My name is Arin, and I’m a User Experience designer based in Denver, CO. This post was written for anyone contemplating a career in UX design, but fearful of taking that leap into a new career. This is my journey — starting as a finance major from the University of Texas to my experience in General Assembly’s UX bootcamp.
UX Design — sounds fun, but I need a “real job”
I find purpose in creating harmonious, impactful interactions between people and the world around them. In college, I led the charge to double a charity organization’s membership by empowering people to pursue meaningful, service-driven relationships with the UT-Austin community. In business, I alleviated strenuous working hours for doctors and nurses by designing simple staffing models so people could spend more time with their families. I knew I wanted to design meaningful experiences for people. I just wasn’t sure how.
As college was coming to a close, I started job searching. I mainly looked for jobs in finance or business operations, but I knew finance wasn’t my passion so every now and then I’d throw “design” or “tech” into the job board search field. I’d procrastinate looking for a “real job” by diving into podcasts and articles on everything from architecture to industrial design. Shuffling through this rabbit hole quickly exposed me to UX design. Perfect! I started reading listicles on good traits for UX designers — “this describes me perfectly,” I thought. I pulled out the credit card and bought as many books as I could on UX. However, graduation was looming, and younger me settled that UX was simply a pipe dream — I convinced myself it’d be silly to waste a perfectly good finance degree. So I buried the idea of pursuing UX, and took a job as a client services analyst at an accounting tech company. After graduation, I packed my bags and made the long haul from Austin, Texas to Boise, Idaho.
UX Revelation — “real jobs” suck
Fast forward a year — I was doing great as an analyst. I received a promotion to a senior position only a few months after starting. I was taking on important projects for some of our largest insurance clients, and I enjoyed the grind. However, I knew I needed something more visually and creatively stimulating. Accounting was procedural — I completed the same tasks every quarter and answered the same emails from the same people like clockwork. Plus, I feared my eyes would start bleeding if I had to spend another year of my life staring at Arial font on an Excel spreadsheet. Clearly something had to change.
So as the months went on I started digging back up the idea of pursuing UX. Is this a real career? How do you break into it? What kinds of problems do UX designers tackle? The more I learned, the more I knew I couldn’t avoid UX. I was Keanu Reeves and I had taken the red pill — my eyes were open and there was no turning back. I started viewing all my processes as an analyst through the lens of UX. I realized that all the problems I experienced as an analyst could be solved by good UX design. The continuous cycle of client questions that consumed my life could, in fact, be solved through UX — whether that be designing more intuitive client-facing interfaces or simplifying our company’s internal systems.
It turns out my company had a UX department so I started pouring through their resources and attending some of their meetings. To my disappointment, all I found was a collection of how-to guides by some people on the marketing team attempting to interpret what the developers push out. You can’t fix poor UX design through instruction manuals. To create a good product, a company must start by focusing attention on good design — good design can’t be slapped on as an afterthought. I was developing UX intuition; all I was missing to fix things were the propper UX tools. Where would I acquire those tools? General Assembly.
Off to the Island of Misfits
I successfully survived a year of true adulting in Idaho. I had some money saved up, and proved to myself I had the work ethic to make the leap out of finance/accounting and into the wonderful, creative world of design. For the second time in a year, I packed up and moved to an unfamiliar city — not knowing a soul — and applied for General Assembly’s 10-week User Experience Design Immersive course in Denver, Colorado.
GA’s 10-week UXDI program is a fantastic, non-stop, high speed roller coaster of emotions and experiences. I learned more than I thought possible, and met incredible people from diverse backgrounds — from Iran to South Africa to Texas. Our class was an island of ambitious misfits who cut ties with their old lives to pursue their creative passions and build the foundation for a new, fulfilling career in UX.
We spent 10-weeks learning everything from UX research methodologies to information architecture, and applied those skills through 5 projects. At the end of week 1, I had already designed a low-fidelity, interactive prototype application for planning and financing group trips to music festivals. For the next 2 weeks, I designed an online e-commerce experience for a local men’s clothing retailer. We then jumped into group projects, where I designed an Android app that leveraged Augmented Reality to encourage kids to play outside. Next, I crafted a responsive web design for mobile and desktop, and packaged those designs for hand off to developers. And to top it all off with project 5, I worked as an intern for a real client redesigning an API-integration logging and debugging platform for developers, and I’ll admit I had no clue what an API was before working with this client. However, UX design taught me it’s okay not to know. The thrill of UX design is reaching out of your comfort zone, learning, and tackling these complex problems.
The reason the UX design framework is so effective at tackling these diverse subjects is because UX design touches everything — it’s the study of how we humans interact with the world, whether digital or physical. Learning UX is learning to listen and understand people. It’s learning to put a tack in your own opinions, parse through the noise of what people say they want, and discover why people do what they do — regardless of whether you’re designing for a developer or a child.
GA taught me there’s no perfect path to becoming a UX designer. During a panel GA hosted with Google UX designers, one designer described the UX profession as an island of misfits composed of people from all backgrounds (whether it be journalism, teaching, or engineering) who found design through the pursuit of making the world a more enjoyable, harmonious, and livable place. All my experiences prior to GA, despite not being labeled UX, were building blocks. My path to UX design is like that of many UX designers. I saw problems and I wanted to fix them. UX gives me the tools to do just that.