One of the things I struggle with is the sheer amount of topics, tools and skills that would be useful to understand or master as part of the wider UX skill set.
If you’re reading UX articles on Medium, you’ve probably felt the same.
Most people seem to start off relatively confidently with UXD or UXR skill sets, only to discover that there’s also strategy, IA, UI, development, product strategy, stakeholder skills, accessibility, UX writing, design systems and more and more and more…
I use a lot of tools to manage all the links, courses, reading and just things I want to know more about.
- Notion — to write long form notes while studying, creating team training plans, and drafting medium articles. Notion is my go-to for extended writing on desktop but some of the mobile rendering makes it tricky to use for quick tasks.
- Twitter bookmarks — to try and keep up with the speed of other peoples’ brains, but it’s just a chronological list so it’s hard to go back and find things.
- Pocket — to save links on the go, but sometimes it seems like the links go in, never to be looked at or read again.
More recently, I have discovered something wonderful — using Trello for more than just backlogs and task management. I’ve actually been using Trello to build a mental model of everything I want to learn about this thing we all “UX”.
Using Trello to build a mental model of everything I want (and need) to learn
By doing this, I have reduced 75% of my subject-matter overwhelm.
First up, create a Trello board. Create a list called “backlog”. Now add cards for every topic you can think of that you’ve ever thought you needed to learn something about, or been interested in. Doesn’t matter how high level or granular for now.
For each card, start adding any links you’ve saved recently. Don’t worry about going through your entire Pocket or bookmark list — just add a few for now, because essentially this learning journey is starting anew from today.
TIP: You can just paste the link in as a comment. Trello changes some links to their titles automatically, or you can add text alongside the image for context, for example why you found/might find it useful.
Over the next few days/weeks, every time you see something interesting and high quality that you’d want to “read later”, quickly add it to the appropriate backlog card. If you don’t have a backlog card for that topic, add one. Don’t worry if the backlog list gets long.
TIP: If you work primarily on desktop, keep the Trello tab open on your browser or add to your favourites bar. If you have a smartphone, download the Trello app. This will speed up your workflow massively.
Soon, you will notice that one or two of your backlog cards have significantly more comments/links than others. This probably means it’s an important topic to you. So it deserves its own list.
Here’s my “design systems deserve their own list” journey.
Now on your new list you’ve created, change the first card (the one you dragged over) to “General links”. This is the card I keep at the top of each subject list, to save time when I need to store something quickly, and for when something is a piece of broad-topic content.
Any new pieces of content you find under this subject can then be curated into their own sub-topic as a card within the list.
Behold! You are creating the taxonomy of your learning brain.
If you feel so inclined, you can also go back through the comments/links in the card you’ve carried over as a starting point, and start to create cards in this list. It might even give you a good excuse to you know, read some of them..
Over time, you will develop not only a list of priority topics to study, with categories and sub-categories, but also a healthy backlog which is — and this is the key — clearly not as important to you as the main lists you have built.
Keep adding, but focus your learning efforts on your priority lists, not the backlog
Now you can see the full scope of your potential skill set, but with clear priorities of what to study — your backlog is essentially a “worry about it later, but I’ve recognised it exists” list.
Well if you’ve not already realised, listing out All The Things can immediately reduce your anxiety about possibly missing something out that you should be thinking about.
Remember, adding something to the backlog doesn’t mean you need to learn it right away. That’s why it’s a backlog.
But there’s more that this new Trello board can do for you:
- It distills your entire learning ecosystem into one screen at a high level — Which is great for more visual thinkers and is much more manageable for your brain that seeing every detail of every topic at once
- Making lists of topics / sub-topics helps focus by giving you a clear mental model of what is and is not included in studying that subject.
- You can make what goes into this board as complex or simple as you like. You don’t have to build out every card in your backlog, you only have to turn those backlog items that are genuinely important to you into their own list
- The taxonomy builds itself naturally in line with however your brain works — there is no ‘right answer’
- The prioritisation also naturally builds out over time. You can see everything that you think it important (via the number of comments/links on a card) and if your priorities change, you will be searching and building new backlog cards, with enough links to create their own list.
In short, the Trello board responds to your implicit needs.
- It takes a very minimal amount of time to start seeing the results of the categorisation — you don’t need to spend loads of time tagging each link, because creating or adding to a card is basically tagging
- You can store the same links in multiple locations, depending on where your brain makes the connections
- You can easily avoid duplication in your backlog or any list, by hitting alphabetise on the list options
- Trello as a tool works seamlessly across devices. With a range of apps available and a responsive web site, it just works
- You easily share/save to Trello from social channels or Medium
- You can manage this Trello board easily alongside your existing UX work boards
- You can invite multiple users, including yourself if you’re working across multiple devices or Trello accounts. And it’s always epic to receive emails telling you that you have updated the board
- You can also store links to courses. If you’ve signed up for online tutorials, courses or webinars and want to keep track of them by topic, you just need to add them into the appropriate list — so you never have to dig through your inbox again.
There are probably a lot more benefits that I’ve not even discovered yet. And I haven’t even begun to build out team training versions of this for everyone to use and contribute to.
Still, the biggest benefit for me is essentially mapping everything that comes my way (so I can stop worrying that I’m missing an important topic), and over time, realising what is really relevant and important to my current work and interests.
Just like mapping a client’s product ecosystem — you don’t need to know every detail about every platform. You just need to know what’s there, roughly where it fits, and where your focus should be to have maximum impact.