Why I’m pursuing Product Design

My journey starts

back in late 2019. I was trying to figure out the next steps with my career as I felt like my job at the time (and currently) didn’t really give me an opportunity to grow.

I knew I belonged in the digital landscape but my next step would have to be something I was deeply passionate about. I did some more digging and eventually stumbled upon General Assembly. After reading up on what the program entailed, I decided to attend a meet-and-greet.

(my first introduction to the world of UX design)

As I was introduced to the world of UX Design during the meeting, I was quickly drawn into the elements of research and design which are combined to create design architecture and visuals, supported by concrete numbers and analytics. This was the career pivot I was searching for.

In the following months, I wanted to go all in and commit to the program. However, it wasn’t that easy as there were several roadblocks:

  1. My company didn’t provide supplemental grants.
  2. My schedule at the time didn’t allow me to work full-time while attending General Assembly.
  3. I couldn’t feasibly quit my job and take on more loans.

During spring of 2020, I unfortunately settled and decided that this career change wasn’t in the cards for me which meant, I’d have to pursue this goal at a later time.

Then, in an instant, along with everyone in the world, COVID-19 unpredictably hit.

The transition

to the work-from-home environment gave me time to not only adapt, but reflect. After sticking it out at my aforementioned job, I made the decision to pick up where I left off previously in my pursuit of UX design and explore available options. I progressed further this time around, as I dived deeper into what payment plans might fit best with my current state, and even went through an immersive assignment with a recruiter.

I’m not sure what it was, but I ended up backing out yet again. It was probably due to my personal insecurities in so many areas where I felt like I lacked. After making the tough decision to forego the program, I spent the summer and fall of 2020 reflecting on where my career was headed. I think it’s safe to say that the pandemic either directed or forced some of us to reevaluate where we were in life. I wasn’t happy where I was, but I also couldn’t afford to take huge risks since I had some big, upcoming life-changing events.

Then came winter of 2020. Winter was such a prevalent time during this whole process. During this time, I constantly found myself going down a rabbit hole of self-taught UX Design YouTubers. This was the first shift where I thought I could realistically still pursue this career. The thought and process of self-teaching not only intrigued me but after some more thorough research, seemed plausible. I decided it was now or never and dedicated the entire month of December to researching and setting up a course plan through my best friend at the time, Notion.

2021 started

with a concrete plan with benchmarks and newfound confidence to fully dive in. One thing that really helped me during this whole process was the amount of time it took to prepare to put myself in the best position to succeed. As grueling and tedious it was, I realized that had I not spent a whole month in December flushing out and detailing a well-crafted agenda, I would most likely have failed or given up somewhere along the way.

The first two months of 2021 were dedicated to learning what UX design really was. I compiled a list of books and articles which I thought were beneficial and studied them each day. I attended available online webinars related to UX/product design and made google slide presentations that I could use as references for any of my upcoming design projects. Here are some books and supplemental resources that I found helpful and crucial in my learning:

  1. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
    If you are someone pursuing anything in the design realm, this is a must-read. This book provides the essential principles needed whether you’re a design veteran or someone who is just starting out. For me, it was the latter, and I still try and carry out and instill the fundamental elements taught in this book in my current projects and studies.
  2. Ogily on Advertising by David Ogilvy
    As an ad major, I knew I would need to come across this book one day. This book is amazing in that it provides a lot of unique angles from the perspective of one of the most influential advertising titans in the industry and helpful tips on copywriting.
  3. The Art of War of Small Businesses by Becky Sheetz-Runkle
    This isn’t your typical design book but as someone with an entrepreneurial mind pursuing an entrepreneurial path, this book helped me better understand and refine some fundamental skills when approaching tasks and responsibilities.
  4. Google Design
    Tons of articles and resources provide information and teach you everything you need to know from material design to color schemes to typography and everything that’s essential in between.
  5. Another helpful item I tried to be proactive about during the conceptual learning portion of the course was giving myself at least 2–3 practice runs using Figma. I knew that I had to be somewhat familiar with the software so that I’m not just thrown in the fire when it came time to design.

Finally, the time I was dreading most.

Through March and the beginning of April, I put everything I had learned into action through my case studies. I felt discouraged for this portion of the course because I had absolutely zero knowledge prior to starting. But as mentioned, preparation was key throughout this whole process. Those few practices using Figma and learning the fundamentals of UX design eventually calmed me down and helped me tremendously in not feeling overwhelmed with all of the nooks and crannies of the software.

As the weeks went on, I dedicated myself to completing three case studies to use for my portfolio which comprised of design sprints, making brands and logos, and creating wireframes and prototypes. And before I knew it, after many long nights and hours, I had completed all three case studies. Granted, I believe there’s still a bit of work to be done (i.e. usability testing), but that’s something I’ll have to put on the back-burner for now.

As my course is now at its end, I now have something where I actually feel proud of — a portfolio. This was probably the hardest section as a lot of creativity and technical skills were both needed. Although there were many doubts, I constantly reminded myself of the commitment that I made. What also helped were little, powerful reminders to triumph over those moments of vulnerability and transparency with yourself where you feel discouraged and unmotivated.

For me, it was this:

Cheesy, yet effective.

If you’ve made it this far into the post,

thank you. Thanks for taking time out of your day to allow me to share my experience thus far. It’s crazy to think how far I’ve come and humbling to think about how much I have to learn. Before I wrap up, I want to share some helpful tips as a recap which I hope helps in some shape or form:

  1. Prep, prep, prep.
    Put yourself in the absolute best position to succeed. There are going to be a lot of days where it feels like a grind. And if you have imposter syndrome like me, there will be moments of fear and doubt where you ask yourself if any of this is even worth it. But, what helped me along the way was checking off the tasks and action items I had only on that day. Creating that detailed schedule helped me visually see that I was making progress where I could tangibly see that I was on pace with the end goal.
  2. Stay diligent.
    Try out any available design software as often as you can in a timely manner. For the most part, they’re readily available and free and there are tons of YouTube guides and tutorials from experienced designers who really know their stuff. Also, don’t try and overdo it by focusing all of your efforts on the visual aspects of this field. From what I learned, the research portion is just as, if not, more important than the visual designs you’ll be creating so make sure you understand the concepts and principles of design first.
  3. Journal.
    Writing was crucial throughout this whole process. I didn’t like to write, nor did I ever felt like the need to before this. But, I thought it might be an interesting tidbit of my learning where I could go back and relive some of the hard, yet fulfilling memories. Pursuing anything outside of your comfort zone can be difficult. But, writing each week with personal thoughts and achievements allowed me to be raw and honest with myself yet at the same time, give myself more credit than I’m used to through intentional, self-affirmations and encouragements.

And here are essential tools that I used during this course that I wouldn’t have survived without:

  1. Notion
    This is really my go-to app for everything but the layout and format Notion provides made it so easy and concise when I was building out my course schedule
  2. Figma
    This design software is user-friendly and I really like the plugins that make the whole workflow easier and honestly, more fun.
  3. Google Tasks
    I live and die by this function of Gmail. If you weren’t aware and are a Gmail user, Gmail has essentially a task function where you can note anything. For me, I used it for any quick action items that I might not have noted in my schedule in Notion, ideas that suddenly came to mind, or helpful links that I came across while browsing the web.

And now, here I am.

This journey so far has been one of the most challenging, yet fulfilling ones I’ve ever had. I’ve learned so much and accomplished more than I thought I could. It’s satisfying to know that after all this time, this is still the path I want to pursue and be a part of. There’s a deep yearning to get better at my craft and continue learning as much as I can.

As of right now, I can’t call myself a full-on designer just yet. From the start, my plan was to learn and practice the fundamentals of design, while my end goal was to get hired as a full-time designer for a company.

With this in mind, I believe this is just the beginning of greater things to come (fingers crossed). Sure, the anxiety and tension that comes with pivoting from my comfort zone are still very much alive and there. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned these past few months, it’s that there are no shortage of rewards and fruits when you put in the work, cut out the shortcuts and -

The journey continues.

- Mingu

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