, scenarios) heavy on wireframing the “happy path” and providing design strategy descriptions, very light on visual design, component specifications, and almost no HTML/CSS/Javascript work.

UI Design: lighter on strategy (hopefully it’s been decided before it gets there), heavy on prototyping (the aforementioned code elements) and the prototyping includes ALL the paths.

In other words, the UI Designer takes the output of the Information Architect (and the rest of the visioning team) and turns it into a detailed design with a working prototype.

(Note: this is specific to where I work – other organizations have very different definitions of what their information architects and Ui Desisgners are expected to do.)

In my head, I’ve always identified myself as a software engineer specializing in UI, even though I’ve only ever been paid to do the job in bits and pieces of contract work. Information architecture is a critical piece of designing great systems, but (in my current situation) it tends to be more strategy-centered than I really love.

Or to put it a different way, if you asked me to choose between a conference session on the three mental models primarily used by people searching a website, and a session on implementing drop shadows on layers using CSS, my role as an IA would suggest I belong at the search session, but my heart would be in the CSS session.

On the other hand, I can’t think of a better way to start a career as a UI Designer than spending almost 3 years studying the “whys” of user interface design. I’ve had the pleasure of working with brilliant, and very patient, Information Architects and Information Designers, who have given me a host of skills in facilitation, user research, and design heuristics that couldn’t be matched through any educational program anywhere. I’m profoundly grateful.

I am really really excited, very sad to leave my current team, and a bit terrified. The last time I changed careers, I did it through a 6-month internship in our most excellent User Experience Group, so I had time to get my head around the transition and hand off all my projects with room to spare. In this case, it hasn’t even been a week since my interviews and I’m already moving projects off my plate in preparation for a move in less than 2 weeks. If there was such this as “career whiplash” this would be it.

So November is going to be very interesting. I’m writing a novel, starting a new job, moving to a new building, making new friends, and getting into some very geeky things that they’re going to pay me to do. There are definitely worse ways to start the winter.