I didn’t expect to “fail” so many times in my career to get to where I am. Throughout my life, I was unclear on what exactly I wanted to do. I knew I wanted a purpose, or to do something that could help others. I did not care whether it would be a big or small impact.
Growing up, I thought I had to pick a career with security and stability. So I decided to commit to a Biology degree. I thought maybe I could be a doctor, or a dentist, or even an engineer. At the time, I knew I could do it but I doubted if I would be happy going to work every day.
While working on my biology degree, I felt completely burnt out. I had a lot of doubt and regret about choosing a degree I didn’t enjoy. What if medical school or everything doesn’t work out? Then I would have to work in a lab. The idea of that scared me and even pushed me to consider other options.
I’ve always liked art and creating art, but I thought that might be too subjective of a major. But I found a middle ground—graphic design. It is a major where I can be creative with some structure. Long story short, I graduated with a graphic design degree in 2021.
Following graduation, I landed a job at a package design agency. At the time, I was very excited and grateful to work with some big companies. But if you stripped the title away, the job ended up not being what I expected. I had the impression I was able to do more, such as solve problems or generate new designs. But since the companies I worked with already had their branding and design style established, it didn't leave enough room for creativity. Work consisted of grabbing assets from a toolkit and plugging it into a template. My day-to-day became repetitive and comfortable. Was this what I wanted? Is it helping anyone? During this time of my life, I felt stuck. I kept questioning my position in the industry. From there, I started looking back at my college career, and the classes I have taken to identify what I liked and disliked. That is how I landed on user experience.
I had taken a UX design class in college and enjoyed it. But as for how to break into the field, I had no idea about it. I knew that it is much more than just design. It is also user research that will impact the final product. The idea of getting to know more about a product’s users and using their feedback and opinions to design was fascinating to me. The more I learned about the UX design process, the more I wanted to pursue this as a career. I knew it would not be cheap or easy to do so, but that didn’t matter. What I felt at the time was definite, and it was a journey I was ready to embark on. And with that, I enrolled in a UX boot camp.
Somehow things started to work out for me. Toward the end of September 2021, I received a text from my sister saying that one of her friends had a sister that is a UX designer. Her UX research and design agency was looking for another UX designer, and she told me to apply. My first thought was, “Um, no. I have no prior experience.” I had nothing to showcase and I hadn't even started, much less completed the boot camp yet. But…what if? I had two weeks to come up with a case study, just something to show. So, every night after work, I went through all my materials from previous classes and researched online how to create a case study. Then, I applied.
And? I got it. Never in a million years did I think I would get the job. First of all, the interview process was intimidating and long. I kept overthinking whether I can handle it or not. Along with that, there was a design challenge. I have not done that before and it made me even more nervous. I will admit that I did think of not doing the interview overall, just not to see myself fail. But what is good about that? I was lucky to have family and friends around to encourage me and honestly make me feel silly for even considering that. I realized that they are correct, what harm would it be? At least at the end of the day, I experienced my first UX job interview and can learn from it. So, I just took things one at a time. I collected my resources, reached out to old professors, and did a lot of Googling. And of course, it all paid off.
I decided to go through the boot camp while working. I understood the design process well and how things work, but I felt it wouldn’t hurt to take a proper course that goes through the entire process. Within the first three months, I started my first client project. Somehow, the project I was working on perfectly lined up with the coursework. Starting with scoping the project to user interviews and to designing.
My first year of being a UX designer was a learning year. For my first project, I had the opportunity to be a designer on a product team. Here my role was to support user research and product design. When I first started with the client, I was terrified to ask for help or even show any of my work for feedback. I felt a sense of imposter syndrome, and that I didn’t deserve to be here—almost like they were going to find me out and realize that I am not a good designer. I sat down with myself and asked “What can I do to be better and grow?” The answer was to move away from my comfort zone. During this period, I had to fail to learn. It took me a while to accept this, but with time and great mentors, I was able to do so.
As things go, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Things don’t change overnight, but it was a mindset that I had to slowly implement into my day-to-day. I started by showing my designs early. In hindsight, I don’t know why I was so reluctant to show anyone anything until it was perfect. No matter where my designs were in the process, I learned that it is much more beneficial to show them early. This made it easier to nail things down and also to communicate the direction the design was heading. Letting people on the team see the design early will help them understand what you’re doing and provide additional knowledge on what can and cannot be done. This can help clear up any misunderstandings and make moving forward much more efficient.
Another thing that I started doing was setting up one-on-one meetings with designers and engineers on my team. Efficient communication with my team was something I initially struggled with. To be honest, I went into this project expecting others to tell me what to do or feed me all the information needed. Maybe it was pride or fear of being judged, but I hesitated to ask for more support. But then I struggled with the work I was doing—I didn’t know their goals, or why my designs couldn’t be built out. Then I came to the realization that I couldn't just sit there and let this cycle keep happening. All I had to do was ask. I started by just asking if they would like to meet, and we continued depending on how it went. I felt like this was a much more efficient way to communicate my questions and concerns and a good way to connect to them. Just by talking more and getting comfortable with the team, I was able to get things done much more efficiently.
In retrospect, my first year of becoming a UX designer was not a linear path. My career was a trial-and-error process. Simple things didn’t come easy to me. Learning to accept that I was wrong or had messed up and learned from it was the best thing I had done for myself. This first year has taught me to learn how to step out of my comfort zone and collaborate in a team. I am very grateful I got the opportunity to break into this career and am lucky enough for it to be the right fit for me.
Published on June 20, 2023