Learning Design From an Unconventional Path to Landing a UX Design Internship at EA in 8 Months

Grace Ling
Augment

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This is my 8-month journey in starting design to landing a UX Design Internship at Electronic Arts (EA) during COVID-19, spending $0 on learning material. I’ll be sharing my story, what I learned along the way, networking and interview tips, and resources that helped me.

📝 Outline

  • Background/Story time
  • Design Projects for Interviews, Personal Development, and Fun
  • Internship Applications + Interview Advice
  • Networking Advice
  • Resources

TLDR: I didn’t vibe with what I was studying in school, found a free online design class to learn the fundamentals, and worked on over 7 short-term hackathon/design challenge projects. I applied to 26 places and got ghosted by most of them. I started networking and getting to know others which led to my internship. I share the important lessons I’ve learned along the way.

🙌 Career and Education Background

Growing up, I dreamed of becoming an anime artist and game designer. I was never focused on getting good grades in school as a kid, but I was passionate about storytelling and entertaining others. I loved using my imagination to design fictional worlds, characters, and write manga. However, being a competitive runner growing up in Silicon Valley, I was told that the only “successful” career path was to become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer.

I started undergrad as a Bioengineering/Pre-Med major and aspired to become a Neurosurgeon and MD-PhD. I wanted to also learn how to “biohack” myself to become a faster runner. I did biomedical engineering research for a few years, and learned the hard way to not do things just for my resume. I then went into game design, virtual reality, and computer science before finally discovering UX and Product Design while in graduate school as a Computer Science and Engineering major. I felt lost and overwhelmed with the amount of information about design for a long time.

🏁 October 2019: Design Journey Begins

While browsing Facebook, I came across a free part time course that went through the fundamentals of product design. I signed up for it, and it changed my whole career path. I familiarized myself with the design thinking process while working on a product design case study, a design of a bookmark feature in Discord.

It’s important to have a solid understanding the design thinking process, and it’s what most people go to school for. There are educational resources and opportunities to practice online to get good at design for free.

Learning never ends. There’s always new trends and technologies, so as a designer, it’s especially important to keep up. I read UX Collective, attend design conferences and events to keep up.

I also started an art business, Candyleaf Designs. As a previously aspiring illustrator, I still enjoy drawing and never let go of that passion. I worked with manufacturers to produce enamel pins, acrylic charms, and vinyl stickers from my original artwork. I learned a lot of business and branding skills from starting my own business, which helps in UX design.

Lessons Learned from entrepreneurship relating to design

  • Understanding trends (business goals) and customer needs
  • Networking (teammates, customers, opportunities)
  • Communication: Listen more than speak, never make assumptions

With so many applications received, it’s also often hard for hiring managers to remember candidates. Having and side hustle that I’m passionate about also helps me stand out to hiring managers. When interviewing and talking to recruiters, don’t be afraid to mention something different about yourself. It helps you stand out and even potentially personally connect with someone else if they share the same interests.

🤗 Febuary 2020 — Present: Design Projects

To practice the design fundamentals I was learning, I took on 7 hackathon and design challenge projects from February to present. I also won a few and got to meet a lot of amazing people along the way.

Working with teammates from different backgrounds opened me up to a lot of new perspectives. Design is a highly collaborative field where you will get to work with Product Managers, Software Engineers, and more.

To practice visual design, I do the Daily UI Challenge. Sometimes, UX and Product Designers would say that it’s not important to focus on visual design. However, after talking to some hiring managers, I learned that most of them only spend 30 seconds on each portfolio. This makes it important to work on visual design to help yourself stand out.

Lessons learned from design projects:

  • User research and testing, involving users at every step.
  • Getting users for research can sometimes be hard. When sharing surveys, include wording like “We’re building a product to improve your life. We greatly value your insights to guide us on what to build.”
  • Never make assumptions.
  • Listen more than speak.
  • Have metrics before beginning: How will you measure success? This is to prove values to investors and stakeholders. It’s also important to plan for post-launch success metrics.
  • Keep learning!
  • Attend events and conferences, talk to other designers, read, listen to design podcasts, watch videos. Learning Resources.

On top of design projects, I’ve also created Design Buddies, a large inclusive design community in April. In under 2 months, over 2,000 people have joined.

Lessons learned a lot from community management and design:

  • Inclusivity and diversity: Make the community a safe space by establishing ground rules and making yourself available to talk to if people have conflicts.
  • Teamwork. I would not have been able to build this community without the help of my admin team.
  • Create content based on a target demographic before expanding.
  • Engage with the community by hosting meetups, talks, and chances for members to collaborate.
  • Listen to feedback.
  • Have goals and announce them to keep members excited.

👀 Febuary 2020: Design Internship Applications Sent

I applied to a total of 26 companies, didn’t hear back from 20, had 6 interviews, 5 final rounds, 3 rejections, and 2 COVID-19 cancelled. I took every rejection as a chance to learn, and every opportunity to do a mock interview.

Every companies interviews are a bit different, but there are a few common types of interviews for UX and Product Design Internships and some tips.

  1. Behavioral/Recruiter Screening Call
  • Focus on storytelling and process. You can talk about your accomplishments but emphasize more on how you got there and solved challenges along the way.
  • Create a doc of FAQ (eg. Strengths/weaknesses, greatest accomplishment, etc). Research the company’s culture and core values to try to relate them to your story when you see fit. Don’t go overboard with this and sound cheesy.
  • Practice answering the question with the “STAR” (Situation, Task, Action, Result) but don’t stick too closely to it during the actual interview to avoid sounding rehearsed.
  • In the recruiter screening call, don’t go too in detail to the technologies used/design principles. Focus on storytelling how you stand out.

2. Portfolio Review

  • Prepare 2–3 case studies on your portfolio. Make sure to include both the case study report and a slide deck. You’ll most likely be sharing your screen with the slide deck (and demo video open in another tab) during the interview.
  • Never present a written report. It’s harder for the interviewer to follow along in the short time you have.
  • When going through the case study, focus on storytelling and relating every design decision back to the original problem (business goal + user need).
  • To prepare, practice your presentation with friends and time yourself.

3. App Critique

  • You’ll be going over 1–2 popular apps on your phone with the interviewer. Sometimes you’ll get to choose which apps.
  • Start off by introducing the app (problem solved, target audience, product strategy), ask for feedback with “is this the answer you’re looking for?” before diving deeper.
  • The interview will ask you to perform actions in the app. You’ll be commenting on the visual and interaction design of features and relate them back to the main problem solved/business and user goal.

4. Design Challenge

  • You’ll be asked to design something (usually an app or web page) given a time constraint (eg. 1 week) with a short prompt.
  • Treat this like a mini case study, and plan your time out. Include problem statement, user research (eg. sending out a survey and using metrics to justify your design decisions), market research, constraints, ideation, design (low to high fidelity with explanations), edge cases, lessons learned.
  • Some other Medium articles say it’s not mandatory to create a full-on high fidelity prototype, but having one would potentially make you stand out more.
  • Here’s what I created for Google’s UX Design Internship back in February that helped me pass that round.

I always ask for feedback from rejections. Here’s what I got:

  • Behavioral (UX Design Internship at large game company): Didn’t play enough first-person shooters
  • App Critique (Product Design Internship at large tech company) : “Can you redesign the logo of Venmo?”
  • Correct approach: Ask more questions to see why the logo needs to be redesigned. Is it to meet a specific business goal? User experience goal? Etc?

In general, it’s important to ask for feedback not only to learn, but to demonstrate to the hiring manager your willingness to learn and grow as a potential future employer of them.

🤝 April 2020 — Present: Networking

With not much luck applying online and COVID-19 canceling interviews, I felt lost and stressed out about my summer plans. With the inspiration from my mentor, Byung, and Jonathan and Jerry from Wonsulting, I started cold reaching out to designers on LinkedIn to do informational interviews.

Networking can sound scary at first. It could mean many things, and it all comes down to making a friend with another human being, regardless of what title they have.

The goal of networking to learn about their story, not to sell yourself!

Networking also does not mean getting a job. It could mean finding business and project partners as well as making friends.

Networking is how I got my UX Design Internship at EA without applying. Here are the steps I took on LinkedIn:

  1. Complete LinkedIn profile. When it’s complete, you’ll see the “All-Star” badge.
  2. Engage with community. Bonus points if you’ve been posting on LinkedIn and commenting on other people’s posts.
  3. Posting on LinkedIn for the first time may be scary. It felt scarier back in 2018. Now, the culture of LinkedIn has shifted towards more storytelling and people being more vulnerable by sharing what they learned from rejections.
  • Post ideas: Story time + lessons learned, a conference attended + lessons learned, goals, portfolio work, and more

4. Reach out. Make sure you personalize your message (who you are + similarities if possible)

Example: Under 300 character connection request message

Hi Leaf,

I’m a grad student studying computer science and engineering looking to pursue UX design. I would love to learn how you got to where you are today.

Best,

Grace

5. Informational Interview: Learning about their career journey

  • Go with the flow: Listen to their story first, find points of connection. People also love talking about themselves. When they ask or when it feels right, share your story and emphasize on the things you both have in common.
  • If you get stuck, here are some of my favorite questions:

“I see that we both did ___, how did the things you learned from ___ help you as a UX Design Director today?”

“What are some of your favorite projects and lessons learned?”

“Where does your design inspiration come from?”

Overall lessons learned from networking:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for an informational interview. Be clear of your intentions by stating your goals and time frame. The worst case is a “No” or no response
  • Don’t ask for a job
  • Do follow up: Gratitude + potential action items
  • Follow up every 3 months: Updates on career to stay on their radar.

Networking can also happen anywhere including at events and other groups.

🌟 Design Resources

Some groups I enjoy are:

General Design Resources

Design Tools

✨ Life Takeaways

Changing career paths is hard, and I’ve faced a lot of adversity and learned a lot of life lessons along the way.

  • Don’t be afraid to take risks. Worst case: Fail → Learning opportunity
  • Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t accomplish something. You know yourself better than anyone who may be experts in their field. Success follows passion
  • Value your work (especially if you freelance). Pricing higher → Higher quality clients.
  • Balance is essential for long-term success. Do something that makes you happy every day!

🌅 Conclusion

I’ve said a lot here. Here are some main points.

  • You don’t need to invest years and $$$$$ on a degree or bootcamp to land a job in design. Seek to understand and practice the design thinking process. Keep learning through attending events, joining communities, reading, listening to podcasts, and watching videos.
  • In interviews, focus on storytelling and relating design decisions back to the main problem (business goal/user problem).
  • Networking is about getting to know others, not selling yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone, the worst they could say is “no.”
  • Listen more than speak, never make assumptions.

I hope your design adventures goes well! Feel free to reach out on social media if you’d like connect/chat more about anything. I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You’re also welcome to join Design Buddies and check out my portfolio.

I wrote this article for Augment, a community of intern leaders who help empower and elevate students around the world. Check out our other articles on Medium!

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Grace Ling
Augment

Designer @ Electronic Arts, Illustrator, Founder, Content Creator | Art IG: @Candyleaf_ | Portfolio: grace-ling.com