Ben Gilmore is a lead UX Designer, teacher and mentor based in Melbourne, Australia.
Ben has accumulated 18 years of UX design experience and managing design teams. Specialising in usability, web applications, design patterns, Search interfaces, accessibility & inclusive design, Ben focuses on building strong collaboration design processes between disciplines and achieving creative solutions based on user research and data.
Ben kindly took the time to speak to us about the impact that Covid-19 has had on his profession as a UX designer and how he has adapted to the crisis.
If you’re new to FFS, otherwise known as Futureheads Five Stories, this is a regular interview series where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell.
- Tell us about the impact that Covid-19 and the lockdown measures have had on you.
I left my job in February due to some internal reshuffles and changes before the Covid-19 crisis took full effect. Here in Melbourne the job market is pretty quiet until March so my intention was to have some R & R. Since Covid forced everyone into lockdown, the job market has pretty much flatlined (to put it in context, a recruiter told me that the company he works for usually has 400+ jobs on their books and in the whole of March they only had 40). So I’ve been trying to find other productive ways to spend my time.
On a personal note, living on your own without the structure of employment has been hard; while I count myself blessed in many ways, the stress of uncertainty does take its toll. It’s stressful figuring out if I should apply for all opportunities or try to weather the storm and find the right job on the other side.
- How have you adapted?
Without employment I was thinking about ways I could be productive and potentially help the design community. I was teaching design at Academy Xi for a year and it was one of the most rewarding parts of my career. I started thinking about how I could put that experience and my 20 years of being a UX designer to good use.
I hit upon the idea that I could do free online portfolio reviews for junior designers. I posted on LinkedIn and was completely blown away with the response. Within days I had 30+ sessions booked though Calendly! The experience has been fantastic; I’ve met designers from all over the world including California, Bangladesh, Argentina and many more. It does restore some faith in humanity to meet all these wonderful, talented and enthusiastic people.
For me it’s really helped having a sense of purpose and reward as well as having a structure to my day and getting to talk to people across so many countries. There is a shared sense of solidarity as we are all going through similar experiences in lockdown. I’ve done 34 reviews so far and am now pausing for a bit as it has been quite exhausting.
I also set up an online book club for for junior UX designers. In London I used to love the UX Book Club but often felt the juniors in the room didn’t get the opportunity to speak, so I decided just to limit the membership to less experienced designers. The response has also been completely overwhelming. 70+ people have signed up from multiple time zones and our first Zoom meet and greet is on the 25th April. (Possibly going to be pure chaos!)
- Has this crisis made you look at your business/profession differently?
The uncertainty of both the economy and the job market has made me look at things differently. The experience of mentoring so many people has gone some way to confirming that it’s the area of a leadership job that I enjoy the most.
The shock to the system from the crisis has given me time to properly consider who I am and what I want to do. I’ve been looking to reinvent myself a little, trying to figure out how I can do what I love (solving design problems, teaching and mentoring) without the toxic company cultures and office politics so I’m setting up a side gig to do just that. I’m exploring design leadership as a service for startups and small businesses who can’t afford a full time design lead.
- What advice would you give to anyone in a similar position to you at the moment?
If you have the time, like I do, try to do something you find rewarding. Find something that helps you structure your day and gives you a sense of purpose. Reach out to your networks and make new connections and see how you can help. You never know how one of those connections could be someone you work with in the future… plus it’s just nice to talk.
Having the down time is an opportunity in some ways (a stressful one where one’s bank account is ever decreasing) to slow down and take account. I’ve done loads of non-work-related things, from baking bread, painting again for the first time in 20 years and teaching myself to play the Ukelele!
It’s a time for some self reflection, a time to read those books you have been meaning to read. If the circumstances at the moment are out of our control, do something you enjoy.
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