Electronic arts (EA) alumnus Derek Parker didn’t always want to be a user experience designer; he initially attended Missouri State as a cell and molecular biology major.
“After I finished my freshman year, I realized that I wasn’t passionate about the coursework or the career path I had chosen. I took some time to reflect and think about things that I was passionate about, and two things came to mind: art/design and music. I found the EA program by looking for classes that were geared towards aspiring producers and songwriters.” Parker says.
There are four track options in the EA undergraduate program at Missouri State, and part of the application process requires prospective students to take a core class in each track. “That first semester, I ended up taking ART 110 with Colby Jennings where he taught us about interaction/user experience design, motion graphics, and some front-end development. I ended up falling in love with the work, from the initial inception of an idea all the way to delivery of a product. I knew that this was the kind of work I wanted to spend my career doing,” Parker says.
This work in the EA program led to Parker’s current job: user experience designer at Sony Playstation®. A user experience designer’s job is to make technology useable, accessible, and enjoyable for the everyday consumer. “To me, being a user experience designer requires several things. In my opinion, the first and most important element is being able to empathize with users. Being able to place yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to understand their feelings, behaviors, problems, pain-points, joys, etc., allows you to create products and experiences that feel tailored and intuitive. The second piece requires you to allow yourself to be creative, think critically, and be receptive to feedback. This means taking the information above and understanding what it means in a practical sense—taking high-level research insights and converting those into impactful experiences, bringing in users to test those design concepts, and using the feedback to continue iterating and evolving. Finally, a user experience designer needs to have the hard skills required to deliver design specs to engineering partners for development,” he explains.
Parker’s most recent work includes helping to craft the vision for the recently-launched Playstation 5. “It was a dream come true for me and I still have to pinch myself from time to time!” he says.
Parker’s advice for students looking to enter the world of user experience design is to find a mentor that can give honest critique and feedback. “Colby was that for me at MSU, and I’m forever grateful for the guidance he gave me. I always advise people to connect with others and learn from them,” he elaborates. His other piece of advice? Embrace constructive criticism—the good and the bad. Parker says, “Whenever you put all of your blood, sweat, and tears into a project and receive tough critique, it’s difficult. As a designer, it’s important to understand that this critique is not meant to bring you down or make you feel badly, but to help you improve and iterate. It’s essential and should be something you seek out, rather than shy away from. Remember that design is never done and experiences can always be improved and rethought.”