My Winding Path to a Career in Product Design — From Fashion Apparel to User Experience

There are plenty of stories out there about how people have recently made the pivot to User Experience Design these days. I figure I might as well talk about mine. All in all, the change made a lot of sense after I looked deeper into the series of events that led me to the path I find myself on today.

An open notebook and a pencil on a pastel pink background with a Pantone chip fan laid out below
Photo by Keila Hötzel on Unsplash

Design: A Life-Long Passion

For as long as I can remember, I have been designing and making things. It’s cliche to say so, but I feel like I picked up a pencil and paper before I could even form spoken sentences. Many more mediums followed, crayons, markers, paints, pens, you name it.

Soon that evolved into crafting physical and tangible things, like dollhouses out of shoeboxes, making clothing for my dolls and toys, and even needle-crafting apparel and accessories for myself, friends, and family. I even had a few short-lived business ventures surrounding a few of my crafts. I learned these skills from those who came before me, primarily my father and aunties.

When I was in my teen years, being immersed in the world of the internet for several years, I discovered “web design” — not that I knew that term at the time. It started with Myspace and RSS Blogs, where I realized I could manipulate the code to achieve my desired profile and feed layouts. It was completely serendipitous, and if you told me then that I could make a career out of designing for the web, I would have never believed you.

I spent hours and hours crafting my layouts to perfection, then redoing them all over again a week later in a completely different theme. I often did them for friends too in exchange for snacks or personal favors. I got really good at it too, however, when Myspace and RSS Blogs fell off due to the emergence of other social media such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram, I lost interest in place of other creative passions.

I decided I wanted to be a Fashion Designer.

Models of varied genders in various different outfits walking on a blue carpeted runway surrounded by onlookers
Models of varied genders in various different outfits walking on a blue carpeted runway surrounded by onlookers
Photo by Michael Lee on Unsplash

Zeroing in on Fashion

I’ve been doing fashion design work the longest of any other design discipline, my interest in it blossoming at age twelve. I went to High School for it (High School of Fashion Industries in New York City,) did four years of college (attending Fashion Institute of Technology,) and had a full-time career in Children’s Apparel for nearly a decade thereafter.

Even now, I still manage my own apparel side hustle, a brand called Lilith et Adalia.

So let me emphasize that my passion for fashion has not subsided in the least, and there is so much that I’ve learned from it over these many years.

There is nothing more exciting during the design process than the ideation phase. In fashion, it was no different. I felt so much elation from picking themes and colors, deciding on fabrications, as well as sketching and illustrating. This process varies depending on whether I’m working on a personal project, working at a company, or doing client work.

Personal projects are the most freeing of them all because it’s up to me to decide what is best, but you learn the most when working alongside others with constraints and limitations.

My immersion into the fashion world was longstanding, with many bumps and bruises inflicted on me along the way. The industry itself has many flaws, which I won’t be diving into too much detail at this particular time, but those flaws were a major reason for which I actively sought out other opportunities to flex my design acumen through different means.

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

A Foray into User Experience Design

It was 2018 when I first heard the term “User Experience.” I knew someone who was trying to get into it, but they ultimately lost interest. My curiosity however was piqued, and at the beginning of 2019, as my full-time career in fashion began to become more and more unfulfilling, I decided I was going to learn what this “UX thing” was all about.

It didn’t take me long to fall into the rabbit hole. I found YouTubers giving explainers, doing user interface tutorials using tools I had never heard of before (the only digital design tools I used for my work were Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop up to that point,) and began reading a ton of articles about it all over the web.

At the end of 2019, I began attending meetups and info sessions (then in-person) on the topic of UX Design, and before you know it, I decided that this was the right career pivot for me.

Diving into the Deep End

I began comparing courses, classes, and bootcamps for price, time, and commitment. Ultimately I left my fashion job and I ended up attending CUNY TechWorks in Brooklyn, NY at the beginning of 2020.

When I started taking classes, my love for UX Design grew exponentially the more I learned. I quickly fell in love with new design tools such as Figma and Framer. Visual Design got me the most excited, and I was eager to grow my skills.

As we know, the pandemic happened, and my in-person full-time classes became fully remote, and the whole economy and job market shifted dramatically in a less positive direction, but even in the face of adversity, I kept pushing forward because I knew there was no going back.

I also rediscovered my passion for code — resurrecting, and refining my knowledge of HTML and CSS from my Myspace days in the coding module of my course. The fire within was lit once again, and I realized the overlapping paths of design and development.

It was really exciting to see all my past interests coming to a head in a new discipline.

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

Drawing Parallels Between Disciplines

As of me writing this now, I have completed my User Experience Immersive course, and I’m now on the quest of finding my first full-time job and beginning my professional Product Design career. This is no easy feat, as the job market is highly competitive right now.

Since graduating back in June of 2020, I have worked on a handful of volunteer and personal projects to beef up my portfolio, and I’m doing my best to make genuine connections with other folks in the industry. Though challenging, the journey has been quite rewarding so far.

I’ve begun to draw many parallels to how the Product Design process is very similar between different industries.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the first computers were inspired and influenced by the punch cards that textile makers use to weave intricate patterns into cloth?

That just goes to show how closely linked design processes between the creative and technological realm can be, and that’s just one example!

In my personal experience, I have uncovered the following similarities between Fashion Design and User Experience Design:

  • The ideation process, most commonly the “double diamond”, is basically identical to that of fashion design. For instance, the test phase. Before a garment can go into production, its fit must be tested and refined to the proper specifications, often which you don’t realize in the initial design.
  • Working effectively with product managers and teams is the key to success, coupled with a need for clear and concise communication.
  • Needing to know how to pivot on a dime. Things change rapidly within your organization, and being able to adapt to that change is imperative.
  • Managing multiple stakeholders, within your org, as well as externally. In fashion, it’s the sales team, production teams (often overseas), in addition to the retailers and customers — just like your end-users in digital products.

I’m always realizing more parallels too, which brings me to the point of taking what I have learned in the past and directly applying it to where I want to be in the present and the future.

Learning from Failure and Embracing the Journey

Through it all, failure has been the most valuable to me in my design process, no matter the medium. I’ve messed up, plenty of times, a notable one in my fashion practice being the time I made a pattern draft incorrectly, throwing off the fit of a garment entirely, and not realizing my mistake until the project was due the next day.

Whatever the case might have been, or will continue be, I know I will always learn from it and do better next time.

Mastery of craft is a life-long endeavor. You can never know it all, and if you’re like me and dabble in a lot of different things, really hone in on what you are most devoted to and continuously refine that.

I take that philosophy into my digital product design career and beyond. As I learn and grow in this new space, I will continue to embrace my failures, setbacks, and shortcomings, as they will be the stepping stones to my success.

There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing something you put a lot of time and effort into, especially alongside other people on your team, come to life in a tangible way. Be it a sketch on paper transforming into a beautiful flouncy velvet dress, to a sketchy wireframe on a looseleaf sheet manifesting into a crisp clean UI for a mobile app — that payoff of something you designed coming to fruition, the level of joy is all the same regardless.

I’m ready to sprint onto this new path and explore the possibilities that yet a new product design discipline will take me.

You can find me elsewhere:

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Digital Designer & Creative Technologist (UX, UI, IxD) | Coding Hobbyist | Fashion Designer | She/Her/Hers | Portfolio: https://ariadesign.tech/