Gerard Fitzgerald, director of user experience, Globoforce
Gerard Fitzgerald, director of UX, Globoforce. Image: Globoforce

‘The more you put yourself out of your comfort zone, the faster you learn’

23 Jul 2018

Want to master a career in UX design? Take some advice from someone who has walked the path before you.

It’s an exciting time to enter the world of user experience (UX) design. Companies are becoming more aware of the importance of good UX design every day and so, it’s an extremely rewarding industry to be in.

For someone just starting out, though, it can be daunting. There are many tools, jobs and other nuances that can make it feel a bit overwhelming.

As with many jobs, it’s always good to hear from someone who has taken those initial steps in the past and gone on to excel in the field.

Gerard Fitzgerald is the director of UX at Globoforce, a multinational company that specialises in building an employee recognition platform and helping companies improve their workplace environment.

Here, Fitzgerald shares his story of how he arrived in the UX design industry and what advice he would give to budding UX designers who are just starting out.

What first stirred your interest in a career in UX design?

I remember being in sixth year and the deadline for the CAO form was fast approaching. I was thinking of studying interior design in college but my art teacher advised against it – I didn’t have a portfolio strong enough needed to apply for a course.

So, I reluctantly selected computer science, not really fully understanding what it was. Four years later, I found myself graduating with a degree and I ended up enjoying it.

In looking back, maybe the notion of pursuing interior design was a prerequisite to what I do today. However, I always had an inherent interest in design, whether it be interior, architecture or digital. Over the course of my studies, I was constantly experimenting with different design software, doing photo manipulations using Photoshop, logo design in Illustrator and web design in Fireworks.

My spare time was spent reading about design and consuming as many tutorials as I could. Even on weekends, I was happy to open the laptop and start creating something. If I saw something interesting, whether it be a UI component, app screen, logo or digital art, I’d try to replicate it or do my own version.

It was fairly evident that my interest lay more on the design front than in writing lines of code. When I started working for agencies as a digital designer, I created logos and design work that were used for big companies and events. I remember seeing my work used in big advertising campaigns and that feeling was hugely rewarding – it kept me coming back for more.

What education and other jobs led you to the role you now have?

My background in programming and technology has been incredibly useful while working in the field of UX. Pretty much after I finished college, I moved into a design role.

I already had a few years of freelance work that I completed during my computer science degree. Having a strong portfolio and the programming knowledge, I was able to do a full end-to-end design and implementation of applications.

I worked for years on both sides of the fence, dipping equally in and out of design and development roles. During this time, UX was an emerging discipline and I decided to hone my skills and energy there.

Coming from a development background allowed me to understand the more technical side of working with developers, understanding constraints, thinking about logic and edge cases – all useful traits to have as a UX designer. As a way to solidify my experience in UX, I completed a master’s in UX design.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered on your career path?

I think, in this industry, challenges come in many shapes and sizes – whether it’s trying to integrate a coherent UX process into an agile software environment or trying to juggle the many different facets of experience design. For me personally, moving into a leadership role is something that organically happened for me.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was learning daily how to be the most effective leader. I have always been happy to take on challenges. As a result, I’m constantly learning and looking at ways in which I can become the most effective leader, so my team can be successful.

The more you put yourself out of your comfort zone, the faster you learn and build confidence. This helps in facing ongoing challenges such as dealing with adversity around a UX process or advocating to executives for best-in-class UX.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

Aside from my family always being incredibly supportive of what I’ve done and the path I’ve taken, most of what drove me to enhance my skills was the community of incredible designers out there.

I couldn’t say one designer has been influential, it’s a combination of constant exposure to inspiring work that makes me want to be as good as I can in the field. I’ve always been someone who inherently wants to achieve my best potential and goals. I want to do a good job and I push myself to do that.

I’ve had many good managers who have seen my potential, trusted me to make mistakes, make decisions and learn from them. This is a style that I’ve taken into my own leadership role. I think those traits are incredibly important in helping to foster growth and development for teams.

What do you enjoy about your job?

When you have a job where you enjoy coming to work every day, and it’s not a hindrance or chore, you know you are on to something good. I enjoy getting to work with the incredible team I have, learning from them as much as I get the opportunity to lead and guide them.

We create a positive experience for millions of users across the world and help make their workplace a more positive place through how we design experiences for our global recognition programme – what’s not to love about that?

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

I’d like to think I’m highly empathic. I am a people person. I put my team first before anything and I genuinely want them to succeed at what they do. I want them to grow and develop professionally and build strong relationships with the company.

In terms of my own day-to-day work, it’s just a need to always push myself and produce my best work. I’m open to feedback and failure – a trait you need as a good UX designer when you put your work out there for testing, for example.

How did Globoforce support you on your career path?

Globoforce has been incredibly supportive of me. We have a number of initiatives to aid employee growth, whether it’s funding educational courses or through the internal GloboUniversity programme to help employees gain new skills and experience.

Additionally, Globoforce actively runs manager and leadership workshops to help employees grow as leaders and create an environment of continuous feedback.

Globoforce rewards hard work and has given me incredible opportunities to grow within the company. All of this is embodied through Globoforce’s own social recognition programme that allows both peers and managers to give positive reinforcement every day.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in UX, or just starting out in one?

UX can be daunting when you start out. There are many areas and facets you will come across (interaction design, visual design, content strategy, information architecture, research, usability testing etc). My advice is to start getting comfortable with the tools of the trade, whether it be Sketch or prototyping software such as Balsamiq, Flinto, Marvel etc.

Start experimenting, look at tutorials in each of the areas and get familiar with the process of UX. There is an abundance of online resources available to challenge yourself.

Build a conceptual portfolio that shows not just completed design work, but the full end-to-end process of how you might improve a part of an application or web experience.

I’ve interviewed junior designers looking to get into UX based on conceptual work where I could see their thought process starting from research, moving to ideation and sketches, prototyping, testing and the improvements they made. At the end of the day, this is how I landed my first design role.

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