Finding Your Best Fit: Which UX Environment is Right for You?

Learn about what it’s like to ‘do UX’ in different places. Here we’ll illuminate the landscape so you can discover the UX environment that’s right for you.

Ben Judy
Ben Judy
Oct 14, 2021
Min Read

Ben Judy is a UX designer and strategist with over 20 years of experience designing digital products to be more human-centered. He’s currently a User Experience Lead at Flexion and a Designlab mentor. He loves sharing what he’s learned and experienced with others as they’re entering the design field.

Years ago, I was hired as a Web Designer at a company with a large user experience team and a roaming gnome as a mascot. Since then, I’ve worked in many different roles and in different environments. (Cue the old country song, I’ve Been Everywhere.) 

Here are just a few of the full-time roles I’ve played:

  • Information Architect at a social video startup
  • UI Designer at a digital marketing agency
  • UX Lead in a consulting company working with government clients
  • UX Lead for a travel software corporation
  • Lead Designer for an innovation lab at a commercial real estate corporation
  • Senior Interaction Designer for a tax software corporation
  • Design manager for a software product team within a health care corporation
  • Group UX manager at a retail corporate headquarters

Notice the pattern? They read almost like Mad Libs: role or skill set at an industry or market sector in a type of organization.

Starting out, I never could have predicted where this road would take me. I lacked awareness of the possibilities. I also lacked a framework for figuring out where I could thrive as a creative professional.

Perhaps you’re looking at UX job opportunities and wondering:

  • “What’s it like to work here?”
  • “Is this employer a better fit for me, or would I be happier down the street?”
  • “What questions should I ask during my interview?”

To help you answer these, you need someone to illuminate the landscape and help you ask the right questions. When I think about different environments for UX practitioners, three categories come to mind:

1. The organization

Facets of different organizations that hire UX designers (or product designers, UI designers, HCD experts, et cetera. Let’s not get hung up on titles.)

2. The UX discipline

How UX is structured, led, and matured within the organization.

3. You

Your skills, natural abilities, and passions.

With those topic areas as our outline, let’s talk about what it’s like to ‘do UX’ in different places.

The Organization

All kinds of organizations need UX designers, and any organization you might work for has a set of attributes that can be examined and compared. Let’s explore some of these aspects so you can think about where you might be a good fit.

Type of Organization

The following table lists several types of organizations who hire UX designers.

Types of Organizations_Ben Judy

Better user experiences are needed everywhere, and you can work in almost any industry or economic sector. Here are three things to consider: your experience within the industry, UX maturity, and constraints.

Industry or Market Sector

Other types of organizations include governments and academic institutions. If you’re entrepreneurial and self-directed, you can also forego working for someone else’s organization and become an independent consultant or freelancer—but consider whether you want to take on the pressure of running the business while also doing the project work.

Your Experience Within the Industry

Designlab Career Services students often ask: “Do I need to have industry experience before I’m qualified to work somewhere?” The answer is usually, no. You can learn on the job by working alongside industry experts within the organization. This is how I have cycled through UX jobs in various industries such as travel, healthcare, tax software, retail, and more.

UX Maturity

Some industries seem to have a greater commitment to mature UX disciplines, compared to others where UX is less of a concern.

“Leading industries include healthcare, pharma, IT, advertising, transportation, and automotive. These industries have fewer low maturity companies than the average overall.

Industries with the most room for improvement include education, nonprofit, research & development, retail, consumer durables, and (surprisingly) banking.” - The New Design Frontier, Invision


Organizations must operate within the constraints of their industry as regulated by the government. For example, in the United States: financial institutions must adhere to SEC regulations, while health care companies must handle patient data with respect to PHI laws including HIPPA.

“There are different constraints on design—what you can or cannot do—not based on what is best for the user, but based on legal compliance and business model constraints.” - Michael Tinglin, Senior Product Designer—Enterprise Innovation Team, Fannie Mae

Corporate Leadership

Here are three questions to ask:

  1. How do senior leaders exhibit human-centeredness?
  2. Does UX have a seat at the executive table?
  3. Do senior leaders grant autonomy and delegate authority to designers in matters of design?

“A design team needs to be in charge of its own destiny, and this requires focused leadership with autonomy and executive access.”
- Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner, Org Design for Design Orgs: Building and Managing In-House Design Teams

The UX Discipline

Now I’ll list some important questions to ask about the UX discipline when considering what it might be like to work somewhere.

UX Maturity

An example of a UX maturity model from Nielsen Norman Group.

  • How is UX maturity defined and measured?
  • What level of UX maturity has the organization achieved?
  • Does the UX team have a recognized DesignOps or ResearchOps practice, and are there dedicated roles for UX operations?

Team Size and Structure

  • What is the total number of UX people?
  • What are all of the job titles of UX practitioners?
  • Do UX people report to a UX manager, or do they take direction from leaders in other disciplines such as product management or engineering?
  • What is the ratio of UX people to other roles (especially software developers)?
  • How is the UX team structured? A centralized group? Are designers decentralized and embedded within product teams? Is it a centralized partnership?

UX Leadership

  • What is the title of the highest ranking UX practitioner—Director, Vice President, Design Executive Officer, etc?
  • Who does that person report to on the org chart?
  • Who has authority to make changes to the size and structure of the UX practice?
  • Who hires and fires UX people?
  • Are UX leaders viewed mainly as people managers, creative directors, or drivers of operational efficiency?

Career Development

  • How do UX people collaborate and learn from one another, formally and informally?
  • What specific actions do leaders take to directly support the career growth of UX people?
  • Are funds provided for learning activities and connecting with the global UX community?
  • How does mentoring take place?
  • How well defined are career paths, job matrixes, and role descriptions of UX people?
  • How often do promotions happen for UX people, and who authorizes them?


The Ancient Greek maxim, “know thyself’ is essential UX career advice. Every professional environment is not a perfect fit for you. A little introspection can go a long way toward figuring out which positions to pursue, and which gigs just aren’t your jam.


Skills are learned abilities you have practiced to achieve high levels of performance. The field of UX design encompasses a broad landscape of skills and role functions. Each UX sub-discipline may be more or less important in different environments. For example:

  • Visual design, branding, and graphic design skills may be more in-demand in industries like retail where marketing plays a larger role in organizational strategy; perhaps less so in industries such as health care.
  • Accessibility and usability are often points of emphasis in government UX work.
  • Presenting and group facilitation skills may be valued differently in an academic institution where teaching takes place, versus other environments.

My advice: periodically evaluate your top UX skills and consider whether these will be put to good use at your next employer. As Designlab’s Nicole Locklair said, “While there’s no definitive taxonomy of UX roles and responsibilities, there are broad categories that will help you figure out where you might fit.”

Natural Talents

Your natural talents are innate abilities that come easily with little or no practice required. One way to discover these natural talents is to generalize the developed skills you enjoy putting to use. You might consider yourself skilled at usability testing (because you’ve studied it and you’ve conducted many tests); you may also have natural talent for observation and synthesis. Thus, generative research skills may be easy for you to learn as well. Having some sense of these ‘talent adjacencies’ can help you determine where you can quickly grow in your career.

My advice: Try to gain an understanding of how you are uniquely wired. Personality tests can help. Build creative habits. Consider asking other people to observe and comment on your natural talent, rather than make that determination for yourself.


You may have heard it said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” There’s truth in this, but consider that passions can either be nurtured or squelched by environmental factors.

About a decade into my career, I began to develop a passion for UX strategy. I plugged myself in to communities like UX STRAT, read books, and began writing and speaking about it myself. I began to feel frustrated in low UX maturity organizations that had little or no understanding of the importance of UX strategy. I also felt too constrained working in ‘tactical’ roles as a designer. When I was finally hired into a positional leadership role and was asked to build and lead a large UX team, I was able to stretch my strategic muscles and it felt good!

My advice: Inventory what you’re good at (skills), what comes easily (natural talent), and what excites you (passion.) Look for alignment between those things and any organization or UX team you might join to find the sweet spot. 


A career in UX can take you on a journey to amazing places alongside wonderful people. When I started, I never could have imagined the variety of industries, types of organizations, teams, and leaders I would encounter. I hope I have illuminated the landscape so you can discover a work environment that’s right for you. As Dr. Seuss once said:

“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you'll move mountains.”

Figuring out where you fit in the world of UX can be a daunting task—especially when you’re a new designer. Watch our recent webinar with Ben to hear more on this topic…

To learn more about which UX environment is right for you and from expert mentors like Ben we encourage you to explore our UX Academy program.

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Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.