The 2019 Guide to Modern Design

A snapshot in time for an industry growing in size and influence

Updated May 22, 2019

As a User Experience Designer, you have an opportunity to play a major role in how people interact with products and services online. You are arriving at a time when the industry is still defining what a UX Designer is, which means there are some blurred lines at the edges of the job descriptions you will see in job postings.

You'll find plenty of job postings for these positions as there is high demand for designers with the skills needed to solve complex problems.

Some of the things you'll be expected to do as a UX Designer include...

For your effort, you'll find that the average UX Designer is very well compensated.

According to the latest data from Indeed.com, UX Designers in the United States earn an average of $88,936 annually. It is important to note that location does play a factor with a UX Designer in New York City averaging $99,807 a year while their counterparts in Salt Lake City make $23k less — but have a significantly lower overall cost of living.

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Regardless of how you found your way here, I want to welcome you. My name is Chris Courtney, I'm the founder of New Pragmatic and I have been working in various roles around the world of design for more than two decades. I'm hopeful that I can use all the bumps and bruises I've collected along the way to aid you on your journey.

Without doubt, the design industry has never had so much potential and so reasons for concern than it has right now. The past decade has been an era of rapid change, governed by a "Move Fast and Break Things" ethos that managed to produced both billionaires — and genocides.

If there was ever a time to enter the field of design — it is now. There are just as many new experiences to be created as there are legacy elements of our digital world to fix. Equally important, there is a ground swell of support to produce more socially responsible work. Not because people didn't want to do so before, but we simply didn't have enough people banging the table over it.

So while the classic elements of design still exist, they are all now framed from a perspective that is uniquely beyond the boundaries of the workplaces that sign our checks.

Redefining 'design'

Coming into this conversation, you undoubtably had a concept of what 'design' is. Everyone knows that the term 'design' is often twisted and used in contexts that don't always apply, but whatever mental image you have of the craft isn't nearly broad enough.

Most of our friends and many of our bosses will still have an outdated concept of what a designer does. That's not your fault. That's our collective fault as an industry. Because of that, you will have to occasionally fight to do your job. That's not to say anyone will stop you from going to a desk, putting on headphones, and pushing pixels around. In fact, no one is likely to say anything to you until you speak up and explain that you'd like to be in the planning meeting.

Some of you may have a picture in your head of a designer sitting at a desk, working on a large screen monitor with a pair of amazing headphones on blissfully creating beautiful designs. They later hand those designs off to a manager or developer who goes into a meeting to discuss the work.

Unless that designer really sucks at their job, that's not what modern designer does.

A modern designer is involved in the planning meetings, performing research, talking to users, working with developers, and presenting to clients and management. This is not a role for people who want to avoid other people because the primary job of the modern designer is to stick up for the people you are designing for.

And who are you designing for?

The person you are designing for isn't your boss or your co-workers or yourself. The person you are designing for is your users.

Because you are concerned with the well being of those users, you're likely going to have some uncomfortable discussions on their behalf. This is ok, because this is part of the job. (Read Mike Monterio's "Ruined By Design" if any of this sounds like bullshit.)

Modern design can be ridiculously rewarding because you have the opportunity to make lives easier for other people. You also have the opportunity to keep mistakes from being made by your team — saving countless hours and dollars.

As much as I would like to tell you that you can do all of this in a simple process that you can memorize and carry from job-to-job, I can't because I would be lying to you.

However, the practice of design does move in phases and inside of those phases are a number of tools that you can employ to reach an ideal solution. At New Pragmatic we teach design in dedicated chunks that closely map to three major areas:

  • User Experience Design
  • Visual Design
  • Frontend Development

producing a world of new opportunities which is only outnumbered by the number of problems we have to solve for.

Both sides of the coin I just described has produced jobs that need the attention of innovative, ethically-grounded problem solvers. The work of this industry impacts society in ways were previously far underestimated. You have a chance to help us correct some of the blunders that we've made in recent years while also helping create a brighter path forward.

If I haven't scared you off yet, let's dig into some of the specifics.

Few things have shaped and reshaped the world we inhabit like design has over the past decade - both a blessing and curse.

Highlights from the months ahead

Is design growing? Hell yes.

Can you make a good living doing this? Of course.

Is it easy to do? Not by a longshot, but it's not rocket science either.

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If you were to tell the average person that you were a designer, it would likely conjure up a myriad of different images in their mind. The word design is itself is a chamelone, taking on the trappings of whatever its been associated with at that moment.

As we begin our conversation about modern design even within the context of digital products, it's still very difficult to pin down what 'modern design' means. This is both a blessing and a curse for designers that operate in and around tech companies. There is more than enough work for all of us, but few can agree on what the boundaries of those opportunities are.

At New Pragmatic, we use 'modern design' to identify our approach to design as being very progressive. Here we concern ourselves not just with whether our design work solves problems, but whether that work could be abused to negatively impact society as a whole. From the perspective of a systems level, we believe superior products can be made that benefit society at large.

Design is a great big mess of awesome

Some of you may have a picture in your head of a designer sitting at a desk, working on a large screen monitor with a pair of amazing headphones on blissfully creating beautiful designs. They later hand those designs off to a manager or developer who goes into a meeting to discuss the work.

Unless that designer really sucks at their job, that's not what modern designer does.

A modern designer is involved in the planning meetings, performing research, talking to users, working with developers, and presenting to clients and management. This is not a role for people who want to avoid other people because the primary job of the modern designer is to stick up for the people you are designing for.

And who are you designing for?

The person you are designing for isn't your boss or your co-workers or yourself. The person you are designing for is your users.

Because you are concerned with the well being of those users, you're likely going to have some uncomfortable discussions on their behalf. This is ok, because this is part of the job. (Read Mike Monterio's "Ruined By Design" if any of this sounds like bullshit.)

Modern design can be ridiculously rewarding because you have the opportunity to make lives easier for other people. You also have the opportunity to keep mistakes from being made by your team — saving countless hours and dollars.

As much as I would like to tell you that you can do all of this in a simple process that you can memorize and carry from job-to-job, I can't because I would be lying to you.

However, the practice of design does move in phases and inside of those phases are a number of tools that you can employ to reach an ideal solution. At New Pragmatic we teach design in dedicated chunks that closely map to three major areas:

  • User Experience Design
  • Visual Design
  • Frontend Development

A golden age of broken things

Every few years, the industries that drive demand for designers produce a new advancement that propels demand higher. Let's take a look at the last decade...

2008: Smartphones and App Stores 2010: Responsive Design 2011: Tablet devices 2012: Design frameworks 2014: Voice interfaces 2016: Chatbots 2017: VR/AR interfaces 2018: Ethics meltdown

You might quickly notice that one of the items listed above is not like the other. From Facebook to Twitter to Microsoft and every size platform in between has been part of the backlash generated by the poor business practices that quickly built some of the biggest companies.

Every company you'll come into contact with still needs to generate experiences to service those other bullets listed above but they also need fix the things they broke along the way. Too many companies have been appearing before government councils, sued, or fined to continue doing business in the "Move Fast and Break Things" model of 2005.

Now is the time for careful, considerate, ethics-based design. Because of that, there has literally never been a better time to get into this field.

Design is more than ethics

While there are plenty of things to fix in our industry, we also need to create new products as well.

New Pragmatic’s Intro to Product Design and UX Design courses are now open for enrollment — but don't wait! Space is limited.

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