From Full-Time Psychology Student to Part-Time UX Designer

Niki Volonasi Niki Volonasi
30 - 07 - 2018

When studying Psychology, most of us believe that the technical world is out of reach. Engineering and design seem like completely different paths. However, there is a functional area, called User Experience, in which, knowledge about psychological can be a good starting point!

User Experience (UX) is a very “hot” area nowadays, which deals with exactly what the name suggests, understanding users and their behaviour with a product, which will lead in designing a better and more ideal, experience for them.

In this blog, I will present my own thoughts based on what I am learning and experiencing in the field of UX, while, in parallel, continuing to pursue my bachelor in psychology.

Having just started my first steps towards UX, I often get asked: “What does psychology have to do with applications and websites?”. What people mainly think about psychologists, is that they listen to issues of others’ and find solutions. Other people have the idea that psychologists, read minds and know exactly how to solve any problem.

Well, I definitely do not know how to read minds, or even solve my own problems. So what exactly are “psychologists”? They are those that can ask valuable questions in order to reach a specific goal. Those that know how to work with people and aim at improving their lives.

That is exactly what is happening with users as well. In the end, users are people, who face issues that need to be resolved.

One reason why the area of UX is so attractive lately is that it has many professional roles and dimensions that someone can choose from, such as UX Research, UX Design, UX Strategy and many more. However these roles are not fixed, since company size and other parameters can result in different responsibilities. All in all, psychological knowledge can definitely help in some of these areas, such as in the Research and even in the Design ones.

UX  Research

A big part of the psychological studies is conducting research, e.g. face-to-face interviews and online surveys to mention a few. Insights into human behaviour are gained, through asking the right questions and then interpreting the results .

UX Research places major emphasis in understanding the user’s behaviour towards the system. To do that, interviews, usability testings and other research work need to be conducted, on which you probably already have a hands-on experience from your psychology studies.

UX Design

This area may be a bit more challenging than research but definitely manageable. Of course, the majority of our studies focus on theories. If you are leaning towards the design area, programs like SketchInVision & Abode XD should be on your to-do list, to get started and — trust me — they are easier than they look. Various online tutorials and courses can be helpful in learning the basic skills needed. Of course, keep in mind that there are certain rules that need to be followed as well. When I started designing my first application, the grid, layout, spacing and other parameters were completely out of my mind. Yeah, the nightmare began… Designs needed to be changed to the correct layout, resulting doubling my working time and a lot of frustration. An advice to all of you that want to get started is to keep these things in mind from the start.

By having a psychological background, you can actually use various theories, rules and concepts, about human perception, memory and cognition, in the designing process. The Gestalt Principles are one example of such a theory, which deals with the way humans perceive and organise objects, such as the principles of Similarity and Proximity.

But… I don’t know anything about coding….

Although I try to prove that psychology and technical areas can actually be combined, this does not imply that we need to have any technical knowledge or learn programming. Tech companies value the idea of multidisciplinary teams, which basically involves open working spaces and a lot of cooperation between employees from different departments. This means that as a UX Researcher or Designer, you will definitely need to work with developers, and you are actually required to do so.

As you know, developers have their own…languages, that you may not be familiar with. This can lead you to design ideas and concepts that cannot actually be implemented, which may seem like the downside. However, not having this technical knowledge, allows you to think outside the box, to be creative and suggest new ideas. In the end, even if these ideas cannot be implemented, you will talk them through with colleagues and find a compromise, so your work will not be wasted.

Take away 
"Be careful" message!

Something that I am experiencing, especially now in the beginning, is the “know-it-all” attitude. As a psychology student, I think I know exactly what people think, why they behave in a certain way and what the problem is. I actually stumble in my own footsteps. Therefore, what I am suggesting are purely assumptions, not based on research, which are easily challenged by my colleagues. Research is the key, and anything you do, or design, should be based on something that the users of this system have actually reported or done and not on your own assumptions about what people might do and think.


Conclusion

Through this blog, my intention was to share with you my experience and the difficulties that I am facing while entering the field of UX. I am a newbie in the field, and I know that my UX path is still long and involves a lot of learning and even more difficulties. However, through this blog post, I want to show to other students or people with a psychological background that areas like UX Design are not completely out of reach, and that motivation, hard-work and an open-mind can take you wherever you wish!

Thank you!

Things that
might help:

Books

  • Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules, by Jeff Johnson → Book that describes/ connects various psychological theories and concepts with the designing process.
  • Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (Voices That Matter), by Steve Krug

Online Courses

  • Lynda.com → online learning platform, with various courses and classes about Sketch, Illustrator, UX Design etc [Keep in mind that paid membership is required in this website]
  • Interaction Design Foundation → online learning platform, with various courses regarding the UX field [Keep in mind that paid membership is required in this website, with a discount for students]
  • YOUTUBE, of course !!!

Blog and Resources

All these platforms are full with inspiring people that share their knowledge, experiences, tips and tricks to everybody so definitely spend some time searching through these sites.

Niki Volonasi. Niki recently started as a UX designer at El Niño and is applying psychology prinicples to digital experiences with great success. Niki Volonasi. Niki recently started as a UX designer at El Niño and is applying psychology prinicples to digital experiences with great success.

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