What I learned in my first 4 years as a Designer — And how I’m transitioning into Web/UI

Graphic Design as a whole has changed a lot since 2004, and in my time with it I experienced major growing pains and some unforeseen challenges. Falling into this career choice was easy for me. I’ve always loved art and music and I really enjoyed looking at artwork in CD cases, movie posters, show flyers etc. I knew I wanted to create stuff that makes people feel the way I felt. “Graphic Design” was what I wanted to do until I realized it was changing and becoming much more complicated than I realized. In this post I’ll also highlight howI transitioned from graphic design to web design including UI/UX design, and why I made these decisions.

When I first started school over 10 years ago as a Graphic Designer, it was a completely different ballgame. Print media, marketing design, screen printing, illustrations, and digital advertising dominated the design market. In school, I took many course classes as part of my curriculum and was immediately disappointed as to how little we even worked with the Adobe Create Suite. I learned some valuable stuff for sure, but every semester I was spending hundreds on paints, brushes, and other art supplies that I wouldn’t use outside of those classes. At the time, Weber State University didn’t offer any type of 4 year program for anything other than a BFA in Design. Which was 90% fine art/print at the time.

I had friends and a mentor of mine point out the transition into web, so this made me more and more nervous as time went by, especially since I was seeing an increasing amount of designers with BFA’s having a hard time finding jobs without web skills. Then these standard graphic designer positions started vanishing. Design was now making its switch out of print and into to the web/app realm full force. When looking more into it, I could see many other designers talking about learning code and expanding what they new into a web format. Some were excited, some were intimidated, and some refused to accept that things were changing like this, but they were changing anyway and fast. And I was on board….

After working my first job as a marketing designer for a year, I dropped out of school. On top of the challenge of doing school and work full-time, I had a hard time justifying how much I was paying for tuition and supplies for many courses that I felt were obsolete. I started taking online courses on Codecademy and W3 for front end development and asked my employer at the time if I could start working on the website. Our marketing department was dissolved with a company merger and I had no other options, so I learned HTML CSS and jQuery until we parted ways.

For the 6 months I worked freelance contracts for various companies and a marketing firm. While some months were really really good, some were just as bad. The money was inconsistent and stressful come bill time, especially when certain contracts wouldn’t pay out on-time. I mostly did different types of design involving branding, marketing advertising and print media, which wasn’t what I wouldn’t to be doing, but at least I was able to learn further front-end skills editing and developing various companies wordpress templates.

Freelance was a big lesson for me, times I loved it, times I lost sleep over it, but one thing it did do was reinforce my love for my career choice. At this pivotable time in my career I was content with my choice to jump into web as I saw a once thriving career field shrink, and a newer more advanced career field rise. UX / Product Design.

When I first started design, I was taught to assume what was best for consumers, and to get good at it. (Hey it looks good, why wouldn’t they like it?) Now it seems that the user/consumer has more of a say than C level people in an organization.

When I into Web Design initially, I hadn’t realized that there was so much more to it than just creating mock ups, design, and development. Realizing this I started to research what it meant to be a UI designer, or a UX designer, and how those roles are different. I turned this research and practice into developing my skills with a big focus on trying to optimize user flow of certain landing pages, how they navigated the pages. I enjoyed this so much more than designing marketing material. When I first started design, I was taught to assume what was best for consumers, and to get good at it. (Hey it looks good, why wouldn’t they like it?) Now it seems that the user/consumer has more of a say than C level people in an organization. What I love about web design and the UI/UX side of things is the problem solving. Making things function for the user as well as making them look good is challenging, but very fun. Using user feedback and developing user personas to solve problems that a product has is one of the most important steps in developing a product.

I can see that many designers get stuck in roles or positions where they can’t advance and they are just stuck making marketing materials instead of growing in any way, but sometimes people get lured in with awesome work environments and cool work cultures. While those aspects of a job are important, I think a position should be one where you can grow and learn and can be an asset for your team to grow too. Loyalty is obviously important in regards to employer/employee relationships but if that isn’t there for you, you need to find a position where you can keep advancing or you’ll be left in the dust for how fast technology is advancing. My overall goal now is to move out of web design, where I am focused on marketing material, and transition onto the product team where I can finally work on the software itself, but I know I still have a lot of growing to do first.

Currently I am the UI designer for Healthicity where I oversee their website design and development. Recently we just launched a blog that I designed. It’s pretty simple, but rad, so check it out. Especially if medical compliance and auditing software is your thing.

Like what you read? Give BJ Viehl a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.