Yvonne Gando, Google Senior UX Writer on Portfolio Tips to Break into UX

Google Senior UX Writer Yvonne Gando works as a UX writer, content strategist, storyteller and freelancer. She uses words to guide users across multiple platforms and touchpoints to shape delightfully useful AR & VR experiences.

Her fields of work include AI, AR, conversation design, service design, chat UI, messaging, machine learning, assistive UX, accessibility, brand strategy, editorial strategy and localization.

I talked to Yvonne at the Amuse UX Conference Budapest after attending her amazing talk, “UX Writing: Designing better product experiences”.

In this interview, she told us about how she became a senior UX writer and about the recruitment process at Google. She shared her thoughts about standing out from the crowd as a UX writer, the skills it needs and how to showcase them in a portfolio.

She also mentioned some common mistakes in making a portfolio and gave advice to juniors about starting their career.

Hi Yvonne! I am really happy to have you on our blog! Could you share some details of your career path? How can someone become a UX writer?

Well, I started off writing just generally for advertising companies, and I wanted to figure out how to translate my skill set in a more marketable way. Then I was able to write for different types of technology companies. From there, years and years later, Google contacted me.

A UX writer in general should just have a solid passion for language itself. I always had this.

And then, solid writing skills. So, really understand the foundation of good writing, regardless of the technology or the vertical that you’re serving. Learn as much as you can about the product area and problem space so that  you’re able to understand that language and then translate it to users.

So, be flexible in understanding how to strengthen your craft, because it’s always going to change with each product that you build or each type of vertical that you serve. Know that it’s always going to be evolving as a practice, so approach it as being a student of the craft because it’s never gonna stay the same

What skills does someone need to work at a company like Google?

You have to be persistent and opinionated. Identify what you can bring to the product experience. As a writer, understand how language is going to shape an experience.

Also, figure out ways to partner when people don’t necessarily know that you’re needed in the craft. So for instance, I’ve been on so many teams where the designers or the researchers never had a writer on their team. Well, what do you do then?

So, really prove that value. Someone at Google has to have this enterprising spirit to really figure out the pain points of the entire product experience.

Find how language can solve some of those pain points. Then really figure out with partners how to solve them, and then promote their work. If you do solve these problems, but nobody knows about it, then it doesn’t really serve UX writing as a discipline because people don’t know your role in it. So you have to be your own advocate, I would say.

As I know, you also work as a freelancer.

Yes.

So, do you think it’s the same for freelancers or is it any different?

I think it’s harder for freelancers, because I feel like when you work for a big organization, at least you have that brand to back you up. But if you’re a freelancer, you really represent yourself. And you’re probably only viewed by the different projects that you’ve been able to complete.

So, if your customers or your partners are happy with your work, they give testimonials about your strengths. I think it’s an important way to promote yourself.

And, really always adhere to a high quality of standard, and an innovative practice.

There are so many writers out there. So, it’s what sets you apart from all these other writers. So, really try to figure out your niche if you are a freelance writer.

How would you suggest UXers showcase these skills in a UX portfolio?

For designers, writers and researchers, showing before-and-afters in your portfolio is really strong. So, for instance, show a product in its original state. Then, say you get to another revision or iteration–show the differences between the before and the after.

Also, show the metrics that have changed as a result of your revision and collaboration with all these partners.

It helps people understand what you’re capable of in terms of partnering as well as craft expertise. And, it’s really easy to compare and contrast the differences when you show it on one page as a before and an after.

Besides this, how important it is to show the design process or your writing process and the decisions that you took during the work?

It’s really important. Use a storytelling to guide your audience through the challenge and the solution you arrived at. It helps people understand the complexity of the project and what role you played in trying to solve that kind of challenge.

“Use storytelling to guide your audience through the challenge and the solution you arrived at.”

UX Folio - UX Portfolio Builder Tool

We, at UXfol.io also recommend this to our users. And how should they tell this story of their work?

For different types of projects, I think it changes. So in a rebranding effort, show the original version and then the revision that came after it.

And then really detail how you came to certain decisions, for a UX writer in particular. What’s important about showing these before-and-afters is really trying to underline how your language shapes an interaction, so for instance with the bots.

“Really detail how you came to certain decisions.”

A lot of the designers didn’t know how to craft language that would resonate with the user. But then, show them the principles of language or conversation maxims that we naturally adhere to in social situations. And then create these example scripts for them. A writer can bring a certain level of unique expertise to design the experience.

And then similarly, if there are general interaction flows that language can help solve, show where language has changed in your action, with labels or text, or different button for instance; even where it’s placed. Another simple example is if a certain component pops up, like a dialog, figure out how to make an experience a little bit less disruptive through language.

Show that writers can also influence interaction design.

What format would you recommend to use to showcase all these?

I would definitely use something where you just scroll through and then you explain your rationale for certain decisions that were made.

And then, mobile screens that show the before and the after. Try to show an entire flow of these screens.

And that’s a common format that people consume when we present to different types of stakeholders or even to employers if somebody’s looking for a job.

What typical mistakes do UXers make in their UX portfolios?

Really easy misspellings and grammar mistakes.

For example, in case of presentations, imagine a big headline completely misspelled. Those things you should catch because then those sloppy mistakes reflect your attention to detail, right?

And then, an employer’s gonna see that. “Well, why didn’t this person just make this quick fix?” It takes not even a millisecond, right? So, really show the care and the precision when you present your work.

Other mistakes: Sometimes people end up talking too much about themselves and not about the work and the problems they solved. When it becomes more of a biography, and less about the projects, it’s a little bit harder to demonstrate this person’s potential. I’m not gonna hire you because of your biography, essentially.

“When it becomes more of a biography, and less about the projects, it’s a little bit harder to demonstrate this person’s potential.”

If you can, showcase different ranges of products, different ranges of solutions, different types of challenges.

What is the selection process in your company, at Google?

It’s pretty rigorous. Well, there are several ways.

We have recruiters that sometimes will go on LinkedIn to figure out if there were candidates that match their criteria. Sometimes there are recommendations from internal folks. So let’s say I have a friend who I know is a really great designer. I’m already at Google, so then I put her name into the ring. And there’s also people just applying from our website, right? Because they see a job listing.

And so there’s several different paths to which they can become an employee at my company. It might start with a phone interview, then in-person interviews, which also consist of presentations to different types of stakeholders in different disciplines, whether it’s design, research or writing. They present to a group of people and follow that with interviews. So, it’s a pretty long process. After interviews, a separate group evaluates and assesses all of the different criteria to see if that person’s a fit.

What advice would you give to junior UXers?

That’s a really good question. I would say to be open to exploring different types of product areas. For me, I was always excited to work in all these different areas so that I could understand what I enjoy the most.

And then being able to do that is so important. Because when you’re passionate about something, your work is so much better, right?

There are projects that you work on that could be less sexy and boring. But then you can also really learn a lot about the fundamentals of a craft or a discipline.

And then there are projects that are innovative and sexy and hard. They might involve unique challenges, because the space is evolving and emerging at such a quick pace. But these types of projects help you sharpen your expertise, because you’re always pivoting and changing directions based on product need.

So, just working across the different range of products is really important to help someone keep on learning, learning their craft. And, never stay in one place.

“Never be complacent in the role. Always look for the new challenge.”

Never be complacent in the role. Always look for the new challenge. If you feel complacent, try to evaluate what you can do to learn more and to get more out of your day-to-day job.

What if they’ve just graduated and don’t have projects or a job yet? What should they put in their portfolios?

Gravitate towards people that you want to be like. Actually, what you’re doing right now. You’re interviewing all these different types of UX folks to understand how they got to their path. Most people like talking about themselves, right? So then when you ask people how they got to their current role, you can definitely learn from their experiences so that you don’t actually have to go through it all yourself.

Tap into the insights that they have from years and years of experience. It’s easy for you to learn about them and then try to see if you can apply that to your day-to-day life. I think that’s important.

Also, for junior people, try to just get that first job, no matter if it’s something that you think you would not love. You’re gonna learn something anywhere you go, even if it’s something not even in your discipline. I had so many jobs that had nothing to do with writing that I feel I could apply to my current job.

So, I feel like there’s a lot of skill sets that are portable that maybe just teach you more about persistence, negotiation, partnerships and collaboration that might not exactly fall in the exact discipline that you wanna be in. But it might get you closer to it.

Thank you very much, Yvonne, for all the useful advice you gave to our readers!

Yvonne Gando, Google Senior UX Writer on Breaking into UX: Portfolio Tips from a UX Writer

Take Yvonne’s advice, always look for new challenge and then, present it in your UX portfolio: guide your audience through the challenge and the solution you arrived at.

In case you want to showcase your process in your portfolio, UXfol.io is a good tool for it.

It supports UX professionals with portfolio building. It is really easy and quick to build a meaningful portfolio.

It even helps you in the copywriting part with great examples and guiding questions. Also, you can ask for detailed reviews on your case studies before applying for your next job.

Start building your UX portfolio: Click here to sign up to UXfol.io and try it out!

UX portfolio expert. Foreign-language learner, yogini, dog owner, volunteer, with an incurable case of wanderlust and a desire to help others.

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A typical mistake I see in UX portfolios is lack of content explaining their contribution to the effort, the images are only the final product and not the process to get there.

UX is very much about strategy and if the person is not showing how they got from A to B, they appear to be another UI trying to move into a UX role.

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