Dec 05, 2020

On Turning Down a Job Right Out of University

During the past few weeks, I was in talks with an industrial company for a job. Long story short: It did not work out. For many students just about to finish their bachelor's degree, a very well paid job offer is extremely enticing, and I'd bet most would jump at the opportunity — especially during this corona-politics-induced recession(1). After experiencing industrial UX and UI jobs first hand in two internships, I was very sceptical and my critical questions paid off. A daydream-nightmare I carry with me is a job that will consume me. A job, at which, after working there for half my life, I realise I didn't do what I actually wanted to do. This probably sounds entitled and arrogant, and it may well be, but having witnessed grown men and women break down and cry, admitting they hate their job but don't see a way out, I will do everything I can to find a job I love.

Employing designers in a design-hostile environment

Let me draw a picture for a moment. I feel it's an especially German problem to not value design. Maybe that is just because I live here, and I get to see all the wrecked opportunities and failed startups that had great product ideas but horrible execution, or maybe it actually is a German problem. An example I like to bring up at every opportunity is the German car industry, which, after trying to ignore the problem of electric vehicles out of existence, now can be seen scrambling to survive. The new Volkswagen ID.3 was celebrated as the saviour of the industry but now is plagued by software problems(2) and passenger weight limitations(3). But even ignoring the blatant neglect to code quality, their UX is terrible. I myself drive a VW E-Golf, the predecessor to the ID.3 which, except for a few tweaks, shares it's in-car media-system.

It is unbelievably horrible to use while being among the best media-systems I've ever seen in a car. It consistently fails to live up to expectations.

And my expectations are very low when it comes to in-car entertainment. I was positively surprised when it was possible to type using the touch screen, without wanting to smash my fist into it. Even after two years of use, it is slow, unintuitive, has many unnecessary functions and lacks some essential ones — one of which is the ability to update over the air(4).

This common and horrible UX results from a design-hostile working environment. As a designer, I want the products I design to not just look pretty but to actually work great. This can only be achieved when design has a seat at the table instead of being handed finished product decisions with the request to make them look good. If you're a designer, you may be familiar with the UX maturity scale; it ranks a company's relationship with design. I'd rank the company I was in talks with (which was not Volkswagen) as "hostile to UX".

At this company, the difference between UI design and UX design was not understood by the lead UX designer, and he openly expressed disinterest in caring about UX design.

For the lead UX designer to not know about the distinction between UI and UX was a red flag, to put it mildly. He had given himself the title over ten years ago, but apparently not understood what it meant – or even bothered to google it – to this day. As a "UX/UI designer" I was expected to do the UX thing on the side if it didn't take any extra time. This company has immense potential, especially during the Corona Pandemic, as it provides SaaS to healthcare that reduces the need for human contact. While I sometimes do use a part of their product, I hate every moment of it.

So, additionally, to making products disappointing and only successful by accident, the hostility towards design was a significant factor that led me to turn my back on them while looking for a job.

Working hours

It has become normal for almost all jobs in all professions to not be able to afford to rent a liveable apartment, not even too far away from the city to be worth the money while working full-time. And here, again, I’m not too extravagant, as we’re two adults without kids who both have a relatively good income. The definition of "full-time" itself is different from company to company. I've seen a range of job-postings titled "full-time" from 32h/week to 42h/week. I've worked a 42h job before and loved it, but I never will again, because while I did so, I had no life.

As a designer, the almost mythical status of the portfolio translates into a permanent weekend-project. Especially while working at a company that requires an NDA and does not allow you to showcase your work, designers have to work additionally on the side to have designs they can present. Designers who don't have a portfolio they can bring to talks with potential employers or clients, don't get much work – if any. This means effectively, through the malpractice of forcing designers to show work they've done before in job interviews, designers are forced to put in at least one extra work-day each week. Imagine accountants had to show the spreadsheets they made for a former employer in job interviews, it's ridiculous! Whereas many other occupations mean you leave your job at work and actually have the time outside of work available to you, designers shift this work into their private lives, to be able to comply with this demand.

The employer I was in talks with required an NDA and a five day week with 8+1h workdays. The +1 hour is the break required by law in Germany, which is entirely consumed by cooking and eating lunch while in home-office. Adding the previously mentioned portfolio-day to this schedule equates to a 48+6h work week. I believe it is inhumane and unsustainable to work 6-days a week for 9-hours a day indefinitely. And even those readers who think my complaint is entitled will have to agree to this: Working so much, the only free time you have is spent cleaning the house and doing laundry, will impact your ability to creatively problem-solve. Creatively solving problems, however, is an exact job description for "design".

If working in design means I will steadily become worse at it due to exhaustion, why then would I agree to do it? I'm not in it for the money. I want to make great products. So I decided I would not agree to lock myself into a golden cage but to find a better way.

  1. The disease cannot be considered responsible, as it is not acting with intent. Politicians however, act with intent, and their ineptitude has lead to this economic slow-motion crash. ↸ scroll to text
  2. "The video shows 22 bugs and does not mention the 12V battery issue nor the disconnecting key. That would make the list grow to 24 problems, but our reader JB – who preferred not to have his full name published – told us he has experienced even more." ↸ scroll to text
  3. "All versions of the Volkswagen ID.3 are rated to seat five except for the one with the larger sized battery pack." Volkswagen ID.3 With Larger Battery Seats Only Four by Matt St-Pierre on ↸ scroll to text
  4. You can update its map-data using WiFi if you pay for the online connectivity, whereas updating using an SD card is free of charge. This online update fails if you turn off the ignition while it downloads or installs and it requires a WiFi connection, meaning you have to sit in your car and wait. Some of the maps are up to 32GB to download, which takes several hours on a high-speed connection. For me personally, this update process reliably failed after it was finished downloading. It never worked, not *once!* ↸ scroll to text