How to showcase your design process on a resume

Build a talent stack instead of a tech stack

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Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

If you found a UX Designer job that you thought you were perfect for, except you didn’t have experience in one tool they listed, would you still apply?

If so, what would you say?

It’s a story that many of us had to face when Sketch came out. Businesses knew it as the hot new design tool, which meant that they’d put it on their job descriptions.

But as a poor UX Design student, with no way to buy a Mac/Sketch license, I had to look at alternatives and deal with awkward questions from recruiters about not knowing Sketch.

The fact of the matter is, there will always be another tool to learn and use. Besides, jobs will want you to show actual work experience with whatever tool is listed.

So what should you do?

De-emphasize the tech stack, and emphasize the talent stack.

To explain this difference between the two, I first need to define each.

A tech stack is the combination of programming languages, tools, and frameworks that can be used to create both mobile and web applications. This is how developers can express whether they have experience building back-end or front-end development, based on the tools that they’ve used.

Because UX Designers have often been lumped together with developers (to the point where asking if you need to code as a Designer), it’s little surprise that some designers have adopted the tech stack.

A Talent stack is different. Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic, defines talent stacking as combining a variety of average skills in your life to become extraordinary and unique.

The example Adams always points to is himself:

He’s not the best artist: there are others better than him. He’s not a business expert. He’s a good, but not a great writer. He can be a little funny, but not like a comedian.

But he was able to combine those skills into being a very successful cartoonist and writing career and has a net worth of $75 million.

“When you add in my ordinary business skills, my strong work ethic, my risk tolerance, and my reasonably good sense of humor, I’m fairly unique. And in this case that uniqueness has commercial value.” — Scott Adams

And he’s not alone. Others, such as the founder of Unsplash, have spoken to how this has allowed them to find unique niches that other companies have trouble competing with.

The key difference between the two stacks is this.

A tech stack addresses the question: “Do I have experience working with these tools?”

A talent stack addresses the question: “How do my experiences make me a unique candidate?”

The latter is almost certainly more appealing to businesses. Why?

Because no one technology skill defines UX Design.

Here’s a list of tools were popular in 2018 for UX Design:

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Now here’s a list of popular UX Design tools in 2019:

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This is one reason why the tech stack is not sustainable for design. Is it the best use of your time to learn 15 new design applications every year (that may just disappear after a single year)?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn new applications. But the “tech stack” works for developers because there are agreed-upon standards for development.

For example, a “Front-end Developer” tech stack will almost always look like this:

  • HTML — the markup language
  • CSS — the stylesheet
  • Javascript — browser scripting language (Angular, ReactJS)

That standard allows potential developers to showcase their front-end development experience with a few bullet points.

Listing every design tool that you’re passingly familiar with on a resume is a good way to have a 5-page resume that no one will read.

And it’s more important to save that room for the other parts of UX Design.

UX Design isn’t just creating websites in Photoshop: there’s a design process to creating something, but this can often be tricky to encompass into something like a resume.

However, by talking about experiences beyond tools, you can highlight a number of these things a lot easier.

User Research: Behind every UX Design position, there is User Research. After all, nobody wants you to design things that people won’t use.

So how else can you present your experiences in user research? You could talk about how you have experience not only leading interviews but also preparing interview scripts so other people can easily practice as well.

Or perhaps you had to change things around and research with a limited budget?

Communication: The best designs sometimes fail to fly with business members or stakeholders. There may be many reasons that range from personal opinions to hidden policy/legislation/data restrictions that you weren’t aware of when you designed something.

Can you defend your design decisions? More importantly, can you find a way to understand why someone doesn’t want to implement your design?

There’s a reason why people have said that writing is Design’s unicorn skill: it’s because that communication and mediating design decisions are a soft skill which is a crucial part of working with any organization.

Translation: This may sound the same as communication, but it’s slightly different.

Can you speak enough business to translate ideas from a designer’s perspective to a business one? For example, rather than talking about Call To Actions, you can talk about how this design improves ROI/Click-through metrics?

Likewise, can you speak enough of a developer language/information architecture to explain your design and why they should go with it, even if it’s a little bit more tricky to implement?

Project Management: Have you ever had to organize or mentor others on the project? Or are you a good mentee?

This sort of organizational skill is crucial in terms of being able to work within a team, whether by yourself or with other designers.

So how do you figure out what skills to try and write down?

By using Behavioral interview questions.

If you’re unfamiliar with behavioral questions, they are the type of questions present in every interview that sounds like this:

“Tell me about a time when you (were faced with challenges/worked with others/X)”.

They are a crucial part of allowing other people to understand your thought process, and how you’re able to show that you have a design process.

So just ask yourself: “What would be things I would mention if asked a behavioral interview question?”

Would you just talk about what tool you used, or would you mention things like running pilot studies or creating interview scripts?

If you would cover this in telling someone about your process, perhaps it’s worth investigating to see if it should be part of the talent stack.

I write about UX Design, Healthcare, and Productivity regularly. If you would like to learn how to communicate better with UX Designers, check out my online course.

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning:

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