An Insider’s Guide to UX Careers (Book Review)

A review of
The UX Careers Handbook

CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group

About this book

by Cory Lebson

Book Website

A good reference for Methods/How-To

Primary audience: Researchers, Designers or Technical Roles who are new to the topic or have some experience with the topic

Writing style: Humorous/light; matter of fact

Text density: Mostly text

281 pages, 13 chapters

Learn more about our review guidelines

Changes in the field of UX may be coming faster than ever. New titles and micro-skillsets keep cropping up in the lexicon—“UX writing” is one of the latest on my radar—and UX boot camps are becoming increasingly commonplace. More people are entering the field to fill a growing number of roles, leading to many new trends and perspectives to consider. Consequently, it can be difficult to track where UX careers are going, let alone identify an entry point into the field. Cory Lebson’s The UX Careers Handbook successfully covers these essentials for a mix of audiences. Lebson, a UX consultant with decades of impressive experience in UX research, strategy, and training, injects an infectious optimism into every page of his refreshing and practical guide. He frames the exponential changes in UX as valuable progress, inspiring readers to join our field, and continually hone their craft.

I’m a relative newcomer to the industry and have witnessed firsthand how much the profession has changed in a relatively short period. With a master’s degree and roughly five years of experience in the field, I’m still very much in the early stages of my career and know that not only will the discipline continue to transform, but my views and skills will also evolve as my professional journey continues. As a mid-level practitioner, I’m well within the target audience of those who can benefit from this book that, despite its title, should not be written off as a career guide for UX novices only.

Others with an interest in “the junction of people and technology” will enjoy this book if only for Lebson’s amiable and accessible writing. Instructional sections are informative without being heavy-handed. The writing is relatable and actionable: Worksheets interspersed throughout the book invite self-reflection and help make professional development tangible. For example, the Problem, Action, Result (PAR) worksheet in Chapter 5 includes a blank sample framework to help readers quantify their value in their portfolios. Considering I spend most of my workday in front of a computer screen, I find writing goals by hand (such as opportunities to increase my salience in the Improving My Brand Worksheet and Checklist in Chapter 4) helps me hold myself more accountable. In the same spirit of accountability, Lebson welcomes readers to share their own resources and comments to include in the book’s ongoing companion website or elsewhere.

Lebson makes the book easy to use, introducing it with a helpful summary of each of its four major parts and conclusion. Part 1, “Establishing Your Foundation,” starts with the basics, first outlining the defining characteristics of UX and then delving into educational considerations before describing the value of personal branding and networking. Part 2, “Getting a Job,” includes practical job-seeking advice, from portfolio creation to accepting an offer to gracefully leaving a position. Part 3, “Recruiters & Employers,” is not limited to its titular audiences; it also provides behind-the-scenes insights for job seekers interested in working with recruiters and understanding employer staffing considerations. Part 4, “Career Glimpses,” features accounts from a host of experts in different specialties who join Lebson in sharing overviews of their respective career pathways. A coda by designer Jonathan Follett finishes the book with a forecast of emerging technologies and “the next big thing(s)” in UX. Throughout these sections, key points and themes are summarized in callout boxes that make handy aids for both speed readers and those wishing to refresh their recollection of a prior reading.

Beyond the main content, I was also impressed with the supplemental materials, notably the “Improving My Brand Worksheet and Checklist” from Chapter 4, “Personal Branding and Networking for Career Success.” As a fairly private person, I have always dreaded “building a brand.” Lebson pays special mind to those with introverted tendencies when describing how to cultivate an online presence and foster genuine engagement with the greater UX community. The way Lebson breaks down individual tips to leverage online content and tools for networking allows readers to cherry-pick and act on applicable bullets (like giving colleagues unsolicited recommendations on LinkedIn rather than waiting to be asked). I also found his “UX Adventure” philosophy particularly compelling with regard to developing an authentic brand: He advocates for using your top UX skills and passions as the impetus to create fulfilling opportunities outside of work that will “enhance current and future employment, […] increase exposure to those in your chosen profession, […] and allow you to be noticed professionally, beyond just by your employer.”

Early on in the book, Lebson is quick to point out that “UX is not a single pathway, but rather an umbrella that encompasses a variety of overlapping careers.” As such, he is deliberate in including anecdotes from others in his professional circle to complement the book’s high-level topics. Attaching faces and real experiences to conceptual content not only adds color and perspective, but also acquaints readers with a network of UX professionals whose work they can follow for inspiration.

The book’s cast of secondary contributors proves as insightful as its main author. Contributor Baruch Sachs’ take on the myth of the UX unicorn resonated strongly with me; it echoes Lebson’s sentiment that UX professionals need not be skilled in every type of UX-related discipline in order to be successful. Beyond reiterating the pitfalls of this philosophy, Sachs likens ideal employee traits to those of an octopus: “Highly intelligent; behaviorally flexible; able to basically reinvent themselves by regenerating a limb; employs multiple defense strategies depending on context; able to get in and out of the tightest places with ease.” I continue to see a number of job descriptions within our field that call for UX designers who can create high-fidelity mockups and have front-end development experience. It was reassuring to hear experienced practitioners express their preference for well-honed soft skills and depth-driven abilities.

The UX Careers Handbook reminded me that conscious career growth is an exciting imperative no matter your stage, specialty, or tenure in the field. I know that professional goal-setting or portfolio maintenance are often the first to go when it comes to balancing daily work demands, personal commitments, and long-term career development. Lebson tells us all that the key to successful, gratifying, and future-proof careers is to understand the nuances of UX trajectories and how we can carve out our own distinctive niches. I expect to reference this book as my own responsibilities advance, and I am convinced that other readers who heed Lebson’s guidance on professional positioning and presentation will find themselves doing their jobs not only better in the near term, but also smarter in the long run.

Roberts, S. (2019). An Insider’s Guide to UX Careers (Book Review). User Experience Magazine, 18(5).
Retrieved from http://uxpamagazine.org/an-insiders-guide-to-ux-careers/