HOW DID I BECOME A UI DESIGNER?
I’ve asked myself that question sometimes as I reflect on the passed decisions I've made, how far I’ve come and how far I have to go. This article is a shortened testament of how I made it to this amazing place in my life…
I never wanted to do web design.
To be honest it frightened me. I made the mistake by not learning HTML and CSS coding in the early years. Instead, I focused primarily on print design, branding and marketing materials as a graphic designer. My gear was a 27" iMac i5 I bought with a credit card in 2011 and the pirated Adobe suite 5. Later my mentor, to become a close friend and business partner, showed me an Adobe app that was relatively new that allowed designers build websites without writing code with drag-drop functionality. I began learning from Youtube video tutorials and any documentation I could Google. I started designing basic sites and made my way to building fully functioning and interactive sites with desktop and mobile versions.
I’ve always had a good eye for color, aesthetics and composition. I found myself bending and sometimes breaking the rules of design in order to be creative
At this time (mid-2012) I was out of college with a BA in New Media and Animation. I was working as a bartender at a local seafood restaurant while working on side projects for a little extra cash. Usually the money was small but the experience and publicity I was gaining was (sometimes) worth it. I worked on the print material for the restaurant I worked at as well the occasional logo and print designs for friends who started their own companies. I was very open-minded of the projects that I would take. I wanted to be a designer. I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be a writer. I attempted to go to college again to get a degree in Creative Writing and realized halfway in that this wasn't meant for me. I finished the semester strong and never looked back.
I participated in several art exhibitions to showcase my work from each year. One in particular was a worldwide showcase. I applied, since I wanted to be an artist. It wasn’t long until I was called to exhibit my work. They liked my work or they needed to fill the quota, I chose the latter. I was thrilled. The venue was amazing. It didn’t cost anything for the artist upfront as long as you sold enough tickets, which I was able to do. The night boomed with energy. Although I did not sell much besides tee shirts I had made for the show, it was an incredible experience. I guess they liked me and my work so much they asked me to showcase again the following month. I did of course. I exhibited my work four times in two years through different events and pop ups and it was an incredible experience. It was also very costly. After a work of mine was stolen from a pop up exhibition I quit creating and quit showcasing. I feel as if I failed as an artist…
WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED
I currently lived above the Lake Pontchartrain, roughly forty-five minutes to an hour north of New Orleans.
I decided it was time to move back home.
A close friend and I moved to Metairie, a neighboring town of New Orleans, and I was planning on working at a pizza joint down the street from my new apartment. I was working one of my last shifts at the seafood restaurant when a bar regular of mine told me she heard I was leaving and wondered if I had a job lined up. I told her I did but I was always open to suggestions. She said her close friend’s husband owns a bar on Magazine Street. I soon got in touch with the lady and we scheduled an interview on a Friday evening at the bar. I’ll never forget this.
The bar was packed. The owners were already partaking. They insisted I have a drink before we sit to talk. We spoke about my experience and what I have to offer. At one point I found myself behind the bar with the lovely bartender making my famous key lime pie martini. I mentioned that I love to make hand crafted cocktails and the owners wife insisted I get behind the bar and make something. I was offered the job.
I worked under an older man for a while until health complications took him out of the game and I basically took over the bar. It’s not that I didn't like him but coming from working at a successful bar for a while I did not feel that he was good for business. I worked three to four days a week, mostly nights, and made a very decent income. Some nights were long and grueling. Saturday nights were always booming full of young people and energy. If the vibe began to die off I would keep it alive by pouring a row of shots on the bar then offered them to whoever could grab them first. I grew up in New Orleans but as I got older I started hating the city and stayed away. Uptown New Orleans was a whole different world. There was an energy that flowed through the streets and the people we’re something else.
I’m glad I returned
One day I mentioned to the owner of the bar that I recently started designing websites. He asked if I wouldn’t mind doing one for him, since he never had one in all the years of the bars existence. So I designed a website for the bar and it came out great. They’re still a client of mine even though I retired bartending and left right after Mardi Gras had ended, and I can tell you that working at a famous bar on Magazine St. was a very incredible experience in itself. That’s a story for another day.
In the middle of winter on a cold Wednesday night I had the intention of closing up early. Then I had two guests come in, one tall, one short and both bald. I stayed open for them. During the five hours or so they stayed I overheard them speaking of application and software development. I would occasionally interrupt with an opinion on the subject to pretend I wasn’t completely incompetent of holding my own in a tech conversation. After taking shots with them I began speaking with the shorter bald man about my experience as a graphic designer. The conversation lead to him offering me a job over the bar top. After years of bartending I’ve been offered jobs before and they always fell through. I took it with a grain of salt. Granted, this was at nearly 3 am and we were all intoxicated, them more so than me. He said his company was looking for another designer to work on app development. I wrote my email address on a bar nap and handed it to him. I didn’t expect to hear from him.
Well I did hear from him
It was 8 am the next morning. I received an email. Of course I didn't check it until I woke up around noon. The email read:
It was great meeting you the other night. If you are still interested in pursuing the position we talked about the other night, shoot me an email and we can get the interview process started with the team. I look forward to talking with you again!”
I replied with hope and aspiration.
The first interview was over the phone with the Manager of Operations. I should first say that before this I've had several interview and job opportunities but I was either not right for the position or uninterested. I purchased the book Job Interviews for Dummies. I wanted to be over prepared for this interview. I thought it went well. I practiced the proper etiquette of interviewing and sent a follow up thank you. I received another email soon after about coming into a face-to-face interview in their office. I dressed the part. I went up to the double glass doors on the 25th floor on a New Orleans downtown skyscraper and was met by the short bald man who was missing his shoes and another with a ragged beard.
I was offered the position
After nine months, many discovery sessions with clients, grueling overhauls of software and pressuring deadlines I believe I’ve gotten my foot into the door of UI/UX Design. I now live in Uptown New Orleans, not far from the bar I once worked. I live in a beautiful house in an amazing area and it's not far from my downtown office. The Project Manager for my biggest client calls me a rock star.
COMING INTO THIS CAREER
I did not know how to write custom HTML and CSS. They knew that when they hired me. It took me three weeks to learn the basics of CSS because I had to and it was a very stressful month of learning since my job was on the line. I did not have a choice so I read. I practiced. I watched. I practiced. Nine months in and I can now write media queries for responsive sites, custom Html and CSS for functional prototypes and design beautiful interfaces. I work for a small tech company where shoes are optional and PTO is unlimited.
Is this end of the line? No. I think not. This job is exactly what I needed to take a step forward as a designer.
Where do I see myself in the future? I have no idea. All I know is that I plan to continue down this path of hard work and learning and hope to find success after every failure.
I guess what I can take away from this is to work hard, diligently and passionately. Have a goal. Break the rules. Inspire others. Make friends. Know that success is what you make it and don't be a dick about it. This year, I’ve been successful because I showed myself that I am capable of anything. Don't be afraid to fail. Our greatest successes come from failure. Always reflect and never forget.
If you read this far, thanks!
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