I have been ready to graduate for some time, but I must say that these last couple semesters in undergrad have been a great experience for me to begin setting my sights on what I want to shoot for in the future. After visiting a UX job market panel at UpTech in greater Cincinnati, I have received one more inspiration towards integrating my skills together into a value-creating profession.
Why UX in the Midwest?
This panel discussed what UX is, how people usually define it, and then finally what the UX market is like in the region. The four panelists had a wide variety of backgrounds, from startups to corporations, from designers to financiers. Their experience supporting their claims showed that they clearly got around, from working in The Valley to Boston to Chicago, they ultimately had ended up in Cincinnati and love the environment it provides.
- The coasts are looking to the Midwest for reasonably priced services. An affect of minute specialization is higher cost. As skills become more and more niche, premiums on that experience jump to astronomical proportions, and for many companies these rates are simply unrealistic (one panelist quoted $70/hr).
- Midwest UX professionals are well rounded. Once you start heading to bigger cities, specialization occurs to the nth degree, and while that may lead to greater efficiencies, it doesn’t make for a better team player. The panelists agreed that most professionals fall to either the engineering-heavy side, or the design-heavy side of the skill spectrum, and that this dichotomy is difficult to make a great UX professional. UX requires prudence and diplomacy between performance requirements and realistic technical constraints, and these qualities are much more likely to be found among those with wide experiences.
- The Midwest favors meritocracy (in a practical way). One of the more encouraging statements made that evening was from a panelist of an agency: “We’re not looking for the graduate two years out, but five or more years out. We want to see the mistakes they’ve made, and what they’ve learned from their experience.” This theme found itself played out in a general demand they all shared for professionals who can take charge in bridging the design/engineering gap. “There’s no one approaching it as a product manager.” Only with years of experience in various industries will this blend of knowledge be able to synthesize into something new and original.
On a personal note, I also had a pleasant chortle upon seeing a parallel between the required traits of UX and the symbolic character of Cincinnati. From a history course (hooray for liberal arts education), I remembered learning about Roman virtues being exemplified through the nearly mythological tale of Cincinnatus, who performed his high duties of office without any assumptions of power or privilege beyond his minimal service. For a little bonus history lesson, here are 7 Roman Values (mirroring the 7 hills of both Rome and Cincinnati):
- Auctoritas: possessing authority, and being able to lead
- Dignitas: having prestige and charisma
- Gravitas: not being flippant, but having an intentional focus
- Hospitium: being welcoming of new people [and new ideas]
- Otium: understanding the power of leisure, and pursuit of personal interests
- Pietas: being rooted in religiosity
- Virtus: having boldness and valor
With the exception for some recent irreverent marketing campaigns for felines, you don’t have to look farther than what you can see from the Carew Tower to find examples of these values: from a world-class museum, to a refreshing Eden Park, historic (and active) Catholic parishes, and a well-programmed Fountain Square, Cincinnati has all of the necessary elements to support a culture of UX.